February 11, 2015

John Peters Humphrey’s Fountain Pen

This stamp and a short version of this post were first printed in the
Journal of the Writing Equipment Society, No. 55, July 1999, p.9.

        Many people don’t recognize this man’s name, but they should.  John Peters Humphrey is 
the one who is now credited with writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
        “In 1946, Humphrey became Director of the Human Rights Division in the UN Secretariat and was tasked with drafting the declaration.  The declaration is now considered one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations.  It espoused non-discrimination based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, and politics, and asserted that individuals have a fundamental right to health care, education, and work.  It recognized that
fundamental human rights and freedoms are a matter for international concern.  Adopted on Dec 10, 1948, the declaration served as a model for many constitutional documents throughout the world, including the Canadian Bill of Rights and Freedoms.  Now, it should be understood that he was just one member of a larger committee preparing the declaration.  The committee also included Eleanor Roosevelt, who called it the Magna Carta of Mankind.  Unfortunately, his contribution somehow became obscured, and a representative from France was later credited with the declaration and awarded the 1968 Nobel Prize.  More recently, however, researchers uncovered Humphrey’s type-written draft with his hand-written annotations, and he was subsequently credited with writing the bill, and was honoured with a UN Human Rights Prize.  In an interview, Humphrey humbly said, “To say I 
did the draft alone would be nonsense.  The final declaration was the work of hundreds”.
        “In October 1998, Canada Post marked the 50th anniversary of the declaration and honored its New-Brunswick-born author by issuing a commemorative domestic-rate
stamp.  The stamp celebrates the author of the declaration and consists of a portrait of Humphrey positioned above an actual type-written page from his draft, annotated in his own handwriting.  A period fountain pen points to the words “human freedom and dignity”.  A multi-racial crowd of people forms the background, suggesting the declaration’s impact on international human rights.  The style of the stamp is vintage, reminiscent of the 1940s, yet the layout, design, colour, and look are unquestionably contemporary.”
        The preceding was adapted from an article announcing the stamp in the magazine Canada’s Stamp Details,
Vol. 7, No. 5, 1998, pp.22-24.  The fountain pen in the stamp looks a lot like a Waterman’s #52 leverfiller with either a solid-gold or a gold-filled overlay, possibly a filigree.  There isn’t enough of the trim showing in the picture to be able to tell which one it is, but in any case, it’s a little too early to qualify as a “period fountain pen” from the late 194os.  Canada Post does not claim that it was one of his pens, but it’s a valiant effort, in any case.  If they had wanted to be absolutely correct, they could have done so.  All they needed to do was ask any old pen collector, or pen historian.

George Kovalenko.