It’s a small, small world…

I recently heard about what must be the most exciting discovery in the back of an old wardrobe since, well, Narnia!  Next week, a local auction house will be selling this utterly fascinating collection to the highest bidder, and it has really given me pause for thought…

Leonard Fryer stamp designsYou might assume I’m talking about a collection of old stamps, and wonder what’s so special about that?  The difference with this particular collection is that it is not, in fact, stamps for sale, but the actual original artwork which was reproduced on stamps throughout the Commonwealth.  The artist was Leonard Fryer, who worked for Waterlow & Sons (printer of stamps & paper currency) between the 1920s and 1950s, and this unique collection was found by his family only recently.

It was a revelation to me, but something that had genuinely never crossed my mind before: that stamps produced before the digital design revolution of recent years (or even the humble photocopier!) – had to be designed to scale.  Today, we take image manipulation for granted, so to imagine Fryer’s original watercolours, all individually hand-painted at the size of actual postage stamps, is really spectacularly impressive.  Fryer must have had very steady hands to paint as he did with a paintbrush in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other:

Leonard Fryer at work lr
Leonard Fryer at work
leonard fryer wip lr
The fine detail of Leonard Fryer’s postage stamp design

The Fryer collection is a rare and stunning insight into the artistry inherent to early stamp design that is frequently overlooked.  Consider the intricate lettering and curlicued banners & borders of old stamps…all drawn by hand!  And then the central images, which really are tiny, subtly detailed masterpieces.  Next time you hold an old stamp in your hand, just take a look at the fine detail that combines to make up just one little rectangle of postal functionality, dismissed and taken for granted on almost every day of its working life…

Leonard Fryer - Ceylon lr
One of Leonard Fryer’s tiny watercolour paintings

I will be looking out for Fryer’s work, now, whenever I am sorting a fresh batch of stamps by colour, for my collages. To catch a glimpse of the painstaking processes involved in the production of postage stamps has absolutely captivated me; and this new perspective will definitely give me even greater appreciation of every stamp I use.


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