Just look at the Penny Black and all those beautiful Victorian stamps from the British Empire,’ Karl Bickel told the Swiss postal authorities. ‘And then look at our drab stamps.’
Bickel was the man who convinced his country that it should reintroduce engraved stamps in the inter-war period, and in the process, he became one of the most influential engravers in the history of Swiss philately.
Born in Zürich in 1886, Bickel embarked on his career as a designer by applying for apprenticeships. At the age of 14, he was taken on by Paul Bleuler’s graphic art company, learning the art of lithography. He stayed for four years, spending much of his time designing picture postcards.
After a stint at another graphic art company, Hüttner, he left with some other colleagues to open their own studio, designing letterheads, business cards, and fashion catalogs.
Later he went his own way, carving out a career in poster art, for which he became well known. Through the Wolfensberger printing firm, Bickel received his first commission from the Swiss postal authority, the PTT in Bern, for a copper engraving of the Universal Postal Union monument to mark the 50th anniversary of the organization in 1924.
This was not for a stamp, but it was the start of what would be a long-lasting relationship between Bickel and the PTT.
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