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~ Bagpipes on Postage Stamps ~

~ Stamp No. 68: Austria ~
Scott Catalogue No. Pending

A great looking little stamp from 1998, done in an early style, very nicely engraved: This is from a series of stamps depicting "Tales and Legends of Austria." The Austrian postal service web site carries the following article about this stamp (author unknown):

"As of the year 1349, Vienna was repeatedly struck by the plague. In the year 1679 the devastating epidemic erupted once again throughout the city. Streets and squares filled with the dead and dying. Due to a shortage of space, bodies were often laid on top of one another in wheelbarrows and buried in pits dug out along the outskirts of the city. Back then in the old part of the city there lived a bagpiper by the name of Augustin - a jolly man, who roamed from one wine tavern to the other putting people in good spirits and drinking many a cup of wine with them. The more horrifying the days became as the plague raged on, the happier the Viennese were to gather around this cheerful fellow, if only to forget the deadly scourge for just a few hours. Augustin often sang his favorite song: "O, dear Augustin, money's finished, folks are finished, o, dear Augustin, everything's finished!" One day he sang his song in a bar in the city, in his usual gleeful and loud manner. The wine flowed so abundantly down his throat that while making his way home he stumbled on a curb and into a ditch, where he fell fast asleep. In making their rounds, grave diggers saw what they though was a dead man lying by the side of the street, lifted him up, and laid him with the rest of the bodies in their wheelbarrow. Afterwards they dumped the tragic load into a pit. Luckily, the bodies were only covered with dirt once the cavity was completely filled. Augustin laid there fast asleep among the dead bodies until dawn. In the early morning he looked around amazed and didn't quite know whether he was dreaming or awake. When the grave diggers came with new bodies, they heard someone calling for help from the open pit, got him out, and were more than a little baffled upon recognizing that it was Augustin, well-known throughout the city and who always loved to sing. At this point Augustin cursed profanely because he was thrown into a pit with casualties of the black death. However, when he realized that he survived the horrific night uninjured, and didn't even become ill, his cheerful mood returned and he often sang of his ghastly experience. This is the legend of "Dear Augustin". Even after his death Augustin lived on in the hearts of the Viennese, and in 1908 a monument was erected in his honor: the Augustin Fountain. In the series "Tales and Legends of Austria" the Post and Telekom Austria dedicates a special issue stamp to this charming character of Old Vienna, who has become a symbol of unwavering Viennese optimism."

Returning to the stamp itself, it is worth noting that the pipe depicted, while artistically handsome, is of a sketchy generic sort. The artist hedges in several ways, most obviously by having the drone growing out of the bag with no sign of a stock or tie-in, and by hiding the drone's necessary tuning joint behind a cascade of hair. The artist also insists, as do a number of other postage stamp illustrators, on making Augustin's piping difficult by having him play with the right hand on top.

Bagpipes vanished from Austrian culture long ago, and what very few museum specimens survive are problematical in regard to their origins. It is interesting that there are two Austrian stamps depicting bagpipes, both also of Augustin. The other one, number 2 in this collection, is done in a radically different style. What is important in both instances is the recognition that Augustin was a bagpiper. In other European legends involving bagpipers, the pipe itself has often been lost and replaced by some lesser instrument; thus for example we usually see the Pied Piper of Hameln tooting away, in 1284, on a wimpy little flute or such, which hardly would have driven rats to their doom let alone would have served to lure away the town's children.

The tune "Ach Du Lieber Augustin," still popular among children in German-speaking lands, fits on a variety of continental European bagpipes - it has an ominous ring to it when played on any of the larger, deep-pitched pipes, if one knows the history.

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