Future of Stamp Collecting

William Harnett Irish american painter

William Michael Harnett born in Ireland in 1848 and later his parents moved with him to Philadelphia as an infant. 20 years later he was learning the art of engraving, and started as silver engraver in Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. After that he moved to New York and worked as engraver, continuing his education in the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, some time after that also at the National Academy of Design. He continued his education after he came back to Philadelphia in 1876 and later in 1880s, he went to Europe in desire to acquire craftsmanship from the best European engravers. He was concentrated on the old-style paintings in still technique, inspired by photo art of Adolphe Braun. Throughout his career he painted around 250 works, suddenly dying in 1892. He already got some success among the US audience for his unique style “trompe l’oeil”.

“The Old Violin” was a painting created by Harnett in 1886, was so detailed and vivid that people would try to touch it to make sure they were painted, not real. The technique he used to achieve this type of hyperrealism was to place one object in front of the viewer on the painting, making it closer than another one. As any artist Hartnett sometimes changed the object at his paintings intentionally, in “The Old Violin” there is an envelope that seems to have 1877 France, a 5-franc stamp from Peace and Commerce collection (Sc.96). The receiver’s address is in NY, there is also a R (registered) hand stamp and T (due) hand stamp.

William Harnett Irish american painter

“The Banker Table” painting the envelope was the object, placed forward. Though most of us will not be able to find or purchase originals of Harnett’s works, the copies are available from art dealers. The part of his works being famous is that it was more popular among business and homes, than among museums.

Some of the works were made to order for special customers. The painting in 1888, the “Picture of Mr. Hulings’ Rack” depicts the business and private letters of the merchant from Philadelphia George Hulings. In the upper right corner, there is an envelope with a stamp, 2¢ 1887 green note, Sc 213.

Harnett is also well-known for his paintings of bills and coins. There is also a story behind that, since he was so gifted and painted realistic pictures, he was even arrested for counterfeiting in 1886, after that he stopped painting paper bills. We can see an example of the extremely realistic 5-Dollar bill form 1877. It was natural for his style to include stamps to his art, since the stamps represent tiny and detailed pieces of art.

The USPS has produced two series of stamps based on William Harnett reproduction. The first reproduction from “Old Models” 1892 painting (Sc. 1386) which was the last work by this artist. It was first day cancelled in 1969 in Boston, MA. The second reproduction in stamp is from 1998 Four Centuries of American Art pane that featured different paintings among with Harnett’s (Sc.3236i). This was a reproduction of “Music and Literature” painting from 1878. The stamp included the painting only partially.