Tag Archives: David Gentleman

The remarkable (postal) life of Tony Benn

The BPMA is saddened to learn today of the passing of Tony Benn. Benn served as Postmaster General under Harold Wilson 1964-66 and was instrumental in establishing our predecessor the National Postal Museum, which closed in 1998. There are many things he will be remembered for including the building of the Post Office Tower, introduction of the Post Bus, creation of the Girobank and overseeing the introduction of postcodes. Possibly the most famous and controversial action, however, was his attempt to remove the Queen’s head from stamps.

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Tony Benn as Postmaster General

This revolutionary idea came about as part of a now infamous partnership with the artist and designer David Gentleman. In 1964 Benn launched an appeal for ideas to widen the scope of commemorative stamps to, in his own words, “celebrate events of national or international importance, to commemorate appropriate anniversaries and occasions, [and] to reflect Britain’s unique contribution to the arts and world affairs”.

In responding to this appeal Gentleman raised with Benn the issue of removing the Queen’s head, as he felt that its inclusion often caused problems for designers in terms of space for their work. This appealed to Benn’s socialist leanings and he encouraged Gentleman to submit his designs without the monarch.

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Example of a stamp with the Queen’s head

Both Benn and Gentleman fought hard for this radical change to stamp design suggesting that the Queen’s head be replaced with the words “Great Britain” or “U.K. Postage” as can be seen on examples such as Churchill design below. However by the end of 1965 the Queen, having initially entertained the idea, decided in no uncertain terms that she wanted her head to remain on stamps.

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The Churchill stamp design without the Queen’s head

A compromise was put forward to address Gentleman’s initial issue of space that resulted in a new small cameo silhouette, created from Mary Gillick’s sculpture for pre-decimal coinage, being included on pictorial stamps instead of the full Queen’s head image. This gave designers much greater leeway and changed the form, appearance and subject matter of stamps for over 20 years, allowing for a wider variety of images to appear including the first British Christmas stamps designed by children.

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With new small Queen’s head image

Gentleman had won his battle, but for Tony Benn his socialist idea of removing the Queen’s head off of stamps was never realised. He had however challenged the system, and as a result implemented the first major change to stamps in many years.

Pre-decimal QEII stamp artwork added to our online catalogue

Recently we made a substantial update to our online catalogue. Some 2,450 QEII pre-decimal stamp artwork items, complete with images, have been added to the database, along with 248 pre-decimal GB commemorative stamp registration sheets. Our online offer now provides full catalogue descriptions and digitised images for all registration sheets from the Penny Black to these most recent additions.

QEII Coronation: Submitted design by Edmund Dulac, 21 August 1952. (QEII/1/020)

QEII Coronation: Submitted design by Edmund Dulac, 21 August 1952. (QEII/1/020)

This phase of the BPMA’s stamp artwork cataloguing and scanning project is the fruition of twelve months work, and follows previous uploads of King George V and King George VI artwork. It allows access to first designs, modified designs, essays, final issued stamps, presentation packs and first day cover designs, showing the design and production process for all QEII stamp issues from beginning to end. Each catalogued artwork item is accompanied by a digital thumbnail image enabling online users to see the artwork itself.

QEII 1966 World Cup: Submitted design by William Kempster, 21 February 1966. (QEII/47/001)

QEII 1966 World Cup: Submitted design by William Kempster, 21 February 1966. (QEII/47/001)

Designs by eminent stamp designers and artists, including Jeffery Matthews, Michael Goaman, Reynolds Stone, Faith Jaques and Andrew Restall are well documented throughout the stamp issues for 1953 to 1970. Among the most prolific are the designs by David Gentleman including the 1965 Churchill Commemoration, 1966 anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and the 1969 Prince of Wales Investiture.

QEII 1966 Anniversary of Battle of Hastings: Submitted design by David Gentleman, May 1966. (QEII/53/013)

QEII 1966 Anniversary of Battle of Hastings: Submitted design by David Gentleman, May 1966. (QEII/53/013)

The registration sheets which depict the first examples of stamps in full sheet form to be printed off the press, are without perforations and include unique identifiable inscriptions and markings; including cylinder numbers, paper type(s) and information regarding the phosphors used in the production of each stamp. This information, plus more, is included in the comprehensive catalogue entry of each registration sheet, along with a scanned corner section of each sheet.

QEII 1969 Concorde: Submitted design by David Gentleman (Harrison and Sons Ltd), 9 October 1967. (QEII/65/006)

QEII 1969 Concorde: Submitted design by David Gentleman (Harrison and Sons Ltd), 9 October 1967. (QEII/65/006)

The next upload will include pre-decimal Machins, Castle High Values and pre-decimal postage due label registration sheets, meaning that all pre-decimal QEII essays and registration sheets will then be online.

Access the newly available QEII material via the British Stamps section of the BPMA website.

“Off with her head!”

Our display “Off with her head!” will form part of the ABPS National Philatelic Exhibition in Perth, taking place 19–20 October 2012. The display consists of four sections; A Portrait with Problems, The battle for Change, The Gentleman Album and The End of the Affair.

In 1964 Tony Benn became Postmaster General and immediately set about trying to change conservative thinking at the Post Office. He had determined ideas about stamps – to widen their scope, and to remove the Queen’s head. He found a like mind in David Gentleman, who already had several stamp designs to his credit.

The Queen did not agree with her head being removed from stamps and in response Gentleman created a small cameo head in profile as an alternative.

David Gentleman's experiments with the cameo head of the Queen.

David Gentleman’s experiments with the cameo head of the Queen.

The cameo head came to be accepted in place of the Wilding portrait. It was used from the Landscapes issue of 1966 until it was replaced with the new Machin commemorative head in 1968.

Uniquely, for the Robert Burns issue, the designers (all Scottish) were instructed that they could also submit “non-traditional” designs. In practice, this meant designs without the Queen’s head. Several did, and a total of 21 (out of 40) carried the legend U.K. POSTAGE, or a crown, or royal cypher.

Jock Kinneir's design, showing Burns’ signature without the Queen’s head.

Jock Kinneir’s design, showing Burns’ signature without the Queen’s head.

Some 12 different designs were essayed and those first chosen were “non-traditional” signatures of Burns. However, in the meantime, it had been decided to retain the head of the monarch and so the designs were re-essayed with that addition. In the end, a more traditional approach was preferred.

Jock Kinneir's revised designs, showing Burns’ signature and portrait without the Queen’s head.

Jock Kinneir’s revised designs, showing Burns’ signature and portrait without the Queen’s head.

For more information on the revolutionary stamp designs of David Gentleman see our online exhibition Gentleman on Stamps.

Concorde – A British Design Classic

Having recently catalogued all Great Britain Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal commemorative registration sheets of stamps, it dawned on me how much the ‘First Flight of Concorde’ stamps of 1969 stood out; both in terms of their slick design and ultimately the subject that they embodied. After all, this ‘Supersonic’ airliner, of Anglo-French origin is as an aviation and engineering icon.

During the late 1950’s, The British, French, Soviets and Americans were in competition, as each nation industriously worked towards developing a form of commercial civilian supersonic transport. It was the British and French however (both funded by their respective governments) who jetted ahead in this particular pursuit. Subsequently they developed designs called the ‘Type 233’ and ‘Super-Caravelle’ respectively, which ultimately saw them leading the commercial aircraft market at the time, which until then had been dominated so ardently by the United States.

First Flight of Concorde - 4d value, designed by M. and S. Goaman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 4d value, designed by M. and S. Goaman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde - 9d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 9d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde - 1s6d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 1s6d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

Due to the impending costs which ensued with the production costs however, the British and French combined forces, forming an international treaty (rather than an agreement on commercial terms) in the early 1960’s, where their newly formed British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aérospatiale companies merged, on what famously became the ‘Concorde’ project. It was this partnership which proved triumphant, as the first Concorde prototype was presented in 1967.

Concorde’s maiden flight on the 2nd March 1969 was heralded as ‘faultless’. The aircraft took off from Toulouse and reached 10,000ft. The following day three postage stamps were issued in Britain, with one design (4d) by M. and S. Goaman and the other two (9d and 1s 6d) designed by the prolific and imperious David Gentleman. Looking at Gentleman’s designs specifically, the simple but bold minimal style sits well within current trends in graphic design, thus evoking a timeless appeal. Printed by Harrison and Sons on chalk-surfaced paper, with two phosphor bands, the stamps pay homage to this British design great.

French Stamp – ‘First Commercial Flight of Concorde’, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘First Commercial Flight of Concorde’, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘Regions of France – Pyrenees’ featuring Concorde, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘Regions of France – Pyrenees’ featuring Concorde, 10/01/1976

Although a success, Concorde’s maiden flight never actually reached above 300mph, thus failing to achieve its potential ‘supersonic’ status. Concorde’s first supersonic flight (for those inquisitive amongst you) came on the 1st October 1969 where it achieved closer to the 1,300mph it was capable of. Concorde’s first commercial flights took place on 21st January 1976 – Air France flew from Paris to Rio and British Airways’ Concorde flew from London Heathrow to Bahrain. Concorde’s final flight was on 26th November 2003, following the tragic aftermath of Concorde’s only crash on 25th July 2000, and the global economic downfall of the subsequent years.

Evidently, Concorde was voted the winner in the ‘Great British Design Quest’ competition of 2006. Organised by BBC2’s The Culture Show and London’s Design Museum, the Concorde design beat competition from 25 other British design classics – including Mary Quant’s mini skirt, the Routemaster Bus and Harry Beck’s 1931 London Underground Map design (runner-up). This news came as a delight to Concorde fans, notably Tony Benn – the former Postmaster General – who himself has been so prominent throughout British Postal History. Benn was the Aviation Minister responsible for giving Concorde the go-ahead in the first place.

The 2009 stamp issue ‘British Design Classics’ features ten iconic designs, including Concorde and the other aforementioned ‘design classics’, plus others – thus tying in nicely with the British Design Classic theme of which Concorde so famously championed.

British Design Classics stamps - 13/01/2009

British Design Classics stamps – 13/01/2009

The full series of Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal commemorative registration sheets are due to be made available via the BPMA’s online catalogue, each with a full catalogue description and a digitised section of each sheet, including of course the 1969 Concorde stamps.

You may also enjoy watching this video of Concorde’s maiden flight:

Stuart Aitken – Cataloguer, Philately

Arnold Machin – The man behind the icon

Today 100 years ago, Arnold Machin was born in Stoke-on-Trent in the Potteries – an area which is now known as “World Capital of Ceramics”. Perhaps it might then come to no-one’s surprise that Machin not only became a sculptor but that this art also influenced his most famous and iconic design: the Machin stamp.

Arnold Machin, OBE (30 September 1911 – 9 March 1999)

Arnold Machin, OBE (30 September 1911 – 9 March 1999)

An apprentice at porcelain manufacturer Minton, Machin went on to attend classes in sculpture at Derby School of Art. He eventually obtained a scholarship at Royal College of Art to study sculpture and completed this course with a silver medal award in 1940. Josiah Wedgwood hired him as a designer in the 1940s and supported him during WW2 when Machin was sentenced to 12 months prison as conscientious objector.

It was after the war when Machin’s career in the arts started off. He gained great recognition for his simple style particularly after he had designed a Queen’s ware bull figure, Taurus, for Wedgwood in 1945, which proved a great success and sold for over 30 years. After creating a terracotta figure for the 1947 Royal Academy summer exhibition he became an RA associate, a full member in 1956 and master of sculpture in 1959.

Machin next to his terracotta figure Spring at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition 1947.

Machin next to his terracotta figure "Spring" at the Royal Academy Summer exhibition 1947.

From coin to icon

Only a few years later, in 1962, he was member of a team of sculptors from the Royal Academy to create a new effigy of The Queen in preparation for the new decimal coinage. Using photographs of Her Majesty by Lord Snowdon, Machin submitted several designs to the Royal Mint Advisory Committee who found them particularly beautiful and very human. Committee member John Betjeman even thought Machin’s portrait of Queen Elisabeth II had “made her look a bit sexy”.

The work he delivered on coins brought him to the attention of Sir Kenneth Clark and the Stamp Advisory Committee (SAC) when they were thinking about new definitives with a more beautiful picture of The Queen. Machin was one of five artists invited to submit ‘renderings’ of The Queen’s head and stamp design at the end of 1965, among them also David Gentleman. Gentleman worked on the 1962 Lord Snowdon photographs, Machin drew a large number of elaborate sketches based on the Penny Black.

Sketch by Arnold Machin based on the Penny Black, January 1966.

Sketch by Arnold Machin based on the Penny Black, January 1966.

The SAC preferred Machin’s approach to the new portrait meaning a light image on a dark background. Building on his background as sculptor, Machin wanted to create a new design from a relief portrait – just like the Penny Black – and started working on a ‘Coinage Head’ plaster cast. The SAC liked Machin’s simple style and eventually chose a plaster cast (the ‘Dressed Head’) which was also preferred by Her Majesty.

Plaster head of HM the Queen made by Arnold Machin for new definitive issue of stamps, third version (POST 118/5373)

Plaster head of HM the Queen made by Arnold Machin for new definitive issue of stamps, third version (POST 118/5373)

The final stamps were issued from 5 June 1967 displaying a design which would remain essentially unchanged for more than forty years – a timeless classic.

Royal Mail Machin centenary miniature sheet (14 September 2011)

Royal Mail Machin centenary miniature sheet (14 September 2011)

- Jana Harnett, Marketing & Development Assistant

Learn more about Arnold Machin and the revolution in British stamp design in the 1960s by viewing our online exhibition Timeless & Classic: Machin’s Icon, and get more insights into Machin’s iconic design with our beautiful book, A Timeless Classic: The Evolution of Machin’s Icon by Douglas N. Muir’s, BPMA’s Curator Philately, with an introduction by David Gentleman.

Virtual Advent Calendar – 24th December

In the lead-up to Christmas we are showcasing some of the festive items in our collection across our social networks. Behind the door of our virtual advent calendar today is…

Triple Arch from West Front (1989)

Triple Arch from West Front (1989)

One of five stamps issued by Royal Mail in 1989 to commemorate both Christmas and the 800th Anniversary of Ely Cathedral.

This stamp is a “semi-postal”, meaning that a charity surcharge (of 1p) was added to the price of the stamp.

Designer: David Gentleman

See larger images of all the items in our Virtual Advent Calendar on Flickr.

Great British Railways

Are trains and railways the most covered topic on British commemorative stamps? A survey of the topic certainly suggests as much. We counted 19 British stamp issues which feature something related to the railways – toy trains, famous trains, railway stations and infrastructure, the invention of steam power and the locomotive, even a pub sign with a train on it. Now a 20th issue – Great British Railways – can join the list.

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways, issued today, celebrates the ‘Big Four’ railway companies and features some of the classic locomotives manufactured and used in the UK. The stamps also mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the last UK steam locomotive, British Rail’s Evening Star.

By the end of the 19th century, numerous private railway companies competed fiercely across the British Isles, but by 1923, with profits waning due to the increasing competition from cars, buses and lorries, over 120 private railway companies were merged into the Big Four.

These comprised of the London, Midland & Scottish (including the Northern Counties Committee in Northern Ireland), the London & North Eastern, the Great Western – which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year – and the Southern Railways.

After the Second World War the Big Four became British Railways in 1948, and in March 1960, Evening Star brought to an end over 130 years of steam-locomotive building for Britain’s mainline railways, leaving Swindon Works in a blaze of publicity in 1960.

The nostalgia for classic locomotives and trains perhaps explains why the railways have featured so frequently on stamps, along with the historic importance of the railway network to the British postal service. Below are some of the best-known British stamp issues to feature trains, which is your favourite?

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975. This issue came about partly as a result of interest amongst philatelists and railway enthusiasts for a set of stamps featuring trains.

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980. Designed by David Gentleman, these stamps commemorate the world’s first timetabled intercity railway.

Famous Trains, 1985

Famous Trains, 1985. This set was issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway Company.

The Age of Steam, 1994.

The Age of Steam, 1994. A celebration of the railways using archival black and white photographs.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Classic Locomotives, 2004

Classic Locomotives, 2004. These stamps commemorate some of the UK’s finest preserved steam locomotives.

The Great British Railways stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps & Collecting.

Treasures of the Archive

by Zoe van Well, Archives Assistant

Hi, I am Zoe van Well and this is the first time I have blogged for the BPMA. So why now? Well, recently I contributed to the leaflet for the Treasures of the Archive exhibition. It is housed in the Search Room of the Archive and is free for all to view. You can also download a copy from our website.

In writing the leaflet I was able to not only test my knowledge built up over the past year as an Archives Assistant but also to gain more! I found it so exciting to make connections between the themes highlighted by the Treasures of the Archive exhibition.

The Machin Head mould

The Machin Head mould

One item is The Machin Head mould. Other themes include; Stamps That Never Were, featuring a page from David Gentleman’s design book, and also a World Cup Stamp commissioned for the Scotland team; Design in the GPO, The Mail Coach; and the list goes on!

I found that so many pivotal moments of postal history exposed by the exhibition directly influenced each other. The Machin Head, for example, is a mould sculpted and cast by Arnold Machin and was used to create the definitive stamp still in use today. (Everybody will have used one at some point in their life!) After I read some of Douglas Muir’s book on the topic, titled A Timeless Classic and sold in the search room, I became aware of the challenges which arose during the design process. In particular I realised the roles David Gentleman and the then Postmaster General Tony Benn played, given they were questioning the very use of the Monarch’s Head being present on stamps!

Colour trials for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929

Various colours were trialled for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929. Eventually, grey was selected.

This lead to me realising special stamps were very limited in number until the 1960’s, full stop! The Postal Union Congress commemorative stamps featuring George V (of which the £1 Stamp, 1929 is displayed in the exhibition) was only the second Commemorative Stamp to be commissioned. The first were designed for the British Empire Exhibition held in1924 and 1925. These stamps can currently be viewed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I must say though, whilst looking into these stamps I unearthed other research material which can sometimes be overlooked, including supplements issued in the Philatelic Bulletin. The Philatelic Bulletin is a small newsletter published by Royal Mail, and it includes articles on special stamps about to be issued. One supplement in particular does a great job of explaining the difference between definitive and special stamps. We have a complete collection of these Bulletins in the search room and they can be a great starting point for projects undergone by school pupils. They are also a great way for everybody to learn about events in philatelic history. Of course, if you become interested in an event and would like to see original material relating to it, either I or one my colleagues in the Search Room will be pleased to help you locate some if you wish!

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

Getting back to the Treasure of the Archive Exhibition, don’t forget we also have on display a Penny Black Proof Registration sheet (1st April 1840), of which there are only eight and all are cared for here at the British Postal Museum and Archive. We also have a Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box, one of the very first to be made and which were trialled on the Channel Islands during 1852 and 1853.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit us while this exciting and rare material is still on display! Why not make a day of it by browsing our catalogue either online or in our search room after viewing the exhibition. You may also prefer to take inspiration from the search room information sheets such as Travelling Post Offices, Mail Rail, Animals in the Post Office, The Post Office in the Second World War, Women in the Post Office and Airmail. If you find something takes your interest, we can help you find a particular item and produce it for you from the repository.

We enjoy showing you original material as it can often be a thrilling experience; both for staff and visitors, whether it is a time bill, a report or a list of ingredients for cancellation inks!

Treasures of the Archive can be viewed in our Search Room until April 2011. For information on visiting the Search Room please see http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting.

World Cup stamp designs from 1970 uncovered by archivists

World Cup 1970 stamp design recently uncovered by BPMA

World Cup 1970 stamp design recently uncovered by BPMA

Just days before the 2010 World Cup kicks off, unused postage stamp designs from the 1970 World Cup have been uncovered by archivists at the BPMA. The designs, by one of the UK’s most prolific stamp designers, David Gentleman, were commissioned in the event that England should have a successive World Cup victory following its win in 1966. 

1966 England Winners stamp

1966 England Winners stamp

It’s thought that David Gentleman was briefed to prepare the 1970 designs after the more hasty production of the celebratory stamp for the World Cup four years previously. Although the Royal Mail had produced a hugely popular set of stamps to mark England’s hosting of the World Cup in 1966, when the national team won there was only time to modify the existing stamp with the words ‘ENGLAND WINNERS’ to celebrate the triumph.

Royal Mail was obviously determined to be more prepared in 1970, which is why it commissioned designer David Gentleman, although sadly England didn’t experience the same victory in 1970 and that the stamp designs were filed away and forgotten.

The BPMA holds all the original artwork for both the 1966 stamps and the unseen 1970 stamp designs. Those who would like to see the stamps and the designs may visit The British Postal Museum & Archive, but please see our website for details on viewing philatelic material beforehand.

The Design is in the Post – Artists and the GPO

Artists and writers Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith, who have penned a series of books exploring the work of notable British designers of the 20th Century, will speak at the BPMA on 20th May. The focus of their talk will be the many artists who have worked for the GPO, and how those artists helped to shape the GPO’s image.

The ‘pre-war’ artists Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Barnett Freedman and Eric Gill will be covered in some length, along with well known stamp designers such as Edmund Dulac and Bertram Mackennal. Present day artists who worked on the Millennium stamps, David Hockney, Peter Blake, Craigie Aicheson, David Gentleman, Claire Melinsky and John Lawrence, will also be examined.

Brian Webb has kindly sent us some of the images he will show in the talk:

Magazine cover by Edward Bawden

Magazine cover by Edward Bawden

Eric Ravilious’ un-adopted design for the Adhesive Stamp Centenary, 1940

Eric Ravilious’ un-adopted design for the Adhesive Stamp Centenary, 1940

One of David Gentleman’s illustrations from The Swiss Family Robinson, 1963

One of David Gentleman’s illustrations from The Swiss Family Robinson, 1963

Millenium stamps: Freddie Mercury, 2000, designed by Peter Blake

Millenium stamps: Freddie Mercury, 2000, designed by Peter Blake

Further information and booking details for The Design is in the Post – Artists and the GPO can be found on our website.

David Gentleman Design by Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith is available from the BPMA Shop.