Friday, 17 November 2017

Greenland 1968 - Child Welfare

It is an observatory with a twist - a literal twist! Rundetaarn, or the Round Tower, was built in the 17th century in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is the oldest still functioning observatory in Europe.

By the 17th century the science of astronomy was booming, urged on by countries competing to establish the most colonies on foreign soil. The need for accurate navigation to cross vast oceans was now, more than ever, of crucial importance. This cut-throat competition gave rise to the establishment of many national observatories, the first of which was established in 1632 at Leiden in the Dutch Republic. Just five years later in 1637 the foundations were laid for Rundetaarn, at that time known as STELLÆBURGI REGII HAUNIENSIS. And it was completed and ready for use in 1642.

At this time, Denmark was actually a forerunner in the field of astronomy thanks to the work of Tycho Brahe. Christian IV King of Denmark was so impressed with Brahe's contribution to science that when Brahe died in 1601, the King set in motion plans for the observatory in order to continue his research. Of course, the King's plans were not all altruistic; his country was a strong participant in the Colony Battle.

But what about that twist scenario mentioned at the beginning? In a funky feat of engineering the tower was constructed with an internal helical passageway that spiralled up the inside of the tower to its apex, where lurked the observatory itself along with a viewing platform. This spiral walkway is incredibly interesting. If one were to walk up the spiral path along the outer wall of the tower, they would cover 268.5 m, but if one wanted a shorter walk, hugging the central pillar as you ascend shortens the journey to only 85.5 m! Yet ironically, the tower is only 36 m tall. That definitely justifies the term "funky". There was actually a reason behind this incredible design. It was built in this fashion to 'allow a horse and carriage to reach the library, moving books in and out of the library as well as transporting heavy and sensitive instruments to the observatory' (Wikipedia). Below is an image of the walkway.

It is also worth mentioning that this very cool tower has its own library, which houses the entire book collection of Copenhagen university. Apparently the Danish writer H.C. Anderson used the library on a regular basis, and he drew inspiration from the building. Perhaps it was the fantasy-like nature of that spiral walkway that set his creative juices aflowing. These days the library is home to exhibitions of art, history, culture, and science. If I were ever to visit Denmark, I'd be sure to take the time to traverse that spell-binding spiral walkway.

Over time there have been many interesting ascents of the spiral walkway. There have been bicycle races up the tower and bicycle races down the tower. In 1902, a Beaufort car was the first motorised vehicle to ascend the tower.  And in 1989, a fellow by the name Thomas Olsen went up and down the tower walkway on a unicycle. The round trip took him just 1 minute and 48.7 seconds, which is still a world record.


On 12 September 1968 both Denmark and Greenland issued a semi-postal stamp of the same design to help raise money for child welfare programs. For the purposes of this blog I will focus on the Greenland stamp. The stamp issue was designed by J. Rosing and engraved by Czeslaw Slania. This beautiful stamp design, featuring two children wandering the mesmerising spiral walkway, would not look out of place in a children's fantasy novel.

Until next time...

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Greenland 1967 - The Diver and The Raven

The goal of the storyteller has always been to captivate the minds of his audience, enabling them to transcend the rigors of everyday life and, for a time at least, exist in a magical world. The goal of the teller of folktales in Greenland includes a slight twist to the norm - to put his audience to sleep! In fact, the best story tellers would commence their narrative with a line such as, "no one has ever heard this story to the end." This idea seems counter-productive, but the primary aim of the Greenlandic storyteller was to help people survive through the long, cold winter nights. And what better way to survive then to be snuggled up by the fire, asleep.

The folktales of Greenland cover a wide and varied range of topics. Indeed, only a few weeks ago I studied a stamp engraved by Czeslaw Slania, featuring the tale The Boy and the Fox. This week it's time for another folktale brought to life on stamp by Slania. the title of this tale is The Great Northern Diver and the Raven.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I have not been able to find anything on this folktale. What I can tell you is a bit about the Great Northern Diver or Common Loon. Divers spend their summers in areas such as U.K., Iceland, Greenland, North America. In the winter they migrate to the coastlines of south North America, Europe, and north-west Africa. One interesting little factoid about the Diver is its incredible ability to - well - dive! Amazingly, this bird can dive as deep as 60 metres per dive! And they can remain underwater for up to 3 minutes at a time. They have red in their eyes, which apparently helps them to see underwater.


On 23 November 1967, Greenland issued a stamp featuring The Great Northern Diver and the Raven as part of their folktale series which began on 5 February 1957 with The Mother and the Sea. This lovely stamp, engraved by Czeslaw Slania and designed by J. Rosing, depicts a Diver with a raven standing upon its back. If I'd been able to find the details of the story, it would be clear what the raven is doing. And is that a pool of blood to the bottom left beneath the Diver? A mystery! If anyone out there knows this story, I'd love to hear from you. Anywho, let's look at the stamp.

Until next time...

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Greenland 1967 - Royal Wedding

Wedding bells are in the air! At least, they were on 10 June 1967 when Crown Princess Margrethe of Denmark married Frenchman, Count Henri de Laborde de Monpezat, at Holmens Kirke in Copenhagen, Denmark.

So when and how did the royal couple first meet? For that we need to wind back the clock two years to 1965. At this time Margrethe was studying at the London School of Economics and Henri was with the French embassy. One day Margrethe was invited to a dinner at the French embassy. At the dinner she was seated next to Henri. Margrethe was ambivalent about the Frenchman. Henri, however, found Margrethe interesting, but was a bit intimidated by her. So at their first meeting the fireworks seemed to be absent. 

Then perhaps a little serendipity came into play. A short time after their first meeting, they met yet again at a wedding. They got to chatting, which went better this time. After the wedding they were both bound for London. Whether prearranged or again a touch of serendipity, they sat together on the plane. Deciding to keep their relationship on the down-low, the couple dated for a little over a year before announcing their engagement. They had kept their relationship so quiet, in fact, that it came as a pleasant shock to most Danes. Later on Margrethe's father, King Frederik apparently said to her,  “He came, he saw, and you conquered.”.


On 10 June 1967, the same day as the royal wedding, Greenland issued a stamp commemorating the event. The stamp was designed by Gunnar Bilmann Petersen and it was engraved by Czeslaw Slania. This is not the most exciting stamp in the world, but the cameo profiles of the newly-weds is definitely an interesting slant. It is worth noting that this wasn't the last time Slania engraved Margrethe for a stamp. He produced some quite beautiful definitives for Denmark, bearing her portrait. But we'll leave those for another time. For now, here's the royal wedding stamp...

Until next time...

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Greenland 1963 - Polar Bears

In the words of that now famous Disney bear, Baloo, "The simple bear necessities." That's right. This week is all about bears. Ursus maritimus. more commonly known as the polar bear, to be precise. The mighty and majestic polar bear could very well be considered the king of bears. It is our largest land-based predator. A boar (adult male) can weigh in at up to 700 kg. That's a heavyweight to rival "Iron" Mike Tyson! The other brutes of the bear family, the Kodiak and the brown bear are on average slightly smaller.


On 17 September 1963 Greenland issued a new design consisting four values to expand on the definitive set which started on 7 March 1963 with a beautiful "Northern Lights" design. The new design, conceived by V Bang, features a stunningly-engraved polar bear by the master, Czeslaw Slania. This has to be one of my favourite Slania engravings, simple, elegant, and very effective in small stamp format.

In Greenland the polar bear lives in the northernmost parts of West Greenland and in Northeast Greenland,. Since they move with the drifting ice, they can also be seen elsewhere in Greenland. Having said that, though, polar bears are not easily spotted unless you happen to find yourself on a boat cruising along the coast. If you are lucky enough to be doing such a thing, they can be fairly easily spotted due to their off-white fur, which contrasts somewhat with the pack ice.

Until next time...