BIOGRAPHY: Frederick Heath

Frederick Heath (1810-1878) was the son of the famous engraver Charles Heath. Charles had his own studio in which he also employed both Frederick and his other son Alfred. 

In 1839, the printers Perkins Bacon & Petch commissioned Charles Heath to engrave the portrait of Queen Victoria for adhesive stamps which were to be introduced in Britain. By that time, Charles was wont to delegate most of his work to either his sons or other employed engravers, because of his failing eyesight. For this particular engraving, Charles enlisted the help of his son Frederick.

A die was made by first laying down the engine-turned background. The centre part of it was then removed creating space for Charles Heath to engrave the portrait of Victoria. This first die was ready in January 1840. This die was rejected, mainly because of the background engine-turned engraving, which was thought to be too light. The lettering, too, which was different to what it eventually became, was not adopted. And it was thought the portrait was engraved a little too fine. That same month, work started on the second die which was completed on 23 January 1840. This die was accepted in February and has since become known as Die I. The Queen herself expressed her ‘high satisfaction’ with the engraved die.

The engraved head of Victoria was used for all subsequent Great Britain line-engraved issues, except of course for the halfpenny. Although, when it was found that a deeper cut die was needed, Heath's portrait was retouched by William Humphrys in 1854. This die has become known as Die II.

In 1865, the first requests for essays for a halfpenny stamp were made, but actual work on the eventual die did not start until 1870. It had been decided that the stamp would be in a smaller format, which meant that the existing engraving of the Queen’s head could not be used and a new engraving had to be commissioned. By that time, Charles Heath had passed away, so the job of engraving Victoria’s portrait fell to his eldest son Frederick.

By then, Frederick Heath had already engraved a few more Victorian stamps for Perkins, Bacon & Co., but this time for New South Wales. In 1855, he engraved the profile head of Victoria for the low value definitives of 1d to 3d, which were introduced in 1856. Various die proofs of this issue were reprinted in the early 1900s by Perkins, Bacon & Co, probably for study or souvenir purposes. They exist in two versions, with ‘Postage’ and the value omitted leaving a blank space, or with that blank space filled in with a pattern of engine turning. This particular engraving is usually regarded Frederick heath’s finest example of craftsmanship.

He himself, however, thought the 1861 5 shilling coin stamp for New South Wales was his best work. In 1859, the government for New South Wales had asked Perkins, Bacon & Co to produce a stamp which would be completely forgery-proof and transferable to stone. Having pointed out that these two requirements contradicted each other, preference was then given to the anti-forgery qualities, which meant the stamp would be recess-printed. Frederick Heath engraved the die for this 5 shilling coin stamp which would be issued in 1861. It would remain in use for nearly three decades until replaced in 1889. However, it was so popular that it was ordered out of retirement in 1897 as part of a new Diamond Jubilee issue.

You will find Frederick Heath's database HERE.

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