BY LIZ VASARHELYI
Next time you post a letter,
look carefully - there could be a rare breed surreptitiously concealed in
the stamp in the corner of the envelope!
At first glance, the appearance
of the beautiful white Hungarian Kuvasz on the postage stamps of an African
country may seem rather strange. Even more unusual is the sight of one of
these large wavy-coated dogs staring into the crib as part of the nativity
scene for a Christmas issue on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Combine
all this with an ex-patriot Hungarian living in the north of England and
you have all the ingredients for the unusual story of how Kuvasz came to
The Kuvasz (pronounced coo-vas) appeared on two stamps for his native land
in 1956, but when a Hungarian fancier of the breed was given carte blanche
to design a canine issue for the African Country of Liberia, it sparked
off a whole series of stamps picturing these dogs.
Julian Vasarhelyi first became
involved with Hungarian Kuvasz during the war years in Transylvania, when
his family owned two male Kuvaszok, Tropi and Tripi. Sadly, Tripi disappeared
one night during shooting from the Russian forces in the area. At the end
of the war, the family was forced to return to Budapest, and Tropi went with
them. Julian left Hungary in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution and lost
links with the breed until 1972 when the Liberian postal authorities commissioned
him to design their stamps.
He was already well known in the world of philately for his speed in producing
colorful, detailed and innovative artwork for postage stamps. He is also
listed in the Guinness Book of Stamps - Facts and Feats as the most
prolific stamp designer in the world. However, when researching photographic
references for this issue he found a problem - very few books showed the
Kuvasz, and those that did were not typical of the breed he knew so well.
THE ONE & ONLY
At this point, he contacted the Kennel Club, thinking there must be some
of these dogs in England, but he discovered there was only one Kuvasz in
the country at that time. It was this lone dog (a male called Kuvasz)
which finally appeared on the miniature sheet for Liberia.
After the publication of these
stamps, Julian decided to acquire his own models for future issues, and into
his home came a dog and a bitch. The imported dog (Nemes), appeared on a nursery
rhyme issue by Tristan Da Cunha, and can be seen sitting in the top right-hand
corner of the sheet,
next to Little Jack Horner. The same dog can also be found on the souvenir
sheet of stamps for the Caribbean island of Grenada, which commemorates
the 75th anniversary of the first aeroplane flight by Wilbur and Orville
Very soon, Julian found himself
sharing his home with six Kuvaszok instead of two, and when the opportunity
arose, some of these dogs also made their philatelic debuts. Csiga (Chigger,
son of Nemes), is the large white dog who looks into the crib so calmly on
the 1982 miniature sheet of stamps for Vanuatu. Far from looking out of
place, the dog seems to belong in the picture - quite a compliment to the
skills of the artist who composed the whole scene himself, rather than choosing
an old master and adapting that.
Another son of the two original dogs, Flake, has his portrait beautifully
displayed on the Leaders of the World issue for a Caribbean island
- Bequia, Grenadines of St Vincent.
All four of these canine stars
died during the 1980s, but not before each of them had notched up ages in
double figures from 11 to 14. Now, new Kuvasz reside in the Vasarhelyi home,
just waiting for their chance to make philatelic debuts. However, they have
to take their turn because family members (including a GSD), also star when
the opportunity arises.
To those who know him, the Kuvasz
is not just an impressive and beautiful animal, he possesses nobility, faithfulness
and determination. This ancient breed of the Magyars is full of spirit and
curiosity, and at one time it was an honour and mark of esteem to be given
one of these dogs as a gift.
Originally, the breed led a rugged and exacting lifestyle as a guardian
of the herds. The life of the shepherd and the herdsman was a nomadic one
and the animals had to be protected from danger. Wolves were common and the
shepherd needed a dog who was fearless and always ready to fight off wild
animals. Kuvasz react quickly to circumstance and an adult is fully capable
of assessing a situation and taking appropriate action, quite independently
of its handler.
Wolves were more likely to attack at night, so it's probably no accident
that the defenders of the flocks were white - making it easier for a shepherd
to identify his dog in the dark. Even today, many Kuvasz owners will tell
you how much more alert their dogs are after nightfall. Despite being such
effective guards, the Kuvasz is a very sensitive dog with an affectionate
and gentle nature, and is noted for his affinity with children.
A well - muscled working breed, the Kuvasz is intelligent and highly trainable.
This is a very hardy dog, happy to live outside all year long, having been
bred to withstand the extremes of the Hungarian weather.
As with any ancient breed, the origins of the Kuvasz are cloudy. The dog
may have come from Turkey, Tibet or even Mesopotamia. The breed certainly
came from the east and traveled widely, and its influence may account for
the many large white breeds.