Philatelic Favorites #2: Bull’s Eye Stamps 170th Anniversary – Brazil, 2013

Let’s step away from New Issues for a moment, shall we? We aren’t going too far back in time, however. Just ten years, to be exact. Well, with a preamble going back to 1843 so we’re spanning 180 years of philatelic history today.

In October 2013, I wrote an article on my personal blog which I had hoped would launch a new series which I called “Philatelic Favorites”. Now, in March 2023, I am finally unleashing installment number TWO! Better late than never, I suppose.

Barbados Scott #109 (1906), from the collection of Mark Joseph Jochim

Ironically, today’s featured issue was released just two months before I wrote about my first Philatelic Favorite, the Olive Blossom stamp released by Barbados on 15 August 1906 (Scott #109), although I only stumbled across it fairly recently. It falls into one of my favorite topicals, stamps on stamps, and marked the 170th anniversary of Brazil’s famous Bull’s Eye stamps. I particularly like the miniature sheet of three stamps, each with denominations of 3.15 reals (Scott #3252) which is my Philatelic Favorite #2. There was also a single stamp released at the same time depicting the 90 réis Bull’s Eye bearing a denomination of 2.90 reals (Scott #3251).

Brazil Scott #3252 (2013), from the collection of Mark Joseph Jochim

The Bull’s Eye (or, Olho-de-boi in Portuguese) postage stamps were the first stamps issued by Brazil, on 1 August 1843, having face values of 30, 60, and 90 réis. Brazil was the second country in the world, after the United Kingdom, to issue postage stamps valid within the entire country (as opposed to a local issue). At first the three stamps were used only in Rio de Janeiro. That might have been considered a trial period because after 30 days the stamps were distributed to all major post offices in Brazil. Like the United Kingdoms’s first stamps, the design does not include the country name.

A beautiful example of a mint 90 réis stamp, the high denomination of the first postage stamps of Brazil, the Bull’s Eyes. Image from a Linn’s Stamp News article published on 30 April 2021.

The unusual name derives from the ornamental value figures inside the oval settings, and the arrangement of the stamps in the sheet, which permitted se-tenant pairs that looked like a pair of bull’s eyes. The unusual naming of Brazilian stamps continued with the later issue of smaller, but rectangular designs, which were nicknamed snake’s eyes, and the issue of similar designs to the Bull’s Eyes, but smaller, of which the blue were called goat’s eyes, and the black, cat’s eyes.

Detail from sheet of 60 réis Bull’s Eye stamps, from

It is believed that the designs of the Bull’s Eye stamps were taken from a bank note that was used by the Imperial Bank of Brazil prior to 1842. Because this bank note was engraved and printed by Perkins, Bacon & Company, in London, it was assumed for a long time that the stamps also were printed in London. Most experts thought that the Brazilian Mint did not have an engraving press to produce the stamps in 1843.

In his 1938 book, Bull’s Eyes, Dr. Jose Kloke explained that the Brazilian Customs authorities had seized an engraving press in 1841 which was later confiscated by the Brazilian Mint in Rio de Janeiro. Even before that, pioneer Belgian dealer Jean-Baptiste Moens in March 1867 wrote in his journal Le Timbre-Poste that the Bull’s Eyes were engraved by Srs. Carlos Custodio de Azevedo and Quintino José de Faria, engravers to the Mint, and were printed on a machine press by Srs. Clementino Geraldo de Gonviea and Florentine Rodrigues Prado at the workshops of the National Treasury.

Brazil Bull’s Eye strip of 30r+30r+60r se-tenant stamps — nicknamed the “Pack Strip” as it had been in the collection of Charles Lathrop Pack before being sold at auction by Stanley Gibbons in March 1963 when it realized £8,250. It was most recently auctioned by Robert A. Siegel in Sale 957 (The Islander Collection of South America) on 5 June 2008 when it sold for U.S. $2,185,000, including 15% seller’s commission.

The first two plates were composed of 54 stamps – 18 of each value in three panes, each containing three horizontal rows of six stamps. Among the greatest rarities of this issue are pairs of the 30r and 60r, or 60r and 90r stamps. Because a greater number of the 30r and 60r denominations were needed, a third plate of fifty-four 30r, a plate of sixty 30r, and two plates of sixty 60r were sent to press. There were 1,148,994 30 réis stamps printed, 1,502,142 of the 60 réis value, and 349,182 of the 90 réis stamp. The 90 réis issue were reserved for international mail only.

These stamps have since taken their place among the world’s philatelic rarities. One reason for their scarcity is that on 30 March 1846, the remainder of the Bulleyes (466,711 copies) were burned in the courtyard of the Brazilian Mint, following their replacement by the new Slanting Figures issue. Another reason is that the Bullseyes frequently were placed on the flap to seal the envelope; therefore, many were destroyed upon the opening of correspondence.

The so-called Meyer cover is the only known cover bearing the complete first issue. Part of Luis Alemany’s Grand Prix collection, it was sold by auctioneer David A. Feldman in 2006 for US $1,162,000.

Needless to say, Brazil’s Bull’s Eyes are a fascinating issue to study and there are plenty of resources, both in print and online, to do just that. We even have an excellent YouTube video we can watch created by Exploring Stamps‘ Graham Beck.

Also, needless to say, I don’t have an original 1843 Bull’s Eye in my collection. But I have officially released copies as stamps on stamps from several different countries including Brazil, Bolivia and even the emirate of Umm al-Quwain. One of the most original designs incorporating the Olhos-de-boi appeared in 1993 on the occasion of their 150th anniversary. Each of the four stamps included a character from the popular Brazilian comic book (and later animated television series) Monica’s Gang (Turma da Mônica), also known in English as Monica and Friends. I love the stamp that has the character engraving the 30 réis stamp with a bull serving as the model.

Brazil Scott #1415a (1993), image from Colnect online catalogue

Brazil Scott #1415 (1993) first day cover, from the collection of Mark Joseph Jochim

Empresa Brasileira de Correios e Telégrafos (the Brazilian Post and Telegraph Corporation, better known as Correios) had a lot to celebrate in 2013 including the 350th anniversary of the post office in Brazil on 25 January 1663. Thus, on that date a set of 25 stamps were issued to mark the occasion (joined in October by a miniature sheet of three). A 350th anniversary logo can be seen on the miniature sheet issued on 1 August 2013 to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the Bull’s Eyes. Later in the year, the celebration culminated with the Brasiliana 2013 International Stamp Exhibition, held in Rio de Janeiro from 19–25 November 2013. Brasiliana 2013 was honored with the single stamp issued at the same time as the miniature sheet. Portraying the 90 réis Bull’s Eye, this gold-colored stamp closed out a series started in 2011.

Brazil Scott #3202 (18 November 2011), Brazilian Philatelic Society 100th Anniversary
Brazil Scott #3222 (1 August 2012), 21st Luso-Brazilian Philatelic Exhibition
Brazil Scott #3251 (1 August 2013), 5th World Philatelic Exhibition Brasiliana 2013

Brazil Scott #3252a (1 August 2013), stamp from miniature sheet
Brazil Scott #3252b (1 August 2013), stamp from miniature sheet
Brazil Scott #3252c (1 August 2013), stamp from minature sheet

The 2011 and 2012 stamps were designed by Guilherme Tardin alone while the 2013 set was designed by Tardin in conjunction with Juliana Souza. They were printed using a combination of intaglio (recess) engraving and offset lithography in process and spot color. Each of the six stamps has a hidden numeral that can be seen by tilting the stamp to one side under good light. These correspond to the years being marked on each issue.

In the press materials at the time the 2013 stamp and miniature sheet were released, Correios stated:

This issue celebrates one of the most important events in the history of Brazilian postal communications, the launch of the stamp, and publicizes the World Philatelic Exhibition BRASILIANA 2013.

The Golden colored 90 réis stamp is the last in the series that started in 2011, issued to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the Brazilian postage stamp. The souvenir sheet, which features a reinterpretation of the 30, 60 and 90 réis stamps on a bronze, silver and gold colored background, represents the culmination of the series.

There are countless stamps that feature the artwork of the Bull’s Eye and thus reconstruct postal and philatelic memories to keep them alive and in touch with current events. On top of this, these issues reinforce the importance of stamps for domestic and international communications. This reinterpretation has already appeared on the centenary of the Bull’s Eye, in 1943, in a souvenir sheet with the images of Emperor D. Pedro II and President Getúlio Vargas.

In 1981, the Bull’s Eye was again in the spotlight, in the context of the commemorations to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Philatelic Club of Brazil. On that occasion, the three stamps were placed side by side on a single sheet envelope, as a way of expressing the Club’s way of enabling philatelists to swap stamps. In 1983, the Bull’s Eye was remembered once again to celebrate its 140th anniversary and to publicize the BRASILIANA, held in Brazil, which is one of the most important philatelic exhibitions in the world.

In 1990, the 30 réis version of the Bull’s Eye was included in a souvenir sheet next to the Penny Black, the first British postage stamp, which was 150 years old at the time. The souvenir sheet also featured images of Queen Victoria, D. Pedro I and Rowland Hill.

It appeared on two occasions in 1993: once in a souvenir sheet publicizing BRASILIANA 93 and again in a series of stamps featuring the “Turma da Mônica” cartoon characters, both commemorating the 150th anniversary of Brazilian postage stamps.

The act of paying tribute to the 170th anniversary of the Bull’s Eye in 2013 consolidates the tradition of always using later issues to draw attention to the first Brazilian postage stamps, with the aim of maintaining a presence in philatelic scenarios, especially in view of its historical value to philately worldwide. This trend will surely continue into the future, since these issues represent a way of reaffirming the cultural and institutional importance of postage stamps and philately, both in their earliest days and in modern times.

Brazilian Post

Philatelic Favorites #2 by Mark Joseph Jochim, 6 March 2023

Technical Information

Date of Issue:1 August 2013
Number of Stamps:One (1) gummed stamp in sheet of 50, three (3) gummed stamps in miniature sheet of 3
Denomination:2.90 Brazilian reals, 3 x 3.15 Brazilian reals
Designer:Guilherme Tardin and Juliana Souza
Printer and Process:Casa da Moeda do Brasil (Brazilian Mint) by offset lithography + chalcography (engraving) + special colors: bronze on the 30 réis stamp, silver on the 60 réis and gold on the 90 réis stamp
Paper:gummed chalky paper; phosphorescent
Stamp Size:30mm x 40mm
Miniature Sheet Size:137mm x85mm
Perforations:comb 12 x 11¾
Quantity Printed:sheet stamp – 600,040 copies; miniature sheet – 150,000


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