Tall Ship Vitus Bering
Tall Ship

Seaman and World famous Explorer

Honoured with three Danish Stamps in 1941

By Toke Nørby


The Vitus Bering Stamps and First Day Covers from Denmark
I don't expect you to collect either Danish stamps or Danish First Day Covers but I think that you at least won't dislike what I will tell you on this page: a bit of the famous Danish seaman, the Danish stamps issued in his honour and the FDCs made in connection with the issued stamps - but let me first introduce you to:

Vitus Jonassen Bering
If you do a search on the name Vitus Bering on the World Wide Web you will find several hundred pages which describes this famous seaman and explorer. You will find that what Christopher Columbus was for the western part of the world, Vitus Bering was for the eastern part.
     Exactly when Vitus Bering was born seems to be unknown but he was baptised on 21 August 16811 (from the Horsens parish register) so he was probably born at the beginning of August 1681 as children at that time in Denmark normally were baptised on the following Sunday after the day they were born. Most sources only mention that he was born in the summer of 1681 in Horsens.

As (unfortunately) normal a few sources both on the WWW and in the books have wrong information on Vitus Bering such as my old encyclopaedia2 from 1884 which says that he was born in 1680!. Another source Vitus Bering says that he was born in Russia in the year 1680! (I accessed that page on 1999.12.08 - but the page has later been removed). Maybe Horsens for some people is a "town in Russia" but I can tell you that Horsens is a Danish town on the east cost of the peninsula Jylland (Jutland) and that Vitus Bering was born here in 1681. On my Map of Denmark you can see where Horsens is located.

Also the information from many sources that Vitus Bering died of scurvy is wrong. In 1991 when a Russian-Danish expedition found the grave of Vitus Bering and examined his skeleton the teeth showed no sign of scurvy so it was obviously not this disease that killed him. The German scientist G. W. Steller wrote in diary that Vitus Bering died of an infection which started in the lower part of the body but spread to the other part of his body1.

"The Horsens Museum" has a WWW page for Vitus Bering3 with a description of his life, and from Dansk Biografisk Leksikon4 also a short list of some of the important dates from the life of Vitus Bering can be shown:

1681.08.??: Vitus Bering was born in Horsens as a son of Jonas Svendsen Halmstad and Anne Pedersdatter Bering.
1681.08.21: Vitus Bering was baptised in Horsens.
1703: Vitus Bering joined the Russian navy.
1715: Vitus Bering visited Copenhagen and never saw Denmark again.
1728: Sent out by Peter The Great of Russia, Vitus Bering sailed round the north-east corner of Asia thus proving that there was water between Asia and America. (In 1648 a Russian, Semyon Dezhnyov, had sailed through the Bering Strait, but his report went unnoticed until 17365.)
1741: Appointed as the leader of Russia's Great Nordic Expedition, Vitus Bering landed in Alaska as the first European man. The sea and the strait between Alaska and Siberia were named after him. See eventually also The Discovery of Alaska.
1741.12.08: Vitus Bering died on the island named after him: The Bering Island.

Please note that the dates given are in Julian Dates. Some sources mention his death date as 1741.12.19 which is the Gregorian Date. For more details about the Julian and Gregorian Calendars you are welcome to visit my page The Perpetual Calendar.


The Danish Vitus Bering Stamps from 1941
Those of you who collect stamps may have come across the three beautiful Vitus Bering stamps issued on 27 November 1941:

40 øre blue

The reason for issuing these stamps was of course that Denmark wanted to show the world that one of the most famous explorers of the world was born in Denmark and the stamps were issued to honour Vitus Bering on the 200 anniversary of his death in 1741.

The Sketch
In December 1940 Horsens Avis (a newspaper) suggested making a Vitus Bering stamp and the idea was supported by a Vitus Bering committee from Horsens. A group of citizens of Horsens therefore sent in a sketch for a stamp made by a local draughtsman, Knud Møller to the GPO. Since the GPO did not like his sketch they suggested Knud Møller to make some changes especially they urged him to find the correct type of ship to depict6.

Møller made the suggested changes and the GPO consulted the "Academy for the Beautiful Arts" who rejected his sketch saying that it was a "dilettante work". After that the GPO and the Council in Horsens decided to make a public contest to find a stamp but the GPO soon resolved and asked the Danish draughtsman Viggo Bang to make a Vitus Bering stamp. Bang made several sketches and although one sketch was accepted by the GPO the "Academy for the Beautiful Arts" could not recommend the sketch - but it was used. The stamp depicted Vitus Bering's ship "Swiatoj Pietr" ("St. Peter").

On the picture below, taken on 10 September 1941, Viggo Bang is handing over the accepted sketch to the GPO Director General C.F. Mondrup7. (C.F. Mondrup retired on 31 October 1941 and was succeeded by Director General K. J. Jensen on 1 November 1941).

Mondrup and Bang
The three men in the background are: Director General K.J. Jensen.
Office Manager E.V. Holmblad and Official A. v. Späth.

This was the very first of many Danish stamps made by Viggo Bang. The Vitus Bering stamps were engraved by the Danish engraver Johannes Britze and on 12 November 1941 we could read in "The Official Announcements from The GPO", called "OM"8:

V. Tryksager og Materiel.
Der er fremstillet Frimærker til Minde om Vitus Bering i Anledning af, at det i 1941 er 200 Aar, siden han døde. Værdierne er 10, 20 og 40 Øre, og Farverne er henholdsvis violet, rød og blaa. En Afbildning i Originalstørrelse af 10 Øres Frimærket gengives nedenfor; Motivet er det samme paa de øvrige Værdier.

From OM

Mærkerne er fremstillet i Ark à 50 Stykker. De skal sælges fra den 27. d.M., og det maa bl.a. af Hensyn til 1. Dags Stemplingen strengt paases, at de ikke kommer ud blandt Publikum forinden.

(In English:)
V. Printed Matters and Material.
As it is, in 1941, 200 years since Vitus Bering died, stamps in his memory have been produced. The values are 10, 20 and 40 Øre and the colours are violet, red and blue. A picture in original size of the 10 Øre stamps are shown below. The motif is the same on the other values.

The stamps are produced in sheets of 50 stamps per sheet. They are to be sold from the 27 this month and because of the first day cancellation it must be taken care of that the stamps are not sold before that day.


The Printing of the Stamps
As you may know the Danish steel engraved stamps were (at that time) all printed in our Stamp Printing House in Copenhagen. The stamp printing machine was a German Goebel machine type SS number 87 with a printing section, a perforating section and a cutting section. The machine was named M.1. in Denmark and was in use until 19679.

At the stamp printing house the work of Viggo Bang was transferred to the printing cylinders via the engraving made by Johannes Britze. Three printing cylinders - one for each stamp value and each with 200 impressions of the stamp - was produced. On 25 October 1941 the first cylinder with the internal number #5 with the 10 Øre stamp was placed in the printing machine and the production began.

The printing number was #505 which you can see on the sheets in the upper right corner and in the lower left corner. From the table below you can see the information from the so-called "Machine Counter Journal"9which shows the reading of the counter on the printing machine. The shown number of sheets printed should be exactly the same as was found when the sheets were controlled for errors.

As you see the 10 Øre violet stamp was printed in the period 25 October 1941 - 2 December 1941:

10 Øre Vitus Bering - Cylinder #5
in 1941
Machine Counter
10.25 Sa
10.27 Mo
10.27 Mo
10.28 Tu
10.29 We
10.30 Th
10.31 Fr
11.01 Sa
11.03 Mo
11.04 Tu
11.05 We
11.05 We P016 308174-308612 438  
11.06 Th
11.07 Fr
11.08 Sa Cylinder re-chromium-plated
11.10 Mo 504 349578-349596 18 18
11.27 Th
11.28 Fr
12.01 Mo
12.02 Tu
Total number of sheets printed 248,236
Number of discarded sheets (13.58 %) -33,720
Total number of sheets issued 214,516

The printing numbers with a "P", P015 and P016, were test prints that did not count in the production. ALL test prints were discarded apart from the small part which was given to the Postal Museum for future study.

As the first day of issue was on the 27 November 1941 the stamps used for the First Day Covers must be from the printing before the cylinder was re-chromed. The figures are based on "The Machine Counter Journal"10, "The Stamp Control Book"11 showing exactly when and how many sheets were discarded, and a book I call "Sundgaard's Private Book"12 from which I fortunately took some notes in the late 70s. The book has disappeared after the death of Ricardo Sundgaard who was the daily leader of the GPO Stamp Printing House.

From "Sundgaard's Private Book" we can see that the 18 sheets printed on 10 November 1941 was printed after the re-chromium-plating of the cylinder. This means that ALL stamps used for FDCs on the day of issue are from the first part of use of cylinder #5.

Vitus Bering, 20 Øre Red
According to the following table the 20 Øre red Vitus Bering stamp was printed in the period 15 November 1941 - 5 December 1941.

20 Øre Vitus Bering - Cylinder #23
in 1941
Machine Counter
11.15 Sa
11.17 Mo
11.18 Tu
11.19 We
11.20 Th
11.21 Fr
11.24 Mo
11.25 Tu
12.03 We
12.04 Th
12.05 Fr
Total number of sheets printed 225,124
Number of discarded sheets (14.98 %) -33,713
Total number of sheets issued 191,411

The 40 Øre Blue Vitus Bering Stamp
Finally, the 40 Øre blue Vitus Bering stamp was printed in the period 11 November 1941 - 27 November 1941.

40 Øre Vitus Bering - Cylinder #71
in 1941
Machine Counter
11.11 Tu 505 349596-367944 18,348 18,348
11.12 We P017 367944-368273 329  
11.12 We
11.13 Th
11.14 Fr
11.26 We P018 599713-600090 377  
11.26 We
11.27 Th
Total number of sheets printed 93,909
Number of discarded sheets (22.1 %) -20,755
Total number of sheets issued 73,154


The first Danish First Day Covers
This issue was also a milestone in Danish philately as Denmark for the first time used a special postmark on the first day of issue of the Vitus Bering stamps. Actually two different postmarks were in use. One in Copenhagen and one in the town of Vitus Bering: Horsens in Jutland. So, when the stamps were issued on 27 November 1941 15,055 FDCs were postmarked in Copenhagen and 36,098 FDCs in Horsens13. This was a Scandinavian record at that time. The old record was 22,000 FDCs but no further details is given to this information.

The reason for this huge interest was of course the first Danish First Day Postmarks which were announced in The Official Announcements from The GPO (Officielle Meddelelser fra Post- og Telegrafvæsenet) No. 38 from 10 September 1941, page 14114:

II. Forholdet til Publikum
4. Der er fremstillet et særligt Dagstempel med Tekst "København V. Frimærkets Udgivelsesdag - First day cover" til brug ved Afstempling efter særlig Anmodning fra Publikum af nye Frimærker paa disses Udgivelsesdag, d.v.s. den første Dag, paa hvilken et nyt Frimærke er til Salg ved Posthusene. Stemplet benyttes af Postvæsenets Oplysningskontor, hvortil Henvendelser om 1. Dags Stempling maa ske.

(4. A special postmark with the text "København V. Frimærkets Udgivelsesdag - First day cover" (Copenhagen V. The Stamp's Day of issue - First day cover) was produced for use on stamps sold from the post office on the first day of sale at the post offices. The postmark will be used at Postvæsenets Oplysningskontor to which all requests for first day postmarkings must be sent.

As you can see we had a little difficulty with the English text as "First day cover" should have been "First Day Cover" which it also was in the postmark when it was produced.)

And from OM No. 48 from 12 November 1941, page 1808:

II. Forholdet til Publikum
Der vil til Postkontoret i Horsens blive leveret et 1. Dags Stempel med Tekst: Horsens - Vitus Berings Fødeby - First Day Cover til Brug ved Afstempling efter særlig Anmodning fra Publikum af de nye Vitus Bering Frimærker paa disses Udgivelsesdag, d.v.s. den første Dag, paa hvilken disse Frimærker er til Salg ved Posthusene.

(In English:)
A first day postmark will be sent to the Post Office in Horsens. The text will be: "Horsens - The town of Birth of Vitus Bering - Fist Day Cover" for use when the public asks for a special cancellation of the Vitus Bering stamps on their first day of issue, that is, the first day these stamps will be sold from the Post Offices.

The draughtsman Knud Møller from Horsens, whose mentioned sketches for the Bering stamp all were rejected by the GPO, was now asked to make an illustration for the local First Day Cover in Horsens. The result was the cover shown below:

Møller's normal FDC
Johannes Poulsen was a prominent member of
Horsens Filatelist Klub for many years.

Aa. Kabell discuss in his excellent pamphlet13 the various number of covers that was produced in connection with the issue of the Vitus Bering stamps. An absolute major part of all these FDCs was produced by the Horsens Filatelistklub. One type of FDC produced was the "flagship" (!) only issued in 200 numbered copies and shown below:

Møller's special FDC
The copy shown is no. 89 of 200.

Number one was given to the king, Christian X, no 2 to the crown prince, Frederik, no 3 to the postmaster of Horsens, J. Stokholm, and no 4 to the General Director in Denmark, K. J. Jensen.

In some of the FDCs there were greetings from the sender if these were firms. One misunderstood the dates and wrote in his greeting: "Horsens, 27 November 1941. In the memory of the 200 anniversary day of Vitus Bering's birth we hereby send you a cover with the Vitus Bering stamps cancelled with a First-Day-Cancel. Sincerely yours. K. Madsen Trikotagefabrik".

Commercial FDCs
The famous (in Denmark!) stamp dealer Harry Poulsen from Aarhus Frimærkehandel, AFA, also was aware that the FDC was an item on which he could base some of his business and he issued his first FDC with the Vitus Bering stamps, postmarked with the FDC cancel from Copenhagen:

AFA's first FDC
This is the first commercial FDC from AFA (Aarhus Frimærkehandel).


The Exact Look of Vitus Bering
We don't really know what Bering looked like. A few portraits exist but there are doubts as to their authenticity3. It is said that a few portraits of Vitus Bering exist but there are some doubts about their authenticity3. One of the portraits was apparently used to depict Bering on a 1957 Russian stamp commemorating "The 275 Anniversary of Vitus Bering's birth." (The accurate anniversary was 1956.)

Vitus Bering 275
The 275 Anniversary of
Vitus Bering's birth.

A Soviet-Danish team of archaeologists and forensic physicians found Bering's grave in 1991 along with five other seamen. Subsequently the skeletons were examined in Moscow where scientists succeeded in re-creating Bering's appearance. In 1992, the remains of the six men were reburied on Bering Island3.

Bering's Bust
Vitus Bering's Bust.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about Vitus Bering and the Danish Vitus Bering stamps. The stamps are also worth a closer study as there are several nice varieties in the stamps - but that's another story! Thank you for your attention.


Thanks are due to the Inspector Ole Schiørring (†), Horsens Museum, for information on Vitus Bering and for permission to use the picture of the bust of Vitus Bering. Also thanks to Karsten Hagsten (†), Copenhagen, and to Alan Warren (alanwar@worldnet.att.net), for valuable help with this article. Last but not least I am indebted to Russell V. Skavaril (†) for permission to use his "Tall Ship" pictures from the home page of St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society.


  1. Ole Schiørring (-), late Inspector at Horsens Museum.
  2. Nordisk Conversationslexikon, 3rd Edition. A. F. Pullich and Gustav Storm. Copenhagen 1884. Vol. I, page 494.
  3. Vitus Bering by Horsens Museum.
  4. Dansk Biografisk Lesikon. C. F. Bricka. Kjøbenhavn 1886.
  5. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Search for "Bering, Vitus (Jonassen)" (You have to subscribe, though).
  6. P&T's Historie 1927-1960. Bent Blüdnikow. Generaldirektoratet for Post- og Telegrafvæsenet. København 1993. ISBN 87-89299-03-5. Page 232.
  7. Aarbog 1942 for Det Danske Post- og Telegrafvæsen. 51. Aargang. Udgivet og redigeret af Kontrolør E. H. C. Mikkelsen. Page 222.
  8. Officielle Meddelelser fra Generaldirektoratet for Post- og Telegrafvæsenet. No 48 from 12 November 1941, page 180. The Official Announcements from The GPO, "OM".
  9. Danske Frimærker i stålstik - 50 År. Af Chefen for Postens Trykkeri. Ingeniør H. J. Steen. Nordisk Posttidsskrift nr. 81 - 1993 pp. 4-8, 14.
  10. Control Book for the Machine Counter at the Danish Stamp Printing House. Now the book is at the Danish Postal Museum in Copenhagen.
  11. Control Book for the Stamp Production showing exact when and how many sheets were discarded. The book is at the Danish Postal Museum in Copenhagen.
  12. Sundgaard's Private Book. Engineer Ricardo Sundgaard (-) was the daily leader of the GPO Stamp Printing House. Unfortunately this book has disappeared after the death of Sundgaard but fortunately Sundgaard allowed me to take many, many notes from his book before he passed away.
  13. En Dag med Vitus Bering. Aage Kabell (-). Posthistoriske Studier 7. Posthistorisk Forlag. Hobro 1980. ISBN 87-87783-09-6.
  14. Officielle Meddelelser fra Generaldirektoratet for Post- og Telegrafvæsenet "OM". No 38 from 10 September 1941, page 141.
  15. See also: Dramaet om Vitus Bering frimærker by Bruno Nørdam. Skilling, no. 7 September 1999, pp 8-11. ISBN 87-87832-00-3.


Copyright 1999-2011 by Toke Nørby.
This article must not be published without permission from the author
- but you are welcome to take a printout for your personal use ;-)


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