Britain is said to be a nation of animal lovers, so it’s no surprise to see the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home celebrated on a new set of commemoratives released by Royal Mail today.
Established in 1860 by Mary Tealby as the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs, in Holloway, north London, the charity moved to its present home in Battersea in 1871, and in 1883 started taking in cats. Its motto is simple – “We aim never to turn away a dog or cat in need of our help” – and every year 12,000 animals are taken in by the Home’s three centres in London, Kent and Berkshire.
The dogs and cats featured on the new stamps were all abandoned by their owners, but later re-homed by the charity. They were beautifully photographed by Steve Hoskins, and sit proudly amongst the many previous stamp issues featuring dogs and cats.
The first dogs and cats on British stamps were incidental figures, in the backgrounds of scenes. The earliest example we could find is a dog which can be seen in the background of rural Suffolk scene in Constable’s painting The Hay Wain, featured on a stamp as part of the British Paintings issue, 1968. The dog is a little hard to see, but you can zoom in on the painting to see it at the website of the National Gallery, who own the painting.
The first cat on a British stamp that we could find can be seen in the background of a stamp on Early Produce Fairs, released in 1983 as part of the British Fairs series. The cat, visible as a purple silhouette only, observes the other animals, and the fruits and vegetables, which are on sale. The British Fairs issue was designed by Andrew Restall, and some of Restall’s original sketches for this issue are held by the Aldrich Collection, University of Brighton.
The first British stamp issue dedicated to Dogs was released in 1979 and features painting of four different breeds of dog by artist Peter Barrett. Barrett is best known for his watercolours and illustrations of wildlife and the countryside.
A kitten appeared on a stamp released as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1990.
And a further set of dogs stamps was released in 1991, celebrating the work of painter George Stubbs (perhaps better known for his paintings of horses). One of the paintings used, A Couple of Foxhounds, is on display at the Tate Gallery. Two of the others, A Rough Dog and Fino and Tiny are part of the Royal Collection. Fino and Tiny belonged to the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, and the painting is presumed to have been painted for him.
Cats finally got their own set of stamps in 1995. The stamps featured five paintings by the noted Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder.
A series of artistic black and white photographs by a number of photographers appeared on the 2001 issue Cats and Dogs.
There were two special first day of issue postmarks for the Cats and Dogs issue, one with a cats claw print and one with a dogs paw print. This idea is repeated for the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.
Finally, how could we forget the Border Collie included in the 2005 Farm Animals issue? Border Collies are working dogs, often used on farms to herd livestock. The illustrations on the Farm Animals stamps were by Chris Wormell, well known for his lino cuts, engravings and children’s book illustrations.