Admiral Michiel de Ruyter – A Century of Stamps

“By God, I think the devil shits Dutchmen!” This famous remark was made by Sir William Batten during the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667. The Dutch fleet had broken through the defensive chain across the Thames, sailed up the river without any English resistance of note, and managed to attack and torch most of the large English naval ships. On their return to sea, the Dutch towed away the Royal Charles, flagship of the English navy, as a war trophy.

The “Raid on the Medway” is still considered by many the greatest Dutch naval victory in history and the most humiliating English naval defeat. However, the Treaty of Breda which followed the war, was rather favourable to the English; admittedly, they lost Surinam to the Dutch, but were allowed to keep New Amsterdam in North America, which had already been taken from the Dutch and renamed New York, after the then Duke of York, the future King James II, a formidable naval commander in his own right.

In charge during the Raid on the Medway was one of the most famous Dutch naval heroes of all time, Admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon De Ruyter (1607-1676). This year marks the 400th anniversary of his birth but rather unexpectedly, despite his lasting fame, the Dutch TNT has not honoured the man with a proper stamp issue. However, in a number of other ways the anniversary has been marked by them.

First of all there is a generic sheetlet of ten personal stamps, similar to the British Smilers© sheets. The sheetlet, printed in lithography by Joh. Enschedé & Sons, includes two designs, one stamp depicting De Ruyter himself (from a portrait by Ferdinand Bol) and the other stamp his flagship De Zeven Provinciën. It is the first sheet of a long series (a total of in all 50 sheets is ‘promised’!) named “The Canon of the Netherlands”, depicting famous Dutch personalities.

This issue is a mirror image of the 1957 issue, which marked the 350th anniversary of De Ruyter’s birth. That set was designed by Lou Strik (10c) and E. Thorn Leeson (30c). In those days, recess-printing would sometimes still be used by the Dutch and the set, printed by Enschedé, is a fine example of what can be achieved with that process. This holds especially true for the 30c value depicting the flagship. The detail on that stamp is very fine.

That same flagship was also included in a set of charity stamps issued in 1973. This set, designed by Sjoerd de Vries and Ab Gratama, is based on a shipping theme and has no further links to De Ruyter.

If we just stick to the watery theme for a little bit longer, we should also include the 5c of the 1944 Dutch definitives. The set has become known as the “London” set, as it was ordered by the Dutch government in exile in London. The stamps are recess-printed in England by Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. Ltd. The 5c depicts the cruiser De Ruyter, obviously named after the Dutch naval hero. The stamp is designed by J.B. Romein and engraved by A. B. Hill.

The second commemorative item is the official FDC logo for this year. Very cleverly, the designs for the official Dutch FDCs, produced by the NVPH, the Dutch Association of Stamp Dealers, are based upon a central theme. Thus, in 2005, when Queen Beatrix celebrated her Silver Jubilee, all designs took the shape of her silhouette, and in 2006, when the 400th anniversary of Rembrandt’s birth was commemorated, the designs were in the shape of paint brush strokes. This year, to mark De Ruyter’s 400th birth anniversary, the official FDCs are based on a ship and even include a banner marking the event.

The last in the row of this year’s De Ruyter anniversary products is the issue of postage paid stamps, produced by the Dutch TNT in association with The set of three stamps includes the obligatory portrait and maritime scenes but also a design incorporating the De Ruyter statue.

This cast iron statue, overlooking the sea, can be found in Vlissingen (Flushing), the town where Michiel de Ruyter was born in 1607. It is no coincidence that the statue can also be found on the Vlissingen sheetlet of the “Mooi Nederland” series, issued earlier this year.

This miniature sheet is part of an ongoing series portraying scenic towns of the Netherlands. Another sheet from that series, based on The Hague, also has a deliberate reference to De Ruyter’s birth anniversary by incorporating the street sign “De Ruyterstraat”.

The first time the Flushing statue was depicted on a stamp was in 1976. A single stamp was issued to mark the 300th anniversary of his death. The design by Walter Nikkels very successfully conveys the overpowering impression De Ruyter had on others by showing the statue from below.

One of De Ruyter’s earliest naval feats was to try and regain Dutch territory from the English in the 1660s. After the First Anglo-Dutch War, further conflicts of interest between the two maritime powers were battled out in North America. In 1664, the English had conquered Dutch territories, including Curaçao and New Amsterdam. Michiel de Ruyter, who was to work his way up from sailor to Lieutenant-Admiral-General (a rank created specially for him), was sent to the area to fight them. In 1666, he captured various English vessels and delivered supplies to the Dutch colony at St Eustatius. The conflict would later spill over into the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which, as mentioned in the beginning, would end with the Treaty of Breda, with various territories changing hands.

A stamp issued in 1966 by the Netherlands Antilles marks De Ruyter’s stay at the colony at St Eustatius in 1666,

and the obelisk erected in memory of De Ruyter features on a number of values of the Disberg definitives (so named after its designer) that were issued in the Netherlands Antilles between 1958 and 1977.

In Surinam, a set of stamps was issued in 1967 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Breda. The set depicts the castle where the treaty was negotiated and signed, as well as the territories involved in the exchange.

All the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the Boer War centuries later could well have had a detrimental effect on how the Dutch regarded the English and this was a notion the Germans eagerly tried to exploit when occupying the Netherlands during World War II. In 1943 they ordered the issue of a set of definitives in the Netherlands, depicting various Dutch naval heroes who had fought against the English, thereby hoping to stir up any anti-British sentiment. However, it completely backfired, for all it did was evoke stronger patriotic feelings among the Dutch! Michiel de Ruyter was, of course, also included in that definitive set. That particular stamp, the 7½c, was designed and engraved by the well-known Dutch stamp designer Sem Hartz. It is printed in photogravure by Enschedé. There are two versions of the stamp. Type I has thick value and letters, with the word “NEDERLAND” touching the outer side frames of the design.

Type II has thinner lettering and the word “NEDERLAND” no longer touches the frame.

There are a number of small plate flaws to collect, which mainly consist of extra dots on various parts of the design, e.g. just above the first “R” of “DE RUYTER”.

Michiel de Ruyter made his philatelic debut one century ago, in 1907. A set of three low values was issued on 23 March 1907 to mark the 300th anniversary of his birth.

The design depicts De Ruyter and a naval fleet in action. The stamps, designed by W.A. Mouton and engraved by J. Walter, were printed in typography by Enschedé. This was only the second commemorative set issued in the Netherlands. The first set, issued a year before in 1906, was a TB charity set.

Inadvertently, the portrait of Queen Wilhelmina was not incorporated in the design for that TB set. As laid down by law, all Dutch stamps with a value of three cents or higher had to bear the monarch’s portrait, and the set was made up of a 1c, 3c, and 5c! As no time was left to come up with new designs, a special Royal Decree had to be prepared to allow the issue to go ahead. In 1907, the Dutch postal authorities did not want to make the same mistake again and made sure that the De Ruyter set was made up of low values only. Consequently, the stamps were only valid for inland use.

A number of constant varieties exist on each value. On the ½c a white line through the second D of NEDERLAND can be found. The 1c has a dent in the bottom left frame line and that value may also come with an extra cannonball, just below one of the larger flags.

On the 2½c a little line can be found between the two frame lines below the M. A second variety on that value is a white spot at the left end of the scroll bearing the word 1907.

The issue becomes even more complicated when we take a look at the postage dues. The normal postage stamps were on sale and valid for use during a limited period only, from 23 March to 31 May 1907. The rather large quantities of all three values that were left after this period were overprinted with the word PORTZEGEL (postage due stamp) and a new value.

A total of thirteen different postage due values were thus produced, ranging from ½c to 1g. The stamps were issued on 1 November 1907.

The five ½c values come in two types. Type I has the fraction placed 1mm away from the main value figure, whereas on Type II the fraction is placed closer to the main figure (½ mm). The 1½c, 2½c, 6½c and 12½c values were printed in whole sheets of either Type I or II. These are therefore relatively common and don’t come at much of a premium. The 7½c value, however, was printed only in sheets of Type I, with on every sheet one copy of a Type II stamp. This Type II stamp is therefore much rarer and is ideally collected as a pair with the normal Type I stamp. The same goes for the 12½c Type II. Although whole sheets of Type I and Type II exist, as noted before, the Type I sheets are similar to the 7½c value sheets, i.e. one Type II stamp can be found on the Type I sheets. So again, a pair of 12½c stamps with Types I and II is very collectable.

It comes as no surprise that the various plate flaws of the ordinary set may also be found on the postage due stamps. The only plate flaw listed in the Dutch NVPH special catalogue, however, is the “white line through second D of NEDERLAND”, to be found on seven values.

The flaw on the 2½c (the extra little line below the M) exists on the postage due versions as well, and that may well be the case for the other flaws too.

There is also a constant variety of the overprint, consisting of a colon between the E and N of CENT on the 5c and 25c values. The postage due set was replaced in 1912 by a new set of specially designed postage due stamps.

And with this set we’ve “battled through” a century of Michiel de Ruyter issues. With such a variety of stamps to be had, it is clear that there are many ways to set up a nice collection, from collecting the cheap and cheerful modern issues, easy to get and great to look at, to the more traditional way of collecting the 1907 issue, with the more challenging items to hunt down!

© 2007, AKPhilately

An edited version of this article was published in Stamp Magazine of December 2007.


Anonymous said…
"Verzamelaarsmarkt" is nowhere from "Marktplaats". Isn't it just a Dutch Stamp Dealer at Klaaswaal?
Adrian said…
Yes, you're right, I must have mixed that up in my mind. Will change the text accordingly, thanks!
Anonymous said…
Hi, how much do you reckon the value of the 10c 1957 De Ruyter design? If you don't mind my asking..