Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Fabricated Story


Recently an Italian philatelic magazine published a story about the portrait on the 1893 issue of El Salvador. The basic story is that the issue was engraved by a Jimmy (Jo Jo) Seebeck who, it is claimed stated to a Rosa Carcero, supposedly a servant in the Seebeck household, “They have ordered me to engrave six stamps with the portrait of President Carlos Ezeta. Here is the frame and in the center is his image.” The story then goes on to claim that Rosa substituted the picture of her lover, Rivola Gomez, for that of Carlos Ezeta with some glue. Jo Jo then engraved the stamps without checking the photo. Further, it is claimed that President Ezeta never saw the stamps because he was worried about a revolution and so they were issued with the substituted picture. Apparently, whoever dreamed up this story never looked at a stamp catalog because there ate 10 identical stamps in the set not six.

I find no reason to believe the substitution story. I have heard about it for many years and I think it is just an urban legend.

The stamps from this period were produced by Nicholas Frederick Seebeck (NOT Jimmy Seebeck). Furthermore, Nicholas Seebeck had sisters but no brothers, so who would this Jimmy Seebeck have been? The El Salvador Consul in New York was Ernest Schernikow, who was Seebeck’s brother-in-law. Shernikow surely would have recognized a substitution of someone else for Carlos Ezeta as would have the postal employees in San Salvador. Had they noticed it they would have rejected the stamps. They did this in 1889 when the stamps printed by the American Bank Note Company showed up with the legend “UNION POSTAL DEL SALVADOR” instead of the correct “SERVICIO POSTAL DEL SALVADOR.”

I’m sure the portrait of Carlos Ezeta, who was president from 22 June 1890 to 9 June 1894, was provided by the government in El Salvador, probably via the Consul. How could a servant in Seebeck’s house be able to slip another portrait to the company or engraver? I consider this highly unlikely or impossible. Further, what is the source that states a Rosa Carcero was a servant in Seebeck’s household? Seebeck was born in Germany and if he had a servant, I suspect it would have been someone from Ireland as they were often employed as servants at this time.

I suspect the story has been accepted because many collectors think that Hamilton Bank Note Company was a “kitchen table” (small) operation. It was NOT! During the time Seebeck was with Hamilton, they printed millions of tickets for the Elevated Railway (El) in New York City. They also printed stock certificates, Bonds and many other things. Stamps were probably only a small part of their business. In fact, they bid on the 1894 issue of United States stamps but the contract went to the Bureau of Engraving & Printing, which produced almost all U.S. stamps until recently. Hamilton was a competitor of the other big security printing firms in the U.S. A security-printing firm is always very rigorous in protecting and controlling their products because they are financial instruments.

Some stamp collectors have a low opinion of Hamilton because of the Seebeck contracts but they were an important company and proud of their reputation. I’m sure they would have taken steps to insure that the material they produced was accurate and of high quality. Although Hamilton did use “free agent” engravers they never would have permitted the work to be done at home nor would they have just accepted something without checking it for accuracy. Hamilton was still in business in the 1940’s when Seebeck’s grandson, August, was president of the company. Eventually, the American Bank Note Company acquired Hamilton. In fact, the dies and transfer rolls of the “Seebeck” issues still exist in American Bank Note Company vaults.

Nicholas Seebeck was a stamp collector. He formed a good collection of former German States and so knew about how other collectors study stamps and look for errors. He was a founding member of the Collectors Club of New York and therefore not a “lone-wolf” or closet collector, who might be unaware of how other collectors study their material.

Carlos Ezeta was the first living person depicted on the stamps of El Salvador. I suspect that he would have been proud of this “honor” and thus would have rejected a design that did not resemble him. Furthermore, his government originated in a coup-d’├ętat, so he had a long list of political opponents who would have ridiculed him if the stamps did not resemble him. Finally, had he been misrepresented, I would imagine that the Salvadorian Post would not have asked for Antonio Ezeta, Carlos’ brother, to be the portrait two years later. While I realize that some of my comments are speculations, I believer that for now this is all that we have. It would be great if we could find the photo from which the design was taken. Carlos Ezeta was a general in the army of El Salvador. I suspect the picture on the stamps shows him in a military uniform not the fireman’s uniform so often claimed in the philatelic press.

Does anyone have a picture of President Ezeta that shows him in the uniform depicted on the stamps?

1 comment: