Mucha? Yes, plenty!
I know, Alphonse Mucha hardly needs any introduction. The Moravian artist became the most influential exponent of the Art Nouveau movement, notably in France (where he lived at the time) after creating a poster for the actress Sarah Bernhardt. His output was prodigious and included paintings, book illustrations, advertisements, postcards and posters. Less well known, although handled daily by much of the population of Czechoslovakia - a country formed in 1918 from part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire defeated in First World War - are his designs for postage stamps and banknotes.
As the First World War was ending a provisional government was formed in Paris resulting in a new independent nation called the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Immediately, Alphonse Mucha was asked to design the first postage stamps of the new republic and a set of ten values, depicting the world’s largest ancient castle founded in the 9th century in the capital Prague, was hurriedly issued in October 1918. The stamp design is known as the Hradčany issue and continues to fascinate collectors (there are excellent exhibition sheets from a German collector here) because it was not only designed and engraved with a major basic error (the sun never rises behind the castle and St. Vitus cathedral from the artist’s viewpoint, which was later corrected) it was later re-engraved with different borders, resulting in five designs of the basic stamp. It was also printed poorly during those post-war years since neither the new government nor the printing firm Graficka Unie had any experience in stamp production, and paper and ink quality control - or lack of - added to the specialist philatelic interest.
Adding to their collectability are the numerous perforation gauges used because as well as the printer’s machines, private companies were also allowed to perforate sheets of stamps, and some post offices even had their own rouletting machines. Several values and print runs were issued imperforate and had to be cut from sheets with scissors by post office staff - resulting in more collectable types. Then there were overprints; “SO 1920” being used on stamps for Eastern Silesia; other values with “OT” or Obchodni Tiskovina for commercial printed matter; then more with “Doplatit” for postage due usage; as well as rather scarce stamps (my background catalogue shows 1967 prices) overprinted with an aeroplane for airmail use, a service still in it’s infancy in those early days of commercial flight. This has resulted in many identifiable varieties, most of which can be positioned from the original printing plates, and since nearly all of the values of most of the printings are cheap - many tens of millions were printed - collectors can attempt to reconstruct with individual stamps every position on the printing plate. Assembling all these positions via minute recognisable and repeated flaws on each stamp is sometimes dubbed “fly-speck philately.”
Although many if not most of the typographed postage stamps are poorly printed, the name of Mucha is usually discernible just under the design at the lower left corner. Mucha also designed Czech stamps with a ‘windhover’ or kestrel design for mailing newspapers, and another design showing a pair of doves for express printed matter, both types of which are illustrated above. Oh, and they’re so common I sometimes use them for collage!
Images + words © Ed Buziak 2018.
@postalhistory #mucha #alphonsemucha #art #artnouveau #czech #czechoslovakia #hradcany #postagestamp