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October 24, 2019

Postage stamp-designing: the art with a glorious past but ‘a bleak future’


October 24, 2019

The Pakistan Security Printing Press Corporation, when it came into being, was run by a British company called Thomas DeLauro. At that time, stamps used to be from England, said former chief designer Aziz Adil Salahuddin of the Pakistan Security Printing Press on Wednesday.

He was speaking to a panel discussion ‘Reimagining the future of books and postage stamps in the modern era’ at the two-day fourth Annual Book Fair organised by the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture’s (IVS) Marium Abdullah Library.

Salahuddin is Pakistan’s foremost stamp designer with over 2,000 stamp designs to his name. Of these, 400 have been printed, including 50 for foreign countries. He got enrolled in Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) in 1962 and graduated in 1966.

One of his prominent teachers was miniature artist Haji Muhammad Sharif, who taught him miniature. After graduating in 1966, he realised that the miniature could be used in stamps also. In 1958, the Security Printing Press of Pakistan came into being which had is administrators and other staff all British.

Thomas DeLauro, a London-based company, established all machineries. “At that time, stamps were used to be designed from England,” he said.

Then it was decided to introduce local designers, and the first one was Bashir Mirza from the NCA. “He worked there for six to eight months and designed four stamps,” he recalled. The British used to select two designers then from the NCA and two from then East Pakistan’s Dacca School of Art.

“The British taught us how to develop a stamp. We knew the basics, we knew about miniature,” he said and added that they benefitted a lot from what British taught them.

He shared why he preferred making small stamps and not bigger ones. The approving authorities of bureaucrats, he reasoned, couldn’t visualise in different size. He shared how tough competition was back then between them that every artist used to get one subject. The one with the best used to get approved.

He showed a few of his rejected stamps on which three languages were inscribed; Urdu, English and Bengali. “That was all handwork,” he said and added that back then they had only three instruments for work --magnifying glass, double-zero brush which were very rare back then and a geometry box.

In today’s era, he said, a stamp which used to take 10 to 15 days back then now takes just 15 minutes to be formed in computer. There weren’t even photocopies available back then. He said that they used to get a topic for which they had to research in libraries.

“That was a tough time,” he said and added that they didn’t had computers in

the security press until 1980s. The British, he said, used to be very much concerned about the topics for the stamp.

The Mohenjo Daro was an international topic back then, as stamps were made on it all over the world. “We were sent there. We did sketches at the site and brought it back to the studio,” he said and added that after which he made a panorama in which every significant part of Mohenjo Daro existed. “That was recognised as the world’s best stamp in the world by UNICEF,” he said.

As for Sindh Madressatul Islam’s stamp, he said, they had to go there and do sketching to come up with a stamp. Today, he said, everything was available on Google.

As for the future of stamps, he smilingly said that it was very dark. “Now they aren’t used anymore,” he said and added that the quantity of printed stamps in 1970s and 1980s used to be around two million which also had to be reprinted. “Now hardly 0.1 stamps are printed,” he said and added that the industry was dying as every graphic designer could draft a stamp easily.