Monday, 19 June 2017

Faroe Islands 1983 - Chess

Checkmate! The one word all chess players dread. But chess isn't just about winning and losing. It is about conflict, a struggle to harmonise your army. A struggle that at times can mirror real life situations. Chess is an art form, a black and white jungle tangled with intricate strategies and moments of brutal tactics. Once you immerse yourself into the beauty and subtle complexities of chess, you will be hooked for life. 

So when did it all start? What are the origins of chess? As yet, there is no definitive answer to this question. The prevailing theory is that chess originated from a game played in Eastern India sometime between the third and sixth century. This game was known as chaturaṅga. This name literally means "four divisions (military divisions)". These divisions were infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariotry,. The pieces on the board represented these divisions. These pieces are said to have evolved into the modern chess pieces we are familiar with today - pawns, knights, bishops, and rooks.

As the Indian game, chaturaṅga, spread west along the Silk Road, its rules further evolved. By the time it reached Persia c. 600, it was known by the name chatrang. After the Islamic conquest of Persia, the Muslim world continued playing chatrang. In fact, the oldest chess manual was written in Arabic and dates to around 850. This book was written by al-Adli ar-Rumi (800–870), a renowned Arab chess player. This book, which unfortunately no longer exists, was called Kitab ash-shatranj (Book of the chess). Further, the oldest chess pieces, carved from ivory, were excavated in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. These pieces date to around 760.

There is, however, an alternate theory that chess had its origins in China with the game called, Xiang Qi. Even though the earliest reference to this game that we know of dates to around 800 in the xuán guaì lù (record of the mysterious and strange). there are those who think this game is much older, and is therefore the earliest version of chess.

Whatever its origins, the game reached Western Europe around the 9th century. By this time it was called shatranji. Starting around 1200 the rules of the game were gradually modified. By the end of the 14th century the game was essentially the one we know and love today. The rules of the game were finally standardised in the 19th century. It stands to reason that from the advent of a system of standardised rules came formal international competition. The first recognised World Chess Champion was the Austrian Chess Master, Wilhelm Steinitz. He claimed this title in 1886 after defeating Adolf Anderssen in London. Up until that point Anderssen was regarded as the world's strongest player. 


On 2 May 1983 Faroe Islands issued a set of two stamps to celebrate the ancient game of chess. This set was sold only in booklets, and all stamps are horizontally imperforate. The stamps were engraved by Czeslaw Slania. Looking below you will see that the piece on the left is a King, and on the right we have a Queen. Gorgeous chess pieces that, I believe, date from around the 18th to 19th centuries. And, of course, these lovely pieces were masterfully engraved by Slania (please note, this is a borrowed image and not of the best quality. When I relocate my copies I will update the scan).

Until next time...

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Faroe Islands 1981 - Faroese Chain Dance

If one were to join a Faroese party, they may have the fortune of taking part in the traditional Faroese Circle Dance, which is accompanied by lively Faroese ballads, called kvæði. As the name suggests, this dance is performed in an a kind of swirling circle. This type of dancing is reminiscent to the medieval Ring Dance. In the Faroe Islands there are three variations of the dance. The first is the Stígingarstev - The Common Dance (I have seen this referred to as the Garter Dance). The second variation is called the Trokingarstev - The Crowding Dance. For this variant more fast-paced music is played. The final variation is called the Bandadansur - The Ribbon Dance. In this variant the dancers incorporate ribbons into the performance by dancing around and under them.


On 1 June 1981 Faroe Islands issued a set of two stamps celebrating traditional folk dancing. Czeslaw Slania was entrusted with engravings for this issue, and as usual his work was exceptional. Each of the two stamps depict a variant of the Circle Dance.

The 150o stamp beautifully captures the beauty of the Bandadansur - The Ribbon Dance.


The 200o stamp depicts the Stígingarstev - The Common Dance. This stamp is listed in catalogues as depicting the Garter Dance, which I can only assume is another name for the Common Dance. Either that, or I am entirely wrong and the Garter Dance is a fourth variant of the Circle Dance. Maybe someone out there has the answer?

Until next time...

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Faroe Islands 1981 - Tórshavn

Since the 13th century, the town of Tórshavn has been the capital of the Faroe Islands and an important port. It is located at the southern tip of Streymoy, which incidentally happens to be the largest of the Faroe Islands. Even today some narrow alleys and old houses that date back to the 14th century still exist in the town. And if you like mysteries there are some ancient ck carvings down by the shore. Some believe these markings are related to ancient council meetings, but perhaps they relate to something far more mysterious. Whatever, the case, it is fun to speculate.


On 2 March 1981 Faroe Islands issued a set of four stamps featuring sketches of various locales in Tórshavn by Ingálvur av Reyni. This charming set of stamps was engraved by Czeslaw Slania. Ingálvur av Reyni, born 18 December 1920 in Tórshavn, was a talented painter who was inspired by the works of Paul Cézanne and Henri Matisse. Reyni was also an excellent draughtsman, a skill reflected in his favoured subject choices, such as houses, boats, streets, and people going about their daily lives on said streets. This theme is the focus of the stamps dedicated to Reyni. Slania has managed to retain the drama and elegance of Reyni's sketches with masterful precision - as usual!

Until next time...

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Iceland 1991 - Carta Marina (Fragment 3)

The moment has arrived! Czeslaw Slania's final engraving for Iceland. His final engraving was the last in a series of three stunning Souvenir Sheets depicting fragments of the Carta Marina. 

The Carta Marina is the earliest known map of the Nordic countries in existence. This incredible map took twelve years to produce, and drew upon the ancient maps of Ptolemy and the more contemporary works of the Bavarian astronomer, Jacob Ziegler. For more on the map and the other two fragments engraved by Slania, follow these two links. Iceland 1989, Iceland 1990.


On 23 May 1991 Iceland issued a stunning Souvenir Sheet to raise money for the 1991 Nordia Stamp Exhibition. This Souvenir Sheet was engraved by Czeslaw Slania. It comprises 3 stamps, each with a value of 50kr. But each sheet actually sold for 215kr. This Souvenir Sheet illustrates a fragment of the Carta Marina focusing on Iceland. The rightmost stamp also depicts one of Iceland's glaciers, but more on that later.

As always, the best way to appreciate the details in this Souvenir Sheet is through some close-ups!

This third stamp beautifully depicts Iceland's relationship with glaciers, by illustrating what I presume is the ökulsárlón (literally "glacial river lagoon") is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. It is considered as one of the natural wonders of Iceland. Below is a lovely shot of a portion of the glacier.

By Molechaser -, CC BY-SA 2.0,
In fact, a little over ten percent of Iceland's land area is covered by glaciers. The Icelandic word for glacier is jökull. For more on Iceland's glaciers, click HERE.

Until next time...