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With the issue of the String Instruments stamp sheet on 7 November 2022, PostNL gives an overview of ten distinctive string instruments from both Western and non-Western musical traditions. The featured instruments are part of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag's music collection. All photos were taken by graphic designer Bart de Haas from the Hague, who also designed the stamp sheet. The ten personal stamps in ten different designs are marked with ‘Nederland 1’, the denomination for items up to 20g in weight destined for delivery in the Netherlands. The validity period is unlimited.

The String instruments stamp sheet comprises ten personal stamps in ten different designs within the fixed framework of personal stamps. Each stamp features an overall image and a detail of a string instrument. The picture of the detail continues on the right or left-hand sheet edge. On the stamp, the pictures are connected by a pattern of white circles of different sizes. Each string instrument has its own background colour with a colour gradient. On the sheet edge to the left and right, the picture fragments are separated by a horizontal strip of which the colour is derived from the picture below. The colours on the top and bottom sheet edge are also derived from the stamp colours. The names of the string instruments are shown alternately at the bottom on the left and right-hand side of the stamps. The sheet edge next to it features the name of the country or area where the instrument comes from. The PostNL logo is printed at the top on the left-hand side of the stamp sheet; the logo of the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, the name of the designer Bart de Haas and the item number are printed at the bottom on the right-hand side.

The font used for the denomination 1 and Internationaal was designed in 2018 by type designer Martin Majoor from Arnhem. The rest of the typography uses the Mānuka font from 2021 (Kris Sowersby for Klim Type Foundry, Wellington, New Zealand).

The String instruments stamp sheet features ten different string instruments – five Western and five non-Western. The sound of string instruments is produced by the vibration of the strings, often supported by a sound box. In terms of construction, there are several different types of string instruments: lutes, harps and zithers. Lutes are musical instruments with strings parallel to the sound box, harps are musical instruments with strings vertical to the sound box and zithers are musical instruments without a neck. Another distinction is the method of playing: some instruments are played by rubbing the strings with a bow, some by plucking the strings, and some by striking the strings, as is the case with a piano.

The String instruments stamp sheet was designed by graphic designer Bart de Haas from The Hague. He took pictures of the ten featured musical instruments at the Kunstmuseum Den Haag. The museum manages a collection of more than 3,800 musical instruments, which was started by Daniel François Scheurleer (1855-1927).

Selection of instruments
Scheurleer not only collected musical instruments but also manuscripts, books, prints, drawings and paintings with a musical theme. Over time, the collection was expanded significantly to include non-Western and electronic musical instruments. ‘Milly van Houten-de Kom was a great help when I was researching string instruments,’ De Haas explains. ‘She is responsible for managing the huge collection of the Kunstmuseum. I also sought the advice of Frits Zwart, former music collection curator at the museum.’

De Haas wanted to feature a balanced mix of Western and Non-western instruments. ‘They have not been placed opposite each other, but distributed diagonally from left to right across the stamp sheet. After all, the essence of music is the link between them. The stamps feature string instruments from all over the world. From Europe, of course, but also from Africa, America and Asia. The shape of the instruments varies. The harp is a multi-stringed, complex, large instrument. The rubab, on the other hand, is a small instrument with only a few strings. The soundboard of the kamancheh featured is made from the shell of an armadillo. I was keen to show plenty of variety. Also when it came to the playing method, strumming versus bowing. That is why some stamps feature the bow as well.’

For each picture, the sheet edge has a printed explanation of the origin of the string instrument. This is not to say that the instrument was ‘invented’ there. De Haas: ‘For example, the violin is originally from Italy, but the stamp features a Dutch viola from 1688. It was made by Hendrik Jacobs, a reputable violin maker in from Amsterdam. The nyckelharpa, on the other hand, is typically Swedish. And the gayageum is typically Korean. The gayageum is an enchanting instrument with loose bridge elements underneath the strings. These can be shifted by the musician to create the desired chords.’

De Haas selected the string instruments he wanted to photograph at the Kunstmuseum from a longlist. By then, the design concept had been outlined, with the complete instrument on a small portrait image area and the detail on a larger landscape image area. ‘By showing the instruments in their entirety, you are telling a lot about how they work. While the detail picture truly shows the richness of the details. The kamancheh, for example, is a real hand-made work of art, inlaid with bone and wood. The sheet edge has been used to extend the detail image, and the angle at which this picture was taken almost makes you feel like you are playing the instrument. Since I did not yet know which string instruments would be on the left and right-hand side of the sheet, they were photographed in various directions. Incidentally, I photographed a few more so I had enough leeway to decide which combinations would work out best during the design process.’

When taking the detail pictures, de Haas took the distribution of the image across stamp and edge into account. ‘Of course, the most recognisable part of each string instrument ended up on the stamp itself, not on the sheet edge,’ says De Haas. ‘Take the mandolin, for example: it has this remarkable sound hole with a rosette. It is also noteworthy that the frets on the sound box are placed asymmetrically below the strings. With the gayageum, the focus is again on the unusual elements under the strings. The same principle applies to the other instruments. The typical curve of the harp, the carved head on the kundi, the half-angled neck of the rubab, et cetera.’

The first design concept still lacked the background colours, which De Haas added later. ‘Once I was sure which string instruments would be on the stamps. I wanted to create a colourful and contrasting stamp sheet. The colours refer to the origins of musical instruments. For example, the colours are generally cooler on the northern instruments and warmer on the southern ones. The background colour of the viola is a little out of place. This is because I was keen to combine the classic cherry red with the warm brown of the wood of the violin. They are slightly melancholic yet bright colours. For me, music is not necessarily joyful; it can be equally melancholic. The strong light-dark contrast in the detail pictures also contributes to this.’

Graphic elements
The subject of this issue – string instruments – recurs in other ways in the design, says De Haas. ‘For the typography, I picked a tall, narrow letter that reflects the character of strings. And on each stamp, the overall picture and the detail picture are separated by increasingly smaller white circles. I wanted to add a graphic element with a subtle association with music. You can see in it what you want to see: strings, frets, musical notes or LEDs. It is lively, adds rhythm. And it dances slightly – that's what music is for, too.’

About the designer
Bart de Haas (1966, The Hague) graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. After working for several design agencies, he established himself as an independent graphic and typographic designer in 1993. He has a strong preference for book design, but has also designed posters, magazines, websites and visual identities in the past. Bart de Haas has designed books for Huis Marseille in Amsterdam, the Army Museum Delft, nai010 publishers, Brill publishers, de Buitenkant, Clio, SUN, THOTH, Vantilt, W-Books and Waanders, among others. For PostNL, he previously created the Underwater landscapes (2021-2023) and Primeval Species stamp series (2021-2023) and the stamps for Dutch castles (2017), Apple and pear varieties in the Netherlands (2016), National musical instruments (2014) and Long live the woods! (2010).

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