Czeslaw Slania, an engraver who created more than 1,000 postage stamps for countries around the world -- depicting coronations, moon landings, heads of state and movie stars -- has died. He was 83.
Slania, who also served as the official court engraver for Sweden, Denmark and Monaco, died March 17 in Stockholm, his home since 1956.
He had been in failing health for some months, but the cause of his death was not given in the announcement by the Swedish postal service.
"He was the most prolific stamp engraver ever," said Bonnie Smith, a stamp dealer based in North Carolina. "No one else comes close."
Collectors typically concentrate on a theme or a country. "I don't know of any other case where people collect stamps by a particular engraver," Smith said. "Slania is the only one."
He worked as a stamp engraver for more than 50 years, even as the trend moved away from engravings to photographic reproductions.
His recent popular works include a 25th-anniversary stamp commemorating the first moon landing, issued by Sweden in 1994; a portrait of Princess Grace of Monaco, jointly issued by the U.S. and Monaco in 1993; and "Great Deeds by Swedish Kings," Slania's 1,000th stamp, issued by Sweden in March 2000. It is a copy of David Klocker Ehrenstrahl's 17th-century painting, which hangs in the Swedish royal family's residence.
For the U.S., Slania made a 1985 stamp honoring war veterans. His last stamp, which was issued by the United Nations Postal Administration in February, commemorated the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.
Slania was known for his subtle humor. In a 1973 Swedish stamp honoring the Vaasa Ski Race, close examination shows Slania and some of his fellow postal workers skiing down a slope. He said it happened because the photograph of the race that he was working from was blurry, and he couldn't make out the skiers' faces. On deadline, working at home, he turned to a photo he happened to have of himself and some co-workers.
Slania also made bank notes for a number of countries, including Spain, Argentina and Brazil. As a sideline he designed stamp-like labels of famous people, including Mao Tse-tung and Brigitte Bardot. He also made self-portraits, including one for his 60th birthday in 1981.
Born in southern Poland, he joined the underground after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 and helped to forge documents. At the end of World War II, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, where he studied engraving. He later worked for the Polish state printing office and engraved 23 stamps for his country before he left.
While traveling on a cruise ship that stopped in Sweden, Slania went ashore and asked for political asylum.
In recent years a number of Slania clubs have formed around the world. Perhaps the largest, the Slania Study Group in Milwaukee, has about 1,200 members worldwide.
Married and divorced once, Slania is survived by a sister, a daughter and several nieces.