Handbook of Danish Essays: Volume Two 1920-1939 by William R. Benfield and Bruno Nørdam. 8¾ by 11½ inches, 370 + xviii pages, hardbound, bilingual (English and Danish), Jay Smith & Associates, Snow Camp NC, 2004, ISBN 0-9656592-6-7. $69 plus shipping from Jay Smith & Associates, PO Box 650, Snow Camp NC 27349. Email: js@JaySmith.com


            This book is an example that sets a standard for philatelic handbooks. The typography, black and white illustration quality, bilingual text, approach to cataloging, research, references, and detailed text all come together to provide an excellent resource for collectors and students of the stamp essays of Denmark. This volume is the second of a projected 4-volume series but is the first one to be published, as the information for this time period was assembled first.

            The interesting prefaces of the co-authors and publisher reveal how they got started in philately and were drawn together to prepare this study. Other contributors to the work are also acknowledged.

            The introduction defines “essays” as used in this handbook, explains the catalog numbering system, discusses color, paper, measurement, printing, the artists involved in the essay designs, and provides a rarity scale ranging from R1 for extremely common to R7 for unique, with dollar ranges indicated. Two types of catalog numbers are used. For issued stamps, the number begins with the Scandinavian Facit catalog number followed by suffixes that distinguish color and paper types. In the case of essays for which no stamp was issued, the catalog number begins with the year date preceded by an asterisk, and followed by suffixes for the varieties.

            Co-author Benfield collects Essays, Proofs, Specimens, Unissued stamps, Reprints, and Test stamps (collectively known as EPSURTs). However, this study focuses on essays only so the listings contain an E followed by an abbreviation to indicate the physical state: RCD or rough concept drawing, DCM or detailed concept model, FAW or final artwork, PM or photographic model, and E for printed essays.

            The catalog begins with the Slesvig Reunion issue of 1920 and nine pages are devoted to the set, attesting to the degree of research and detail involved. The essays prepared by two different artists are described including discussions of paper thickness, dimensions and color of the artwork as well as the printed essays. The rarity values are shown and for extremely rare examples (one or two known), the authors indicate where they reside such as in the postal museum or private collections. The level of detail is typical of that used throughout the book.

            The illustrations are quite good and are often derived from original materials. In some cases auction catalogs or other sources are used, but the quality is still more than acceptable. The text is occasionally enhanced with reproductions of journal articles announcing design competitions, and even a philatelically inspired cover on which essays were used. The last issued stamps of Denmark for which essays are shown in this volume is the Bertel Thorvaldsen set of 1938.

            An annotated bibliography for each issue is printed in great detail and comprises over 40 pages. An appendix gives brief biographical sketches of all the artists mentioned, in alphabetical order. A second appendix lists unidentified essays for which more detail is sought, and a third appendix shows test stamps that appeared during the 1920-1938 period with brief summaries of why they were made.

            Co-authors Benfield and Nørdam along with publisher Jay Smith recognize that additional essays and details will turn up. They have left room in the catalog numbering system to accommodate these new discoveries as they come to light. The on-demand publication system that is used permits updated editions to be easily arranged. This volume is an important and welcome addition to the philatelic literature of Denmark. Although some of the information appeared in a series of articles in Danish journals, the handbook has brought our knowledge of this material to new heights.


Alan Warren