Tag Archives: design

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, renowned playwright and poet, famous worldwide for Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and his sonnets…but he has another claim to fame. In 1964 Shakespeare became the first commoner to appear on a stamp.


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

In 1964 the Post Office issued a set of stamps to coincide with the Shakespeare Festival, marking the 400th anniversary of his birth. Five designs were chosen, one by C&R Ironside showing an image of Hamlet and four by renowned stamp designer David Gentleman. Gentleman’s stamp designs proved controversial as the image of Shakespeare’s head was the same size as that of the Queen’s making him appear of equal importance. This objection was however overcome and Gentleman’s designs were issued alongside that of C&R Ironside to celebrate the Shakespeare Festival marking his 400th Birthday.


Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964


It is now his 450th Birthday and both he and his work have found their way onto a variety of stamps worldwide. Some such issues include the Bicentenary of Australian settlement, 1988; the 150th Anniversary of National Portrait Gallery, 2006, which featured celebrated Britons and the Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 1995.


Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995


Centenary of the introduction of Postage Dues

2014 marks the centenary of postage due stamps first being introduced by the Post Office. Uncollected revenue has always been a concern of the Post Office. If an item was posted without sufficient prepayment it was surcharged and the excess collected by the postman on delivery. However the system in place originally was complicated and open to abuse. In March 1912 a conference looked at possible reforms.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example

The conference proposed the introduction of “Postage Due” labels – to be affixed to all mail that had not been fully paid for. Postage Due labels would be accounted for in the same way as postage stamps and therefore a direct check could be maintained on each item of mail.

George W. Eve, the bookplate designer, was invited to create a design along the lines of existing postage due labels of other countries, without the monarch’s head.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example (above). Both designed by George Eve.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example (above). Both designed by George Eve.


There were to be four denominations of Postage Due labels (½d, 1d, 2d, and 5d) initially, all in the same design and in landscape format. Eve was offered, and accepted, a fee of 30 guineas (£31 10s) to undertake this work. He produced a design in the style of a bookplate, using leaves and national symbols, and the words POSTAGE DUE.

Further denominations were added later, with higher values being used to collect customs dues. For these the wording was therefore changed to TO PAY.

14 April 1914 Post Office notice for the introduction of Postage Due labels

14 April 1914 Post Office notice for the introduction of Postage Due labels

Different watermarked paper and different colours were used over the years. Despite changes in the colours and increases in the denominations, it is significant that George Eve’s design of Postage Due labels remained the same for over 50 years, until 1970.

2014 marks the centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels.  Their use ceased in 2000.

The BPMA will be introducing a new commemorative stamp issue to its Post & Go machine at Freeling House on Wednesday 19 February 2014 to mark the centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels. These will be available until Saturday 5 April 2014.

1902 Design for the Lord Mayor’s invitation

Earlier examples of illustrations by George Eve. 1902 Design for the Lord Mayor’s invitation.

Both the existing Machin and the Union Flag designs will bear the underprint “The B.P.M.A./ Postage Due 1914”.  A limited number of BPMA specific first day covers will be available for purchase both at Freeling House and through the online shop.

The new commemorative stamp issue will also be marked through a small two panel display in the BPMA’s Search Room Foyer, from Wednesday 19 February until Saturday 5 April.

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.

British Design Classics

Newly appointed Philatelic Assistant, Joanna Espin, is tasked with preparing the British Postal Museum & Archive’s philatelic collection in readiness for the move to Calthorpe House in 2015. In her first blog, Joanna discusses her favourite stamp issue: British Design Classics, 2009.

Since discovering the British Design Classics stamp issue in the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) collection, I have questioned what establishes a design as a classic; how design classics are utilised; under what circumstances designs are appropriated and what I would add to the list of icons.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

Good design must first and foremost be fit for the intended purpose: function takes precedence over aesthetics. A classic design is something of outstanding quality and usefulness which outlives the era in which it was produced to become an essential, everyday item which is perhaps overlooked because of its commonplace nature. Jeans for example: born out of labourers’ need for durable clothing in the 19th century American West, symbolising subversion for the 1950s and 1960s American youth and becoming an equalising element of the global wardrobe today. Jeans are undoubtedly a design classic.

The British Design Classics stamp issue celebrates the Mini, Concorde, the Mini Skirt, the Routemaster Bus, the London Underground Map, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Polypropylene Chair, the K2 Telephone Kiosk, Penguin Books and the Anglepoise Lamp as bastions of British design.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

I particularly admire the polypropylene chair for its simple shape, functionality and use of low cost materials. Designed by Robin Day in 1963, the innovative chair pioneered the use of polypropylene, invented nine years before, to create the first plastic shell chair. Due to the benefits of being lightweight, comfortable, stackable and affordable, the chair quickly became ubiquitous in British institutions such as schools; a childhood association which instils the design with nostalgia and classroom memories. I have recently spotted the polypropylene chair in a number of the upmarket coffee shops close to the BPMA which emphasises Zandra Rhodes’s assertion that during periods of austerity “simplification is in fashion.” The ability of a design to be used in a variety of settings is part of the benchmark of good design but it also makes one recognise cases of the appropriation of a design in order to make a fashion statement (as in the case of the polypropylene chair) or comment on society.

An example of the appropriation of a British design classic for a subversive agenda is the punk appropriation of the union jack. The Sex Pistols’ 1977 album artwork, depicting a controversial image of the Queen against the British flag and symbolising rebellion and anarchy, was able to convey a powerful anti-establishment message because of the incorporation of the union jack. The union jack design is immediately recognisable and bold; a design classic instilled with concepts of nation and Britishness. The Sex Pistols album artwork is an example of a classic design which has been subverted in order to criticise tradition and contemporary society.

Conversely the Machin definitive stamp, depicting Queen Elizabeth II in profile, is a design which celebrates British tradition and contemporary society. The postage stamp is a symbol of Britain’s industrial history and social reform. In 1840 Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp which reduced postage costs and radically increased communication. First printed in 1967, the Machin image, of which there are more than 200 billion reproductions, is the most reproduced image of all time. The Machin stamp issue is functional, identifiable, innovative and affordable. Heralding British history whilst remaining an essential component of everyday modern life, the Machin design is the definitive (if you will excuse the pun) British Design Classic.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

British design classics are functional, simple, affordable and innovative. Referencing British culture, subculture, history and contemporary society; British design classics are emblems of the nation which are woven into the essential fabric of daily life.

Which is your favourite stamp in the British Design Classics issue? What would top your personal list of British design classics?

Making our stamp collection more accessible

We care for a unique and precious collection of stamps and philatelic material which includes registration sheets, essays (trial stamps) and proofs of all stages of British stamp production from 1840 to the present day, and all artwork, adopted and unadopted, for all issued and some un-issued British stamps from 1924. Material is constantly added to the collections as we receive around 500 pieces of stamp artwork from Royal Mail every year.

A lot of this material has already been available online, through our website, online catalogue and the project to digitise the R M Phillips Collection, but we are always looking for new ways to make our collections accessible.

Would you like our stamps on your mobile device? Fill in the survey and give us your views.

Would you like our stamps on your mobile device? Fill in the survey and give us your views.

Recently a group of students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts have been working with us on a research project to look at new ways to make our philatelic collections more accessible. The students have put together a short online survey to determine interest among stamp enthusiasts in a mobile or tablet app displaying our collection. If you have any interest in stamps, either as a collector, a philatelist, or a postal or design enthusiast, then we would like to hear your views on this project. Click here to complete the survey.

Overseas mails

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising final posting dates for overseas Christmas mail, designed by Tilley, September 1966. (POST 110/3034)

Poster advertising final posting dates for overseas Christmas mail, designed by Tilley, September 1966. (POST 110/3034)

This poster first appeared in September 1966 and as with other long, landscape posters would have been displayed on to the side of small Morris post vans. The designer Tilley has created a colourful scene to promote the list of Christmas posting dates available at post offices. A dolphin representing sea (or surface) mail holds a copy of the list in its mouth, while a bird representing airmail holds a copy in its beak.

These days the public are more likely to use the internet to find out the last posting dates. The Royal Mail website lists the dates for 2012 here: http://www.royalmail.com/greetings.

Get your Christmas presents from our online shop. Order before 18 December for delivery within the UK.

Delving into the Unknown

BPMA volunteer Don Staddon looks at philatelic material within the British Postal Museum & Archive.

I have been recently working on a project to bring together artwork, essays, and issued stamps for the period from 1985 to 1991. It has revealed many unadopted designs and essays, some of which may be of interest.


On March 12, 1985 a set was issued depicting Insects: a number of artists had been asked to submit designs. Watercolours by wildlife artist and broadcaster Gordon Beningfield were used for the issued stamps, featuring the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee, Seven Spotted Ladybird, Wart Biter Bush Cricket, Stag Beetle and Emperor Dragonfly.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

However, also approached were Brian Hargreaves who also used watercolours, one of his designs showing the Two-spot Ladybird, while John Norris Wood adopted woodcuts, his designs including a Queen Hornet and Cat Flea.

Brian Hargreaves' Two-spot Ladybird design.

Brian Hargreaves’ Two-spot Ladybird design.

John Norris Wood's Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood’s Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood's Cat Flea design.

John Norris Wood’s Cat Flea design.

Gordon Beningfield had previously designed the set depicting Butterflies issued in 1981, while Brian Hargreaves was a well-known butterfly artist responsible for the Collins guide to the butterflies of Britain and Europe, as well as designing butterfly stamps for several other countries. John Norris Wood was a renowned wildlife artist. There were also designs submitted by Cherry Denman featuring household bugs.

Cherry Denman's household bugs designs.

Cherry Denman’s household bugs designs.

European Music Year

In the same year a set was issued on May 14 to mark European Music Year featuring the works of various composers: again several artists had been approached to submit ideas. The designer chosen was the Scottish illustrator and artist Wilson McLean who illustrated famous works by the composers Handel, Holst, Delius and Elgar.

Wilson McLean's European Museum Year stamp designs.

Wilson McLean’s European Museum Year stamp designs.

Among the designs not selected was a portrait of Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker, of Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte, and a set representing four composers created by David Driver.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

David Driver's designs.

David Driver’s designs.

Glynn Boyd Harte was a leading watercolour and lithographic artist as well as a part time musician. Note that while the unadopted designs were all based on portraits, they each used different backgrounds embracing musical symbols, score or instruments.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force set that was issued on September 16, 1986 depicts five senior Officers.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

However, about two years previously trial essays, dated December 18, 1984, had been produced showing aircraft, including the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

As we know, these designs were not developed into issued stamps, but I think they look impressive: sadly no designer is credited, although they appear to have been adapted from photographs.

The issue marked the 50th anniversary of the RAF being organised into various functional and operational commands, and I suspect this is the reason that Commanders were more prominent in the designs rather than the aircraft. The chosen designs were by Brian Sanders.

Thomas Hardy

It is well known that what was intended to be a set of four stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hardy, ended up as being just a single stamp. It was issued on July 10, 1990, and was the work of John Gibbs. The reason given for the reduction in the number of stamps in the set was not to overburden the collector, following the decision to release stamps to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen Mother on August 2.

However, it is widely known that when the essays reached Buckingham Palace, the designs were not approved. I am illustrating essays that were sent for Royal approval: it is not possible to divulge the reaction from the Palace to the essays but I have always understood it was felt the designs were not an appropriate representation of the characters they sought to portray.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

A total of artists had produced submissions for this set. They included: Ian Pollack, whose work was not favoured when seen at Buckingham Palace; John Gibbs who designed the issued stamp; Eileen Hogan, who featured scenes from Hardy’s works; Keith Bowen and Chloe Cheese, who both chose to depict characters from his novels.

This article originally appeared in Cross Post, the journal of the Friends of the BPMA. Visit our website to find out how you can Volunteer for the BPMA.

GPO Christmas Posters

The tendency of many people to post letters at the very last minute poses a considerable problem to the Post Office and Royal Mail especially in the run-up to Christmas. The large volume of post, late in the day or only a few days before the Christmas holidays, has made the allocation of resources and the efficient provision of service much more complex and costly since the 1930s. When the GPO Public Relations Department was created in 1934, a poster campaign to educate the public to “Post Early this Christmas” started and some striking and wonderful poster designs were produced. We wrote about this successful campaign in a previous blog and now want to present some of our favourite poster images to set the mood for Christmas – and to remind you to “Shop Early – Post Early.”

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Post Office commissioned well-known designers like Jan Lewitt & George Him, Tom Eckersley or Barnett Freedman for posters informing the public about the correct use of the postal service. Just like modern advertising campaigns, the designers used animals, striking colours and humour to get their message across. Tom Eckersley’s “Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early” poster from 1955 features a pantomime horse in two halves: the front half (“Be First”) is smiling, the back half (“Not Last”) frowning. Dogs, Cats, Reindeer, Doves and Owls were equally popular motives to educate the public and prevent the Christmas rush.

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Santa Claus himself also appears in different shapes and sizes – “on wheels” with his beard flying in the wind (Manfred Reiss, 1952), skating on ice (POST 110/3213 John Rowland Barker c.1951), or flying over a smoking chimney with a bag of parcels (Eric Fraser, 1946).

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Post Early and get 20% off BPMA Christmas cards!

Buy your Christmas cards by the 19 November 2012 from the BPMA Online Shop and receive 20% off your Christmas cards order over £10 (before Postage & Packaging). Enter POSTEARLY2012 discount code at checkout, or visit our Public Search Room in London.

Put Your Stamp on the New Centre Exhibition Space

We have been working hard with our appointed creative designers Haley Sharpe Design on early plans for the main exhibition space of the Calthorpe House New Centre. The 500m2 gallery will be split into five zones, each covering an era of postal history.

Zone 1 will look at the early days of the Royal Mail, with the BPMA’s 18th Century Mail Coach as its centrepiece, whilst in Zone 2 visitors will meet Rowland Hill – a visionary Victorian, who devised solutions to the short-comings of the postal service in its early days. On display visitors will find a variety of objects and records related to the design of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage, as well as other examples of great Victorian inventions that facilitated the sending and receiving of mail.

Visualisation of Zone 2: "Reform and Innovation".

Visualisation of Zone 2: “Reform and Innovation”.

Between Zones 2 and 3, visitors can read profound and moving stories reflecting events from postal history during the early 20th Century, such as the story of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic, the suffragettes who posted themselves to the Prime Minister, and the role of the Post Office during WWI.

Visualisation of Zone 3: "The Post Office in Conflict".

Visualisation of Zone 3: “The Post Office in Conflict”.

In Zone 3, visitors will step into a reconstruction of life in WWII London, whilst Zone 4, by contrast, will present a bright, visual feast, vividly demonstrating the time from the 1930s to the 1960s when the Post Office was a leader in style and design in Britain.

Visualisation of Zone 4: "Style and Design".

Visualisation of Zone 4: “Style and Design”.

Zone 5 will consider the modern Post Office, including the competition and challenges of 21st Century Communications, as well as the role of the service at the heart of isolated rural communities.

Work is currently underway to work up a long-list of objects and records from the Museum and Archive collections to populate the exhibition and illustrate the stories and themes outlined above. Whilst the ‘usual suspects’ (such as items from early Mail Coach Guards and the many photos and posters held in the Archive) are, of course, under consideration, the BPMA are keen to include ‘hidden gems’ that may not have been seen in previous exhibitions – something for which we would like your help…

Tell us which artefacts from the BPMA collections you would like to see on display in the new exhibition!

Blog readers are invited to suggest a museum object or archive record that they would like to see included in the new gallery displays, with an explanation as to why you have chosen that particular item. The best suggestion, as selected by the BPMA Access and Learning Team, will win a signed copy of Julian Stray’s book Mail Trains. Results announced in January.

Please send your suggestions by 30 November 2012 to: Andy Richmond – BPMA Access & Learning Manager, andy.richmond@postalheritage.org.uk.

Bloomsbury Festival

Saturday 20th October sees the BPMA once more take part in the fantastic Bloomsbury Festival – a celebration of the cultural activities and community fun to be had in this vibrant area of London.

Members of staff from the BPMA will be offering a wide range of activities across the weekend – and moving around across Russell Square in order to meet as many people as possible.

Our postman from the past.

Our postman from the past.

Back, due to popular demand, is our Pedal Powered Postman from the Past – who will be at the Festival from 10am ’til 4pm on Saturday 20th, riding around on a vintage postman’s parcel tricycle. The tricycle will be full of children’s activities for all ages – with a retro postal theme. Be sure to ask the Postman from the Past all about the red and blue Victorian postal uniform that he will be wearing too.

Victorian parcel tricycle.

Victorian parcel tricycle.

For both the Saturday and the Sunday we will have the Poetry Postie at the Festival, from 10am ’til 4pm. The Poetry Postie, otherwise known as Sally Crabtree, will also be riding around Russell Square. Sally will have a fantastic array of arty activities and crafts, which may include items such as singing telegrams or letters written as a poem. Sally is guaranteed to bring an arty twist to any postal items – and will ensure you never simply write a letter or a card in the same way again!

On the Saturday from 12.30 to 5pm the BPMA will be based at the October Gallery for our Write Away event- following on from our popular collaboration with the October Gallery at last year’s Festival. We will be making and writing our own retro postcards and providing free postage. You can send your retro postcard with a unique design to friends and family by posting it into one of our unusual replica pillar boxes.

With so many stalls and activities to see and do, all celebrating the creativity and community of Bloomsbury, the Festival promises to be a weekend not to be missed. Our events with a postal twist will be innovative and inspiring – we look forward to seeing you there!