Helvetia – The Mother of Switzerland

12/11/2012     Switzerland

The Standing Helvetia Series of 1882-1907

Lots 7903 to 7942 together with Lots 7896, 7897 & 7899 offer collectors of Swiss stamps a splendid selection of Standing Helvetia issues. The diversity of this keenly collected 19th Century definitive is spectacular but thankfully the Zumstein Catalogue provides much clarity and detail making the collecting of these beautiful, colourful stamps with the three different watermarks, four different perforation gauges and two different paper types a pleasure for the serious philatelist! The majority of the lots are mint and represent the entire period of production, we have identified each using Zumstein numbers.

It is not clear why in 1879 a decision was made to issue a new series of Helvetia stamps. Perhaps a clue is to be found by looking back to the events leading to the issue of the 1854 Sitting Helvetia series. The Director of the Swiss Federal Mint, Dr Kuster visited England in 1851. When he left the Perkins Bacon printing press in London it is clear that he was impressed by some of the first British Colonial stamps. These depict an image of a seated “Britannia” holding a spear in her right hand and resting her left elbow on a shield. This inspired the printing of the Sitting Helvetia series that show the symbolic Mother of Switzerland (Helvetia) sitting in an almost identical pose to that adopted by “Britannia”. These famous Swiss stamps are called “Strubels”, so - named after a young boy in a children’s book of the period who no doubt at the time was as popular as Harry Potter. Illustrations showed the lad with a wiry and uncontrolled hair style, not dissimilar to a rock star of the 1970’s. The comparison with Helvetia resulted from the poor print quality of a crown of laurels that adorned her head which gave her an unkempt appearance. Either way the name stuck.

The “Strubels” were used on correspondence for a period of twenty eight years. This long period of issue was partially because differences of opinion regarding design held up the issue of the new “Standing Helvetias” until 1st April 1882.

It is unclear if much of this time was spent deliberating whether Helvetia should remain seated or stand. We will probably never know the answer to why she finally stood up. Whatever the reasons, Helvetia did so from 1882 to 1907 when she finally “stood down” and was replaced by a new issue.

These lots represent a marvellous opportunity to begin, or enhance a specialized collection of these beautiful stamps.


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