Josef Herčík Josef Herčík (1922-1999) Graphic artist, engraver. He was born on March 23, 1922 in Uherský Brod, which was in Czechoslovakia at the time. He began his career as an engraver quite young, in a weapons company in his hometown, where the young Hercik learned to engrave gun butts. In 1940, he moved to Prague, where he fully immersed himself in artistic life. Within a year he managed to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, although his actual studies had to be postponed until 1945, when all academies were closed during the war. Since his main interest was graphics, he soon developed himself in the fine arts and began to focus on various engraving techniques. But it was book illustrators who made Herzik famous. This led to a fruitful collaboration with graphic designer Vaclav Sivko, who introduced him to the world of stamp engraving. This was not a new world for Hercik, because he was already very impressed with the work of stamp engravers, especially Jiří Svengsbier, and hoped that one day he could work as a stamp engraver as well. In the early 1960s, Hercik began engraving stamps himself. His first engravings on stamps were for a 1962 set featuring beetles, for which he engraved two denominations. However, issued in December 1962, these were not his first stamps. That honor went to the four denominations of the Praga 1962 airmail set, issued in May 1962 to Sivko's design. Until 1999, the year of his death, more than 400 engravings on stamps were to follow. In doing so, he surpassed even the huge number of stamps engraved by the most famous Czechoslovak engraver, Indra Schmidt, making Hercik the most prolific Czechoslovak stamp engraver. Needless to say, Hercik's work has won many awards. The Czechoslovak newspaper Mlada Fronta conducted an annual stamp poll in which it invited its members to vote in various categories. In the category "Best Engraved Interpretation of a Work of Art," Herczyk won no less than five times. Of these, it is his work for PRAGA 1978 that is still considered one of his masterpieces. It is a miniature sheet of Titian's "Skinning of Marcian." Two of the stamps show details of the painting, with the entire painting also included in the miniature sheet. Although the idea belonged to him, Herzick later admitted that he himself was not very happy with the end result. The stamps, which he himself was very proud of, were values from the annual Art Series, notably Preisler's 1968 Black Lake stamp and Picasso's 1972 self-portrait. An added bonus to any such art stamp collection is the image on the enclosed first-day covers, which consists of a hand-engraving associated with the image on the actual stamp, usually done by the engraver of that particular stamp and printed directly by the artisan. "The Mlada Front used to produce annual souvenir folders for its opinion polls. This folder would include a specially engraved souvenir sheet featuring the winner in the "Best Brand" category. Again, we find several of these souvenir sheets engraved by Josef Herzik. They are not easy to find, but they are an interesting addition to Herzik's collection of works. Hercik's talents did not go unnoticed in official circles either, and in 1982 Hercik was awarded the title of Honored Artist. His talents were also recognized abroad. In 1967 Herczyk was awarded the Grand Prix in Naples for the engraving of Picasso's painting "Guernica" on a 1966 Czechoslovakian stamp. Herczyk even received a personal commendation from Picasso himself! Hercik himself was not too happy with the end result and felt that the quality of the print did not match the engraving. Fortunately for him, the same engraving was used on a miniature sheet in 1981 to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the International Brigades in Spain, as well as the centennial of the artist Picasso. By then the quality of the print had improved considerably, resulting in a much more satisfactory end result. Other international prints by Hercik that received high praise both at home and abroad were his stamp with a panorama of Prague, issued in 1967 as part of the PRAGA 1968 advertising stamp exhibition, and an engraving of Mount Fuji in Japan, issued in 1970 to promote EXPO 70, the World Expo in Osaka, Japan. His international fame led to him being asked to engrave the odd stamp for Kuwait, Monaco and the United Nations. He was even approached by German publisher Hermann Sieger Verlag, who asked him to engrave a copy of the famous Mauritius Blue color they used on their promotional souvenir sheets. In addition to scattered souvenir sheets for stamp shows such as Nordposta, Belgica, Wipa and Philexfrance, Herczyk became particularly involved in the Japanese philatelic world through the tireless efforts of Japanese philatelist Meizo Mizuhara. From 1990 to 1994, Herczyk engraved souvenir sheets for the annual Japex exhibition, and in 1996 he also engraved a souvenir sheet for the opening of the Tokyo Philatelic Museum. Hercik's admirers often became his close friends. Another philatelist friend, Londoner George James Firmage, never tired of promoting Herczyk's work to the Czechoslovak Philatelic Society of Great Britain, which resulted in Herczyk becoming a lifelong honorary member of that society. But Herczyk's heart lay very much with his homeland. He once said that he engraves stamps with his heart, but most of all his heart belongs to Czechoslovakia. For him, creating stamps for his native country not only meant that he understood the psychology of the recipients of his art, but it also meant that he could stand with one foot firmly in the Czechoslovak present and the other firmly in the country's past, honoring the master engravers before him, continuing the great Czechoslovak tradition of stamping. Hercik is known for his many iconic engravings depicting various architectural landmarks of his beloved city of Prague. Although some are private prints, others were used on first-day covers or in promotional materials for the Postal Museum. In the 1990s, the Hercik family (Josef, his wife, son and daughter-in-law) founded a publishing company that soon earned a good reputation for producing high-quality products. In 1993, he was asked to design and engrave the first stamp of his new country, the Czech Republic. With this stamp, he could give free rein to his interest in heraldry. This was to be his proudest moment. Josef Hercik passed away on July 9, 1999.