Engraving has become a lost art in Canadian currency and postage so the Galt Museum is reminding the public of the artistry involved in their new exhibit “Voices From The Engraver, which opens, Feb. 8.
The Galt Museum is the first to host this traveling exhibit produced in partnership with the Bank of Canada Museum.
It features rare stamps and currency as well as engraved plates for bills and an explanation and description of the processes used to make currency and stamps as well as information about some of the artists involved in the process.
There are also a couple of interactive components including a photo booth where patrons can put a picture of their own face on a bill or stamp of their own design.
There is also a guillochis ( similar to the children’s toy Spirgraph) table where patrons can design their own intricate designs similar to those used before the government switched to polymer bills instead of engraved paper.
“It’s a great exhibit. It’s a very complicated process,” enthused curator Wendy Aitkens adding well known artists were originally commissioned to design the first stamps. She noted a beaver appeared on one of Canada’s very first stamps.
She was surprised to learn that since the post office became more automated, stamps aren’t officially cancelled when they go through a machine, while they used to have to be cancelled by a physical stamp or else they could be steamed off an envelope and reused.
Now the post office usually uses stickers.
“ You actually have to ask for stamps ” observed Robert Budd, a 11-year member of the Lethbridge Philatelic Society (stamp collecting club).
“ I think it’s wonderful,” he said of the exhibit. He noted engraving art on stamps and bills was done to make them more difficult to counterfeit.
Budd noted some smaller countries look at stamps as an important economic driver.
“ It was a very expressive process,” he continued adding it was also very difficult as the artists had to first complete the design, then painstakingly engrave the same design on a plate before a bill or stamp could be reproduced.
“ I like to collect stamps from St. Helena. It’s an island in the Atlantic ocean, of the coast of Argentina,” he said.
“ I like to collect countries that don’t exist anymore,” he said noting some European countries only existed for a few months, but released their own stamps in that time.
Jonathan Dean, who writes a stamp column for the Lethbridge Herald, noted stamps are still being made, though stamp collecting is not as popular as it used to be.
“Older generations used to collect stamps. Younger generations don’t want to to look at little pieces of paper,” he said, adding his is surprised and a little disappointed that you actually have to ask for an actual stamp.
“ And you can’t even buy individual stamps. You have to buy books of them,” he said, showing a folder of some of the newest series of stamps issued by the government including a $10 Humpback whale stamp and an eight dollar bear stamp.
“There used to be seven or eight stamp and coin shops in a city, now most don’t have any,” he observed.
He and other members of the Society will be doing a presentation on March 7 about stamp and engraving. There also be several seminars relating to the exhibit including a Wednesday at the Galt presentation exhibit tour, a seminar about Postage stamp selection on April 15. and an interesting overview of the history of printing called the History of Printing: From Stamps to 3D,” on March 21 and its relation to stamps as part of the Galt Museum’s Wednesdays At the Galt series.
Voices of the Engraver runs until May 18.
The official opening is 2 p.m., Feb. 8.