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 Britain.

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.

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 Wright.

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.