The Bullseye

Bull's Eye
Bull's Eye

The first issue of Brazil – the Bullseye, so nicknamed from the design’s resemblance – comes fourth chronologically in order of issue of adhesive postage stamps. First, in 1840, came the Penny Black and two-pence Blue of Great Britain; in 1842 came the New York Dispatch; and, in March 1843, came the Fours and Sixes of Zurich. The Bullseyes first appeared on August 1, 1843.

In conception, however, the Bullseyes are entitled to rank second only to the British issue. It was on November 30, 1841 that the Brazilian Government was authorized by Law No. 43 to create stamps. That law came about through the efforts of J.D. Sturtz, a German who had been a Brazilian consul to Prussia. Enlisting the aid of a British charge d’affaires in Brazil, he urged the adoption of prepayment by means of stamps, following the innovation in Britain.

Eventually emerging from carefully preserved, if musty, official records were the prime fact that, in 1841, the Brazilian customs authorities seized an engraving machine from one Pedro Ludwig, confiscated it and used it in the service of the mint. On Christmas Eve 1842 a transferring machine and accessories were bought by the Mint from one Eduardo Lemerick.

Production of the plates involved engraving a flat die with figures and background – a different die for each value; 30, 60, and 90 reis. The printing of the Bullseyes ceased at the end of 1843. Continued sale of the stock on hand was authorized on August 22, 1844, but use after 1850 is scarcely known. The numbers of Bullseyes calculated to have been issued are 30 reis – 856,617; 60 reis – 1,335,865; 90 reis – 341,125. Those figures do not include the remainders on hand which were burnt at the Mint on March 30, 1846.

Of the finds of Bullseyes the most important has been a vertical strip of three; the upper two stamps are the 30 reis value and the lowest is 60 reis, with a dividing line which separated the different values on the plate. Formerly in the collection of Charles Lathrop Pack, the strip is known as the ‘Pack Strip’. In March 1963 at auction by Stanley Gibbons the pack strip realized £8,250. Auctioned again by Stanley Gibbons in February 1969, the Pack Strip realized £11,500. It was sold in the Robert Siegel auction at Ameripex ’86’ on May 25th for $275,000. Another, but defective multiple of different values se tenant is known.

A complete pane of eighteen of the 90 reis was found in Brazil about 1898. Among other finds, the most noteworthy is a unique complete sheet of sixty of the 60 reis from the plate which was ready on July 11, 1843. At Stanley Gibbons’ auction in Frankfurt on 18 May 1978, the sheet realized $82,381. A 30 reis interpane block of four realized $168,000 at the Habsburg-Feldman auction in Zurich November 18, 1989 of the Amazon Collection which had been assembled over half a century. Colonel Napier had theorized correctly about the existence of the third plate which was proven by the later discovery of this block. The collection had earned the Grand Prix of the Court of Honour at London 1980.

The extraordinary thing about the first Brazilian stamps, issued on August 1, 1843, was that, some how, the authorities acquired Perkins, Bacon-style equipment – including a transfer roller – and engraved dies from which they prepared plates of 54 stamps, each plate comprising panes of 18 of each value -30, 60, and 90 reis. The designs featured large, ornamental figures of value within oval settings; hence their nickname, ‘bullseyes’, and the arrangement of the stamps in the sheet permitted se-tenant pairs, that is, stamps of two different denominations joined together in a pair. A classic example was the ‘Pack Strip’ – it was owned by an American collector, Charles Lathrop Pack – which was a vertical strip of three containing a pair of the 30 reis se-tenant with the 60 reis, the most famous item in Brazilian stamps. The stamps bore no country name or other inscription.

These stamps were followed in 1844 by smaller, rectangular designs with italic or inclined numerals of value, the Inclinados or ‘snake’s eyes’, and in 1850 by smaller versions of the original ‘bullseyes’ which became known as the ‘goat’s eyes’ or if blue instead of the customary black color, ‘cat’s eyes’. Small high-value stamps appeared in 1861 – it was not until 1866 that Brazil honored Emperor Dom Pedro II with his portrait on stamps. There are two interesting theories as to why that honor was delayed. One was that, in 1843, there was no one in the Rio Treasury who was sufficiently skilled to engrave such a portrait in the time available; the other was that there was objection to the prospect of the Emperor’s likeness being obliterated by postmarks!

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