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2023 75 Years of Solex Netherlands - Sheetlets

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Technical details
  • 26.05.2023
  • Jan van Mechelen, ZEE [typo]graphic design, Rotterdam
  • Offset
  • Cyan, magenta, yellow, black
  • Stamp size: 30 x 40mm (wxh), Sheet size: 170 x 122 mm (wxh)
About 75 Years of Solex Netherlands

In 2023, it will be 75 years since the first Solex came to the Netherlands. For the post-war generation, the iconic front-wheel-drive moped became synonymous with the reconstruction period. PostNL is commemorating this special anniversary by publishing 75 years of Solex Netherlands stamp sheet on 26 May 2023, designed by Rotterdam-based graphic designer Jan van Mechelen. The denomination on these stamps is ‘1’, the denomination for items weighing up to 20g with destinations in the Netherlands. A sheet of ten stamps costs €10.10.

The Solex entered the Dutch market in 1948, at a time when the word 'moped' was not yet enshrined in law. The authorities still viewed the first models as motorbikes that required a driving licence, a rear-view mirror and a horn. The black moped manufactured by French company VéloSoleX near Paris stood out for its typical gooseneck frame, front-wheel roller drive with two-stroke engine and a fuel consumption of 1 litre/100km. Over 8 million Solexes have been produced worldwide, and almost 700,000 of those in the Netherlands. Sales in the Netherlands were dealt with by R.S. Stokvis & Zonen, while production took place under French licence at the Nederlandsche Kroon Rijwielfabriek owned by the firm Van der Heem. The Dutch Solex is directly derived from the French models, but frame parts such as the chain guard, luggage carrier and saddle are their own designs. The Dutch models were manufactured until mid-1969. After that, only French Solexes were supplied. Though there have been around 20 models since its launch in 1948, the basic version of the Solex has remained broadly the same. The factory in France closed in 1988, and attempts to resume production in Hungary and China had little success.

The 75 years Solex Netherlands stamps feature the following Solex models:

o model year 1948, engine number H1000-H2330, 45cc engine, Peperbus

o model year 1955, engine number 125861-206384, 49cc engine, Suikerpotje/Sleutelgat

o model year 1962, engine number 446412-491000, 49cc engine, OTO round frame

o model year 1969, engine number 4003301-5142999, 49cc engine, OTO square frame

o model year 1980, engine number unknown, 49cc engine, Westerterp

Source: Het grote Solex boek, Joost Heesakkers, 2002, Target Press, Moordrecht

The 75 years of Solex Netherlands stamp sheet has 10 stamps of portrait format, presented in two rows of five. The upper row of stamps features black-and-white photos of 5 iconic Solex models, with a perspective shot at an angle from the front. In the background of each stamp, the model year is visible behind the Solex model, with large numbers covering the total image area of the stamp. Each year has a different colour with a gradient running from bottom to top. The lower row of stamps shows a close-up photograph of the handlebars and engine of the same models, taken from the side. The background of the lower row shows a similar colour gradient to the upper row of stamps, but this time from right to left.

The font used for the denomination 1 and Nederland was designed in 2018 by font designer Martin Majoor from Arnhem. For the remaining typography, the Ballinger font by font designer Max Philips (2019, Signal Type Foundry, Dublin) was used.

Jan van Mechelen, the designer of the sheet 75 years of Solex Netherlands stamp sheet, says he has a lot of experience with two-wheelers - all two-wheelers, in fact. Van Mechelen himself rides a motorbike, but he was introduced to the Solex at an early age. 'My boy next door had one, which he refurbished with his father. I think the drive roller pressing on the front tyre was broken, but it also worked with a roller skate wheel. I was 10 or 11 at the time, so obviously far too young to ride it. We secretly cruised around the Rucphense Bossen woodland area where I grew up. We had a lot of fun adventures.'

Full to the brim
In order to immerse himself in the subject, Van Mechelen contacted Els Beckers, Director of the Solex Museum in Colijnsplaat. 'The museum is located in a former shop. It's full to the brim with everything you could imagine to do with the Solex brand: lots of different Solex models, of course, as well as spare parts, tools, posters, pins, books, photos of French comedian Jacques Tati on the Solex, manuals and nice advertising material. I spent hours there and took lots of photos, looking for different perspectives. It's extremely interesting to step into a world where people are so passionate about Solex and know so much about it.'

The history of the moped
The museum gave Van Mechelen access to lots of background documentation, including Het grote Solex boek ['The Big Solex book'], which contains a comprehensive history of the moped brand. Van Mechelen also spoke to people from - the publishers of the book. He used all this information to get to work on several sketch designs featuring advertising photography from Solex's early years. 'I also played around with colours that were typical of that era. However, I didn't manage to use the available material to create a stamp design that depicted the full history of Solex in the Netherlands. They were nice images, but not strong enough in terms of content. I then looked at variants that incorporated different parts from the Solex, but that started to look like a catalogue.'

Not too ugly
The final design concept features several models from Solex's history. The Solex came to the Netherlands in 1948 and was soon put into production here. The last Dutch Solex rolled off the conveyor belt in 1969. The stamp sheet features the 1948 model and three other models manufactured in the Netherlands, from 1952, 1962 and 1969. 'The last model, from 1980, comes from France,' says Van Mechelen. 'After 1988, Solex production initially moved to Eastern Europe and then to China. At first, I wanted to depict the full history. I knew that there was also an electric version, for example. But that just turned out to be too ugly to put on a stamp.'

Each Solex has a nickname
Van Mechelen decided to focus on five iconic models from Solex history. 'Three out of the five were in the museum. Els Beckers managed to borrow the 1948 and 1969 models from friends in the Solex world. All of the Solexes stand out and you can see substantial differences between them. For example, you can see the introduction of the engine light hook, for example, which everyone calls the 'lever' nowadays, and the transition from round tubes to square tubes. And each model has its own nickname. The Solex with small wheels, depicted on the stamp on the right, is called the Westerterp. That was the name of the minister who introduced the helmet requirement for mopeds in 1976, but later made an exception for mopeds. If only it had 12-inch wheels... So along came a Solex with small wheels. I don't think it looks that nice, but it is special.'

Mopeds with their own personalities
Photographer Hans Tak from Rotterdam captured the five Solexes at the museum. Van Mechelen: 'We drew out how they should be positioned on the ground. That allowed us to photograph each Solex from a tripod in the same way. That's the best way to compare them. To a layman, they may look similar, but to an enthusiast: of course they don't. Each Solex has been neatly polished, but the images have not been edited to disguise damage and other imperfections. And neither did we include any parts added later. They aren't showroom models - they're old mopeds with their own personalities. During the editing process, the lithographer converted the photos into black-and-white images and increased the contrast to give them a graphic look.'

A typographer through and through
The black and white of the Solexes contrast with the soft background colours, with the upper stamps showing the model years. 'I decided to enlarge the years as a typographic illustration in order to make the image even more graphically interesting,' Van Mechelen said. 'When it came to selecting the colours and gradients, I drew on Solex's colour palette from the 1950s and 1960s. I'm a typographer through and through, with an incredibly broad arsenal of typographic options at my fingertips, in my head and on the computer. I didn't deliberately set out to make the images nostalgic - but I did want to include an obvious nod to that era. In the upper row, the years are as large as possible, and in the lower row you can see a colour gradient that lets the engine stand out in white. You could tell from the stamp design that I create posters on a regular basis - I always call them 'street stamps'. Here it's just the opposite: I've designed stamps that look like posters.'

About the designer
Jan van Mechelen has worked as a designer under the name ZEE for over 25 years. The company's work centres around the [typo]graphic design of books, identities, exhibitions and websites within the cultural sector and also the corporate sector. ZEE closely collaborates with specialists from its network. A passion for typography, photography and paper defines its work and where necessary, ZEE connects the online world with the offline world. Its clients include organisations such as Chabot Museum Rotterdam, Conny Janssen Danst, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Heineken Gebouw Rotterdam, Kunsthal Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Stadsherstel Historisch Rotterdam and many individual artists. Back in 2015, ZEE designed the Volvo Ocean Race Pitstop The Hague stamp sheet for PostNL.