(See also article published on May 5th ‘First African Stamps’)
William Humphrys was born in Dublin in 1794. At an early age he moved to the United States. There he studied engraving techniques under the tutelage of a Mr. George Murray in Philadelphia. In 1815 he embarked on his career as an engraver and stamp engraver for the United States government.
He participated in the engraving of vignettes for bank notes and engravings for book illustrations.
He moved to England in 1823 where he worked on book illustrations for individual publishers. He then returned to the United States in 1843. Two years later he moved to Dublin to engrave “The Reading Magdalene” for the Royal Irish Art Union.
He then came to England and was employed by Messrs Perkin, Bacon and Co. During his period of employment by Perkins Bacon he was responsible for the engraving of many of the classic stamps.
At that time Perkins Bacon had the contract to produce stamps for Great Britain and for the many British Possessions around the world. Humphrys engraved the head of Columbus for the first stamps of Chile.
In 1854 he was given the task of re-engraving the Queen’s Head for the line-engraved 1d red-brown. The die he produced is known to philatelists as Die II or “Humphrys’s Retouch”.
Some of the stamps, which were engraved by William Humphrys are as follows
• Cape of Good Hope – he engraved the die for the first issue (triangulars).
• New Zealand – he engraved the first stamps, known as the Chalons, working from a watercolour by Edward Henry Corbould.
• Queensland – he engraved the dies for the first stamps used from 1860 to 1881
• St Helena.
• South Australia – he engraved the dies for the first stamps issued in 1855
• Western Australia – he engraved the dies for the first stamps, the famous Black Swans, issued in 1854.
He gave up engraving and became an accountant to Novello & Co, typographical music and general printers, of London. In ill-health Humphrys went to Italy to recuperate. He had been invited by Alfred Novello, son of the founder of the company Vincent Novello, to the Villa Novello in Genoa. On 21 January 1865, while he was still at the villa, he died aged seventy-one.
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