The 1881 and 1890 Vienna Philatelic Expositions

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[The '1881' article originally appeared in the Bulletin of the Austrian Philatelic Society of New York, Vol 22, no 3, 1971; the '1890' article in Vol 23, no 2, 1972. Both were written by H O Pollak]

The 1881 Vienna Philatelic Expositions

The first philatelic exposition in Vienna was held in 1881, and was the work of the untiring Sigmund Friedl. Friedl had been born in Leipnik in Moravia in 1851, became a stamp collector at the age of 13, and a dealer at 15. In 1872 he bought one of the largest stamp stores in Vienna, and from that time on devoted himself professionally to philately. He issued the first stamp catalogue in Austria, an outstanding journal, and a variety of albums. He established a philatelic museum in his villa in Unterdöbling. Is it surprising that he should have organised the first stamp exhibition?

The most detailed discussion of the 1881 Viennese stamp exhibition itself may be found in an article by Dr. Friedrich Zimmermann-Göllheim in the November 1961 issue (vol. 9, number 53) of die Briefmarke. According to the Briefmarke article, the Vienna exhibition was the first large-scale public showing in the world of stamps of all countries. The idea was born in September 1881 in the "Vindobona" stamp club, and was held from 13 - 20 November in the halls of the Horticultural Society in Vienna. Exhibitors were almost exclusively members of the Vindobona Club, and Sigmund Friedl was the technical leader and overall entrepreneur. Archduke Carl Ludwig, brother of the Emperor, and the Archdukes Rainer and Eugene visited the exhibition, The total number of visitors, over 8,000, surprised the management, and on November 15, the crowd was so large that entrance had to be temporarily limited.

The entrance fee was 30 kreuzer for adults and 20 kreuzer for children, while the catalogue cost 10 kreuzer. The sectioning was quite different from the present day - (1) philatelic literature, (2) albums with stamps, (3) specialised collections of postage and revenue stamps, (4) manufacture of stamps, (5) telegraphic machinery, (6) postal and telegraph literature, (7) diverse items. The Exhibition Committee contained, besides Sigmund Friedl, Gustav Reitz, Dr. Alfred Moschkau, Rudolf v. Haidinger, Robert Kulka, and Dr. Carl Mayer. Prizes consisted of three diplomas of honour, five diplomas of recognition, and eight honourable mentions. The committee exhibited non-competitively. The only fault of the exhibition, we are told, was the lack of space, for nobody figured on the large crowds. It was a great success - without special cancels or stamp issues.

However, the state printing works did collaborate in a very significant way. In connection with this exhibition, the state printing works prepared plates of the 1850 issue from which the value indication was removed and the date 1881 inserted in its place. It is written that these "stamps" were printed before the eyes of the visitors on a large footpress. They were printed always in blue, perforated 11, then gummed, and put into a drying frame. They exist imperforate also in blue, both perforate and imperforate on a great variety of papers. Incidentally, while the previous publications have both said perf 11, we measure the stamps in our possession at 12.

1881 press

[This sketch of the press is from an illustration by D Fischer in Austria 61 pages 24-25.]

The relevant literature may be found in the Austria Philatelist of 1894, and in the 5 November 1924 issue of the Donaupost. That's all I have been able to find. The Donaupost contains a list of colours and papers and perf versus imperf, and we will come to these in a moment. But, first of all how were the clichés made? Nothing is said anywhere about this. The late Frank Kohn and I spent an evening trying to figure it out. Our conclusion, based on the two collections, is that the "stamps" were apparently printed in blocks of 16, with the original cliché being of type Ib. The two dots under the right wing are usually connected as in type Ib, and other details of the design, such as the break in the left frame line, also match. Only in the fourth position of the plate of 16 is the line connecting the dots missing.. At the bottom of the value shield to the right of "1881", the raised indentation is open in positions 3, 4 and 8.

It is, however, unlikely that all imprinting was done in such plates of 16. I have in my collection two envelopes, with respectively one and two impressions of the 1881 "stamps" imprinted. They must have been done singly. The clichés match position 15 of the plate of 16. Thus, they at least must have been imprinted singly. It must clearly have been done separately from the sheetlets normally printed at the exhibition. These envelopes have not, to the best of my knowledge, been previously recorded. On the flaps of these envelopes is the imprinting of a seal of Dr A Moschkau - perhaps being a member of the Exhibition Committee helped him obtain them?

When it comes to making a list of existing varieties of colour, paper, perforation, and gumming, all that we can do is to add to the previously published list in the Donaupost. We don't have all that they list, but we have several they do not list. Colours are notoriously difficult to describe precisely - and just as difficult to translate - but we will do the best we can. The Donaupost lists only two perforated varieties. We have three, but only one is common to both lists. Probability says that there may be more, but there are no records and only collectors can gather the information. Help!

Perforated and gummed:

Imperforate and gummed

The remaining varieties are all imperforate and ungummed:

In addition to these, which were presumably officially printed, we have a blue on cream coloured paper, with Friedl advertising text on the back. There is also a blue on bright pink, vertically striped paper, and a blue on very thin, pale yellow paper, which is apparently always printed on both sides. It should be mentioned that we have seen 16 of the above-mentioned varieties. The listing should also include the two imprinted envelopes, blue on thin grey envelope stock, with one or two imprints in the upper right hand corner.

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The 1890 Vienna Philatelic Exposition

The 1890 Vienna Exposition, which was considered at the time the first great international stamp exhibition, was held from 20 April to 4 May of 1890 in the Museum of Art and Industry in Vienna. It was meant to commemorate three different anniversaries in one fell swoop - 50 years of the first postage stamp, 40 years of the first Austrian postage stamp, and 10 years of existence of the leading Austrian philatelic organisation, the Österreichische Philatelisten Club. Six post office departments, namely those of Austria, Hungary, Bavaria, Italy, Brazil, and Egypt, participated officially, and the Austrian department once again, as in 1881, printed a great variety of labels right at the exhibition in the form of the 1850 cliché with the year "1890" replacing the value indication. We will have much more to say of these "stamps" shortly.

The president of the exhibition was Wilhelm Krapp, and the secretary Paul Eschenbach. Neither of these gentlemen seems to be particularly well-known philatelically nowadays, but the chief executive officer of the exhibition was once again Sigmund Friedl, who is very well known indeed. The official "protector" of the show was the minister of commerce, Olivier Marquis Bacquehem. His name reappears in the proceedings of the ÜPU Congress in Vienna in 1891. The Emperor Franz Josef visited the exhibition on the afternoon of 23 April, and professed great interest and enthusiasm, as did Archduke Ludwig Victor on the 24th. Victor Suppantschitsch was foreman of the jury, and awarded the prizes on April 26. Incidentally, the menu of the 10th anniversary banquet of the Österreischer Philatelisten-Club was printed in the design of the 50 kreuzer 1883 - but I have never seen one, or probably eaten that much, either.

There were ten groups in the exhibition, namely "whole (ganze)" collections (apparently of large groups of countries); specialised collections; postal stationery; essays and proofs; private posts (particularly the German private posts which were the rage at the time); philatelic tableaux; revenues; literature; albums; and postal history (Briefpostwesen). This represents some development from the 1881 grouping. The jury decided, after apparently much wrangling, that forgeries in a collection didn't preclude its exhibition, but did prevent any consideration for prizes.

The published report of the exhibition, as it appears in the Mitteilungen des Österreischen Philatelisten-Clubs, vol. 5, Numbers 5, 6, and 7, May 15, June 15, and July 15, 1890, is interesting in that it was very critical of the exhibit in many cases - enough so that nowadays there would be some lawsuits. The exposition was truly world-wide and there was not really all that much Austria to be seen. However, the hit of the show was apparently Ludwig Scharz of Währing, who must have had one of the finest Austria collections of the time. He showed several scarlet mercuries including one on ribbed paper, which was the only known example at the time and a sensation. More recently, in Edwin Mueller's writing, is the statement that only the blue mercury is known with genuine ribbing, and I can remember no mention of a genuine ribbed scarlet mercury elsewhere. Philatelic scholarship, as we shall confirm further, was in its infancy.

Scharz also showed the large sizes of the first Austrian envelopes, which were already clearly recognised as rarities. Rudolf Friedl showed Austrian revenues, and Sigmund Friedl essays from his stamp museum in Unter Döbling. Incidentally, in 1891 Friedl moved that museum into the inner city. Also noted was an "error" of a 25 soldi 1867 in green rather than violet - obviously a chemical or sunlight changeling. A Mr Doczkalik, also of Währing, showed a series of 137 Austrian cards mailed to all parts of the world in order to demonstrate the time that it took them to get there. The catalogues of the show cost 15 kreuzer, and were offered in the Mitteilungsblatt for some months afterwards - I wish somebody had gotten me one.

The Austrian PTT officialdom participated in a number of ways. First of all they exhibited a series of picture of uniforms, equipment, etc. They set up lots of telephones near the exhibit halls, so that people could talk to each other over these phones - like some of the current exhibits of Videophone service. There was also a hundred-line switchboard for more serious use. There was a technical exhibit of the working of the pneumatic mail system as well.

But the greatest contribution of the state printing works was once again the printing and distribution of labels in the form of the 1850 issue, with the year "1890" in place of the value indication. It is funny that they were not noted in the main report of the exhibition which we cited above - probably too insignificant an item at that time! Now they are the best-remembered aspect of the show. The Austria Philatelist of 1894, in the course of Hans Kropf's series on the stamps of Austria, is again our first reference for these. He says that a small press was set up, and printed sheets of 16, from which each visitor to the show was given a single perforated copy for free. He notes that he has imperforate as well as perforate copies, and that the purple stamp was issued on the day of the Emperor's visit. The Donaupost, in its 1924 article on the two exhibitions of 1881 and 1890 [Vol 7, No 11, pp 139-142] comments that the list given by Kropf was indeed very incomplete. He listed only 15 varieties, while the Donaupost goes on to list 96.

This is a tiny bit unfair, for Kropf at the end of his listing has, as the last three letters, 'u.s.w.' (et cetera) which the Donaupost fails to mention, but we admit that 96 is a lot more than 15. The Donaupost mentions only those that they have seen, and omit certain gummed imperforate varieties that Kropf had listed. Frank Koln and I don't have anywhere near that many in our collections, but we have five that neither Kropf nor the Donaupost listed. Probability theory would say that the maximum likelihood estimate of what exists is a lot more than 96. If we amalgamate the listings, and believe the colours, papers, and gums previously written down, we come to the following tabulation.

The rest of the listing is ungummed and imperforate:

The following varieties exist on circulars of the stamp firm Friedl, all imperf, with parts of a printed advertisement or picture visible on the back: On medium heavy white paper in blue green and carmine, on very thin grey green paper in yellow, on medium heavy blue paper in yellow, and on medium heavy salmon coloured paper also in yellow.

The stamps were printed, as we have said, in blocks of 16. It seems clear that the original die was of type 3, and that there are 16 clichés made from one original die. However, it seemed to us that the block of 16 must have been taken apart at least once. A break in the upper left frame is visible in position 10 on some sheets, and in position 13 on others. Unlike the 1881 "reprints", as these are sometimes called, we have no evidence that any copies were ever printed singly rather than in blocks of 16. The perforated copies, by the way, are perf 11.

The public hit of the show, according to the report, was an exhibit by a Mr Koch of one million copies of the 10 kreuzer 1883. We still in the present day have a pedagogic problem of trying to get across to young students just how big a million is. This looks like a cute idea!

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©Andy Taylor. Last updated 16 Sep 2001