CHAT: Guillaume Broux - Belgium's Torchbearer

When you look at countries where they still issue hand-engraved, recess-printed stamps, such as France or until recently Sweden, you find that there’s usually a team of engravers, sharing the work load. Not so in Belgium. Even though Belgium is very much rooted in the top five of such countries, it is a single man, Guillaume Broux, who for many years has been responsible for all of Belgium’s output of engraved stamps, with only the odd collaboration with engravers from other countries to lighten his burden. Finding that the man is a bit of an unknown quantity, I figured it was about time he got some well-deserved attention. So I picked up the phone and dialled his number...

AK: Shall we start with some general biographical information, such as date and place of birth, education, etc?

GB: Well, I was born In Tongeren, in eastern Belgium near the Dutch border, on 24 January 1963. I still live in the same area but work full time at Philately & Stamps Printing of the Belgian Post, known as bpost nowadays, which is in Mechelen, some 70 miles from home.

AK: Are you from an artistic family?

GB: Yes, I am. My father was a woodcarver who used to work on the famous classic Liège furniture. He’s still at it, even though he is nearly 80 years old now. I took evening classes as a woodcarver as well, but my main training was as a weapon engraver in the City of Liège. Together with Brescia in Italy and Ferlach in Austria, the city is one of the three main centres in Europe known for their weapon industry and the engraving of those. I was also very good at drawing which is another requisite for entering this profession. I graduated in 1988, and spent the following year as a conscript in the Belgian army.

Soon after, the Belgian Post contacted me asking me whether I might be interested in engraving postage stamps. In those days, the Belgian Post did not have any engravers in their employ; they worked solely with freelance engravers. I took up the challenge and from 1989 spent the next six years working as a freelance engraver for them. My first stamp I ever engraved was the 1989 stamp depicting St Tillo’s Church in Izegem.

On 16 January 1995, I became fully employed by the Belgian Post. That happened because they had just built brand new printing premises on the south side of the city of Mechelen. Until then, they were housed in a small and old building in the city centre. As you find with many other state printers, they usually have one or more engravers in their employ, which has the advantage of them being available all the time during the printing process. So they asked me whether I would like to be fully employed by them, which I accepted.

At that time I was the youngest of the freelance engravers, which may well be why they asked me. My colleague Patricia Vouez worked for the National Bank, so she couldn’t have accepted this offer anyway, and another colleague had a pocket watch business, so was also unavailable.

AK: So you were the only one left?

GB: Yes, from 1995 on I’ve been the only engraver for bpost. That means I have to engrave all subjects, which isn’t always that easy. When more engravers are employed, you’ll find that each one has his or her own specialities, whether it be portraits or animals or whatever. But I have to tackle every subject: portraits, flora, fauna, buildings, and other objects. For example, right now I’m working on stamps depicting African masks, for a set to be issued later this year. So the range of subjects is very varied.

To be continued...

This article was first published in Gibbons Stamp Monthly of November 2017 and is reproduced here with their kind permission.