6 June 2009

A Tête-Bêche Pair with a Design by Konecsni György

Tête-bêche is a French expression used in philately, meaning an unseparated pair of postage stamps printed in an upside-down relation to one another, either vertically or horizontally. They are produced deliberately, for the purpose of collecting, or accidentally. The following picture shows an Hungarian tête-bêche pair issued in 1945. It is mentioned in the Scott and Michel catalogs with not a high value, so I believe it to be a deliberate production. Scott number is 716 for the regular stamp, Michel is 828 with a "K" suffix for the tête-bêche pair.

Tête-bêche pair of Konecsni György's Reconstruction
I find this stamp to be interesting, not just for its curious printing arrangement, but also because of the design and its creator, the great Hungarian poster artist Konecsni György (1908-1970). You can click on the image to see it in higher resolution.

Konecsni was a prominent figure in Hungarian visual arts. His first success was with tourism posters, in the late 1920s through the 1930s, and later with political and commercial ones. He also designed several Hungarian stamps, issued from 1939 to 1950. His work is characterized by the significant amount of emotional content transmitted through narration, symbols and colors.

According to Marta James Aulich in her book, Political posters in Central and Eastern Europe, 1945-95; Konecsni, as well as other eastern-European visual artists who worked on governmental political posters, stamped a nostalgic element in his work that was disliked by the communist authorities, who were looking for less-ambiguous messages focused on the promise of a bright, socialist future.

I wonder if you share my view, but I see that nostalgia in this stamp. The theme is Reconstruction, aimed at encouraging the citizens of Budapest to repair the aftermaths of World War II in their city. Or at least that was the official allegation. We can see a worker with a hammer and a broken chain, which are typical Marxist propaganda themes. Isn't it courious that he is looking straight to the left, which symbolizes the past? This worker is reparing (I guess) a stone embossed with the coat of arms of Budapest. At the back, we see the the beautiful Chain Bridge, which needed to be repaired after the war. This bridge is one of the landmarks of this remarkable city. To the right we find it in good state, but in a sort-of-dreamy image.

In October, 2008, two stamps were issued to conmemorate the centenary of Konecsni's birth. These are shown below; the image was borrowed from Konecsni György's National History Museum's website in Kiskunmajsa (click here for an automatic English translation of their homepage). They picture Christmas themes by the visual artist.

Konecsni György's conmemorative stamps
For more about Hungarian philately you can visit the Society for Hungarian Philately's website. You can also read about and view Hungarian designs by visiting "Designed in Hungary" in designterminal.hu and "Old Hungarian Posters" in The Blog of Hungary. Moreover, if you are interested in contemporary art from the former "Eastern Bloc", you might want to check East Art Map: Contemporary Art and Eastern Europe and its companion website.

Back to tête-bêches. Early accidental cases were due to single cliches being placed upside down on the printing plates. Such was the case with this 1858 pair from Uruguay, for example. More recent instances are due to sheets printed for booklets being cut wrongly; or mistakenly sold without cutting, as it happened with this large multiple of Great Britain machins. Further examples of tête-bêche varieties are shown here; in this case they correspond to Swiss definitives and I don't know if they were accidental or not.

Comments are, as always, very welcome, and that includes corrections. :)


  1. Thanks for another fascinating read!

    I wonder what 120p was worth at the time Konecsni designed his stamp, and how long this was in circulation. I take "120p" to be 120 pengő, as you mention that the stamp is from 1945. The year coincides with a time when Hungary's currency was spiralling out of control with hyperinflation.

    In fact, a year later in August 1946 Hungary reintroduced Forint (still used today), which started exchanging at a rate of four hundred octillion (that is, number 4 followed by 29 zeros) pengő for one forint. If I calculate correctly, this means that one US dollar at the time equalled roughly 4.7 * 10^30 pengő. That's a lot of pengő.

    I don't know what the situation was in 1945, though. Supposedly 60 pengő was still enough to take your letter somewhere, or alternatively you had to have a very strong tongue to attach all those stamps you needed to send anything! Not to mention, a large envelope.

  2. Actually, Wikipedia has some historical exchange rates for pengő: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_peng%C5%91#Historical_exchange_rates

  3. Thanks Vili! I didn't realize this series was issued at the begining of the world's greater hyperinflation.

    According to the Scott catalog, highest denomination for the series is 3000 pengö. Subsequent ones are denominated in ezer (thousand) pengö, milpengö (million pengos), etc., up to a Sc#774, which has a face value of 500.000 billió-pengö, which in English means 500,000 *trillion*.

    After that, there are two series denominated in a short-lived, new currency, the ado-pengö, and then the Forint was introduced.

    Markku Korhonen has published an exhibit about the period:


    He also has the answer to your question (I think), in your native language and all :)


  4. Indeed, Korhonen's notes are pretty interesting and detailed on that site. Thanks!

  5. Awesome stamp blog. Have a nice day.

  6. oh uau
    great collection! =)

    i collect sugar packets.. plz check my blog!

    do you have any stamps from portgual? maybe we could arrange an exchange.. sugar packets for stamps..

    let me know if you'r up for it =)

  7. Hi -- let's exchange links. www.stampgiftshop.com

  8. Please add your nice blog here :

  9. Hi! Congrats for your blog! I wanted to follow your blog, but I don't know how. (There's no blog followers list here).

  10. Visit this new website, still under construction but little
    little will grow with the help of all. Tell me that you
    look or improve on the forum. THANK YOU