Monthly Archives: April 2010

Mail from the moon

Amongst the many stand holders at the London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition are stamp dealers Buckingham Covers, who will be offering visitors the rare chance to view two special – and rather controversial – envelopes which have been to the moon.

None of the millions who watched the historic flight of Apollo 11 around the world knew that the spaceship contained more than just scientific equipment. Without official approval from NASA, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins each took a few special envelopes; Buzz Aldrin took 104, Neil Armstrong took 47 and Michael Collins took 63.

Apollo 11 cover, signed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins

Apollo 11 cover, signed by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins

When the astronauts returned to earth all the envelopes were placed in quarantine, and have the special markings to prove it. The envelopes were also autographed by all three astronauts. As to how we can be so sure about the number of envelopes carried, these were noted by Aldrin on the paper bag in which the envelopes were handed in to be postmarked. Aldrin signed the bag, and recently it fetched £2,000.

The paper bag on which Buzz Aldrin listed how many covers had flow with each astronaut on Apollo 11

The paper bag on which Buzz Aldrin listed how many covers had flow with each astronaut on Apollo 11

Even more controversial were the covers flown on Apollo 15. Dave Scott and the rest of the crew took 398 envelopes to the Moon, many of them hidden in Scott’s space suit. These were later confiscated by NASA and remained in their possession for a number of years, until NASA themselves flew first day covers for the US Postal Service. Dave Scott sued for the return of his covers and eventually won the case.

One of the controversial Apollo 15 covers

One of the controversial Apollo 15 covers

All three of the Apollo 15 astronauts later signed an affidavit stating that the covers had been flown to the Moon.

Affidavit signed by the Apollo 15 astronauts

The affidavit signed by the Apollo 15 astronauts

There is more about the Apollo 15 covers controversy on Wikipedia.

Two Apollo covers will be on display at Buckingham Covers, stand 110 at the International Stamp Exhibition at the Business Design Centre in Islington, from 8-15th May.

BPMA Curator signs the Book of Scottish Philatelists

Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately at the BPMA, has become the 43rd signatory of the Book of Scottish Philatelists. The ceremony took place during the 81st Congress of The Association of Scottish Philatelic Societies at the Dewar’s Centre, Perth, on Friday 16th April.

The 81st Scottish Congress, Perth

The 81st Scottish Congress, Perth

The Scottish Congress is one of many special stamp shows being organised as part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps by member Federations of the Association of British Philatelic Societies. The next special stamp show will take place in Port Talbot, Wales.

A travelling exhibition put together by the BPMA appears at each special stamp show, but those visiting the Scottish Congress also had the opportunity to see some un-adopted Scottish-themed stamp designs from the BPMA collection.

Unadopted stamps designs with Scottish themes on display

Unadopted stamps designs with Scottish themes on display

Douglas Muir’s citation in the Book of Scottish Philatelists was as follows:

“In recognition of many years of research published in the form of displays at exhibitions, including Glasgow 2000; also for his initiation and encouragement of research into postal mechanisation, and in particular in respect of three major research monographs, firstly on the 19th century reforms surrounding the penny black, secondly on the evolution of the iconic Machin design and most recently on the George V issues of Great Britain”

Douglas Muir signs the Book of Scottish Philatelists

Douglas Muir signs the Book of Scottish Philatelists

At the signing ceremony, Douglas Muir described himself as “dead chuffed”.

Douglas Muir’s book A Timeless Classic: The evolution of Machin’s icon is available from the BPMA Shop. Douglas Muir’s new book George V and the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity will be available from 7th May 2010.

The King’s Stamps

On Tuesday 11th May, right in the middle of the main London 2010: Festival of Stamps activities, we will welcome Paul Eimers of stamp printers Joh Enschedé to the BPMA. Joh Enschedé have printed many British stamps over the years, but their latest work for Royal Mail is The King’s Stamps miniature sheet, to be released on 8th May to mark the start of the International Stamp Exhibition.

The King’s Stamps miniature sheet features two reproductions of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition stamps designed by Harold Nelson set within a contemporary border with the present value (1st) and the Queen’s head profile. In addition two reproductions of the “Seahorses” design by Bertram Mackennal are also featured; both high value definitives, first issued in 1913, are set within a contemporary border with the value (£1) and Queen’s head. The top of the Miniature Sheet’s plain border contains the text: London 2010 Festival of Stamps with a crown.

The King's Stamps miniature sheet, released 8th May 2010

The King's Stamps miniature sheet, to be released 8th May 2010

This sheet is printed in both intaglio and lithography. The red, brown, grey and blue ‘stamps’ are printed intaglio, to be as faithful as possible to the original stamps, while the Queen’s head, stamp values and Sheet surround is printed in litho. The technical and design challenges of producing this miniature sheet will be one focus of Paul Eimers’ talk.

First day of issue postmarks to accompany the King’s Stamps have been produced. The London postmark replicates the lion on the British Empire Exhibition stamps, while the Tallents House postmark features part of the “Seahorses” design.

The King's Stamps first day of issue postmarks

The King's Stamps first day of issue postmarks

The King’s Stamps miniature sheet and related products, including a Prestige Stamp Book written by our Curator of Philately Douglas Muir, will be released on 8th May and can be purchased from Royal Mail.

Tickets to Paul Eimer’s talk on The King’s Stamps are free. For booking details and further information please see the BPMA website.

William Shakespeare on stamps

In February we marked International Darwin Day by taking a look at stamps commemorating the achievements of naturalist Charles Darwin. Today we celebrate the work of another notable Briton who has been commemorated on stamps multiple times, playwright and poet William Shakespeare, who died on this day in 1616.

Surprisingly, given the importance of Shakespeare’s contribution to world culture, requests to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth on stamps were not immediately approved. At the time the Post Office would only mark Royal or postal anniversaries, and current events of national or international significance. Lobbying followed, and eventually the stamps were approved as a commemoration of the national Shakespeare Festival of 1964, held to mark Shakespeare’s quatercentenary.

Hamlet contemplating Yorick's Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

Hamlet contemplating Yorick's Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

Reynolds Stone and Edward Bawden were amongst those who submitted designs for the stamps, but it was four designs by David Gentleman and a further design by C and R Ironside  which were chosen. The artists had been asked to ensure that if an image of Shakespeare was included in their design that it was not larger than the Queen’s head.

While the Ironside design showed Hamlet rather than Shakespeare, Gentleman’s designs complied with the instructions, but still proved to be controversial. This was partly because Shakespeare’s head was the same size as the Queen’s, giving it equal importance, but mainly because the image of a commoner had never appeared on a stamp before. “This caused a fuss that would be unimaginable now,” Gentleman later noted in his book Artwork. “…And there were jokes in Parliament about the proximity of the Queen’s head to Shakespeare’s Bottom.”

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

Shakespeare on a stamp celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement, 1988

Shakespeare on a stamp celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement, 1988

The rules were much more relaxed by 1988 when Royal Mail and Australia Post released a joint issue to celebrate the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement. Shakespeare joins John Lennon, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a stamp reflecting the continuing links between Australia and Britain through the performing arts. The Bicentenary of Australian Settlement stamps were designed by Melbourne-based designer Garry Emery, who was chosen from a number of British and Australian designers by the Stamp Advisory Committees from both countries. The Australian Bicentenary stamps were the first British stamps to be designed outside of the British Isles.

The National Portrait Gallery: William Shakespeare stamp, 2006

The National Portrait Gallery: William Shakespeare stamp, 2006

Shakespeare’s portrait is one of 10 portraits of well known Britons to appear on the stamps marking the 150th Anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery in 2006. The portrait is attributed to John Taylor and the original can be viewed on the National Portrait Gallery website.

British Theatre stamp depicting Hamlet, 1982

British Theatre stamp depicting Hamlet, 1982

Apart from images of Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s work as a playwright and poet has also been commemorated on stamps. The 1982 set on British Theatre included another stamp depicting Hamlet contemplating the skull of Yorick.

Greetings in Arts: All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, 1995

Greetings in Arts: All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, 1995

In 1947 Sylvan Press published the book All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, with illustrations by Eric Gill. One of Gill’s illustrations was included on a stamp released in 1995 as part of the Greetings In Arts issue. This was not the first British stamp to feature a Gill design. The Coronation stamps for George VI were designed by Gill with Edmund Dulac, and Gill also worked on the Proposed Coronation stamps for Edward VIII.

Also issued in 1995 was a set of stamps to mark the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. The stamps show not only the original Globe Theatre, but many other Elizabethan theatres in which Shakespeare and his plays were performed.

Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition

Philatelist Richard West explains why he’s looking forward to the London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition.

The London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition provides the almost unrivalled prospect of being able to see many of the finest stamp collections from around the world. Although international stamp exhibitions are held two or three times a year, it is only every ten years that the United Kingdom plays host, so it is just once a decade that the opportunity arises to see the best of the world of stamps, on one’s home territory.

Cape of Good Hope cover

Cape of Good Hope cover

And just as the event attracts the finest collections, so it also means that the cream of the world’s stamp dealers and auctioneers will be having a stand at London 2010, providing collectors with a good chance of filling at least one or two gaps in the collection.

Mulready envelope with two penny blacks and a more to pay stamp

Mulready envelope with two penny blacks and a more to pay stamp

The Business Design Centre in Islington will be a magnet for enthusiasts from 8th to 15th May, and most will need to visit twice, because the displays are being changed half way through: the collections on show on 12th to 15th May will be different from those to be seen on 8th to 11th May.

Penny black cover

Penny black cover

In addition there will be an area dedicated to enthusing the young into the wonders of stamp collecting. The Stamp Active Network will be providing activities for young people throughout the exhibition, and no youngster will leave without a few goodies to add to or start a fascinating stamp collection.

Walking Tours of GPO London

Our ever popular walking tours are running again this year, between May and September. Guided by our curators, these tours will visit the key postal history locations in the City of London, including former coaching inns, and the sites of early and important Post Offices buildings.

As part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps we will also be offering highlights walking tours, lasting half the length of our regular tours. The highlights tours will conclude at the Guildhall Art Gallery, enabling attendees to visit the exhibition Empire Mail: George V and the GPO. Full length tours lasting three hours will also run this year.

One key postal heritage location visited on the walking tour is the former site of the office of the Postmaster General in Lombard Street. In 1680 this was the only place in London at which mail could be posted. At this time there were only 77 workers employed by the Post Office in London, and only 316 Post Office staff in the entire country!

The courtyard of the General Post Office, London, 1700s

The courtyard of the General Post Office, London, 1700s

As the Post Office expanded and became an increasingly important institution, larger buildings were needed. In 1829 GPO Headquarters moved to St Martins-Le-Grand. Here the mail coaches for other parts of the country departed each night, a spectacle which drew crowds of curious onlookers, as documented by the artist James Pollard.

Mail coach and horses departing from the General Post Office white neoclassical building designed by Smirke and located in St Martins-le-Grand. Some boys run alongside, waving hats and hands. The men in the painting wear top hats.

The Royal Mail's departure from the General Post Office, London by James Pollard

In 1910 GPO Headquarters moved again, to King Edward Building on King Edward Street. This grand building had a façade of Portland stone and a 160 x 60 foot public office on the ground floor, which boasted a full-length mahogany counter and marble floors. Since 1997 this building has been the London home of Merrill Lynch, but the statue of postal reformer Rowland Hill still stands outside.

King Edward Building Public Office, 1947

King Edward Building Public Office, 1947

Walking Tours 2010

Extended Walking Tours
Saturday 8 May, 2-5pm
Sunday 5 September, 2-5pm

Highlights of GPO London Tours
Saturday 26 June, 2-3.30pm
Tuesday 13 July, 2-3.30pm

Booking details on our website

London 2010: Festival of Stamps slogan cancellation

Here’s something to look out for – between 20th April and the end of May this slogan cancellation will be applied to London mail.

London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition 8-15 May Business Design Centre London

Many thanks to Royal Mail for giving us permission to use it.