'Il Marzocco' - The Italian Lion Stamps of Tuscany

23/01/2014     Italy, Colonies, States & Areas

A 'Pride' of Lions
Whilst no records are now available to confirm the number of these stamps originally printed, they are considered by many to be one of the greatest issues of all time and remain the embodiment of an enlightened period for philately when original Italian artistry was used to set new standards at a time when postage stamp production was in its infancy.

This month we take pride in offering a spectacular selection of stamps that portray the famous 'Lion of Tuscany' - 'Il Marzocco'. These were issued by the independent Italian State of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany during a relatively brief, but nevertheless important period, between 1851 and 1859.

This iconic stamp engraving of the crowned Lion of Tuscany (the Marzocco) was produced for the Duke of Tuscany, The Grand Duke Leopold II of Lorraine, and shows the seated Marzocco holding the shield bearing the Duke's Crest of the Fleur de Lys.

The engraving is taken from Donatello's 1420 sculpture, currently housed in the Bargello Museum, which was the emblem of the Medici family of Florence and which for centuries stood atop a pillar in the Piazza della Signoria, the main square. At the time of issue, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany included the territory of Pisa where to re-enforce the dominance of Florence live lions had been kept at the commune's expense from the Middle Ages until 1771.

The design of these stamps is entirely suitable and it is no surprise that 'Marzocco' became a Florentine battle cry during the siege of the City during the 16th Century!

The different denominations shown on these stamps, identified as the Quattrino, the Soldi and the Crazia are all based on the Tuscan Lira. They ranged from the lowest valued One Quattrino (1/60th of a Lira), to the 60 Crazie (Five Lira), which was seldom used and intended for international mail. The Lira was subdivided into Crazia (1/12th of a Lira).

For the 1851-52 issue handmade papers of different thicknesses were used. These were impregnated with a blue colouring that was somewhat inconsistent resulting in intermediate tones that were often noticeably grey. The sheets bear a watermark in the form of rows of elongated horizontal images of the Heraldic Crown of Tuscany between closely spaced thin parallel lines. Blue and grey papers are available on all values apart from 2 Soldi (1/20th of a Lira) & 60 Crazie, which are only to be found on blue paper. A second issue of the same stamps, issued between 1857-59 use just white paper with a distinctive watermark showing an oval lozenge shape and the words 'II E RR POSTE TOSCANE'.

They are considered by many to be one of the greatest issues of all time. Why is this? Examining the fascinating relationship between the heritage and history of Classical Italian Art and the profound changes in the methods of communication that occurred during the latter half of the 19th century, helps to explain why these stamps were so influential in the development of postage stamps worldwide as other countries legislated and created their own versions. The public expected more and became dependent on postal services in a way as never before. The artistic and inspirational designs of these stamps preceded a plethora of others that were to follow. We are fortunate that philately, and all that is associated with it, has become the beneficiary of such artistry. The Italian influence is quite unique and, together with other stamps of the period, confirmation of the sheer brilliance and foresight of the inspired artists, engravers and designers who were responsible for creating and infusing their national heritage, into this new medium.

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