Pieter’s Suprise

Pieter’s Suprise

They had already been really good mates for a long time. Personal friends but, more than anything, friends in graphic art.

Eric Coppenhagen is a seasoned packaging designer, with good cigar manufacturers as a tried and tested target group. They still taste best to him and he is quite familiar with the product he has to package for his clients. As for AGI veteran Pieter Brattinga, you either know everything about him or you can simply read it in this book.


150 Years of Stamps in the Netherlands, Dutch Post, 2002.


Eric and Pieter both worked for a long time in the area within the ring of canals in the old centre of Amsterdam known as the Grachtengordel. Beautiful old houses, in the past often in the hands of rich businessmen, these days primarily popular with wealthy fortysomethings from the worlds of advertising, showbusiness, law and so forth. The physical distance between Pieter’s and Eric’s front doors and the plentiful choice of restaurants and bars on the way led to many pleasant talks. And collaborations, incidentally. Pieter loved designing, but his interest in the detailing process was minimal. Eric enjoyed helping him out.

Around the turn of the century, Pieter’s health was slightly ailing. His mobility was gradually becoming restricted. There were things, an increasing number of things, he was no longer able to do properly.

And then came the PTT Post, a good, regular client of Pieter’s, with another request for a special stamp project. The Dutch postage stamp had a special birthday to celebrate. Born in 1852, its 150th anniversary was coming up. To mark the event, an International Postage Stamp Fair was going to be held in Amsterdam in 2002. Philately is currently a profitable spin-off of stamps: postal organizations like to think up lots of new projects; collectors lay out money for them and the printing process and post-office counter sales are the only tasks left to the postal company. No letters have to be collected, stamped, sorted, transported or delivered. Almost pure profit, in other words.


150 Years of Stamps in the Netherlands, commemorative issues, Dutch Post, 2000, 2001 and 2002.


In this case, the commercial post people had also devised a three-phase campaign. A special issue sheet, with three issue dates. In 2000 (as an announcement), in 2001 (as a reminder) and in 2002 on the occasion of the big birthday itself. Pieter Brattinga thought up the concept, conferring extensively with Eric. He made a sketch with a diagonal grid over the sheet and discussed the image editing for each of the three issues. Eric went with him to the meetings with Post Office’s project manager. Eric elaborated upon Pieter’s plan, digging up the image material from historical prints and the first series of Dutch postage stamps. In that way, it was possible for Pieter’s last postage stamp designs to be realized even after the creator himself was no longer able to use the pencil. Thanks Eric, thanks Pieter, for that late arrival. Turned out pretty well, by the way.

Ben Bos, Amsterdam, 2006


Essay taken from 'AGI: Graphic Design Since 1950' by Ben & Elly Bos