Tag Archives: design

Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica at The Polar Museum, Cambridge

With a population of just 250, The British Antarctic Territory, which covers 660,000 square miles of Antarctica from offshore islands to the South Pole itself, doesn’t necessarily seem like somewhere that the postal service would need to operate. But, despite the low number of permanent residents, the Territory issues both its own postage stamps and coins and even has an Antarctic Postman, based in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands, who visits the outlying research bases by ship.

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With such a fascinating story to tell, it’s no surprise that there is now an exhibition devoted to the postage stamps of this remote territory. Last Thursday The Polar Museum in Cambridge launched the captivating Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica exhibition. With the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Scott Polar Research Institute the exhibition uses stamps, printing proofs and original artworks to shed light on this little known corner of the globe, from native wildlife including Emperor Penguins and Huskies to ships ploughing through ice and planes flying over the frozen sea, commemorating British expeditions to the Antarctic throughout history.

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The exhibition at The Polar Museum is a wonderful example of how stamps are much more than just a means of sending a letter from A to B. They are a window into history giving a snapshot of the social, cultural and design influences of any given period across every region of our planet. With every stamp from the Penny Black to the present day and all stamp artwork, both adopted and unadopted (including from such famous artists as Paul Nash, Terence Cuneo and David Gentleman) in our collections, we know that there are hundreds if not thousands of interesting stories just waiting to be told. It’s great to see exhibitions such as that at The Polar Museum bringing these stories into the public domain and I hope you will take the opportunity to pay it a visit.

Adrian Steel – Director

The exhibition will be running at The Polar Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge until 6 September 2014. Entry is free and the museum is open 10-4 Tuesday to Saturday. www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum

Auditing the Stamp Artwork Collection

The Philatelic team is busy auditing the BPMA’s post 1985 stamp artwork collection, in preparation for its move to a new storage facility. 

We are half way through checking the location and housing conditions of approximately 12,000 pieces of adopted and unadopted artwork. Every piece of artwork must be packed safely to prevent damage during transit and location control must be maintained so that nothing is lost.

An unadopted design by Ralph Steadman for Appearance of Halley’s Comet, 1986.

An unadopted design by Ralph Steadman for Appearance of Halley’s Comet, 1986.

The collection, which includes pieces by David Gentleman, Quentin Blake and David Hockney, comprises artwork across a range of forms and sizes including photographs, paintings, drawings, transparencies, digital images and plaster casts.

The stamp artwork collection is diverse in its subject matter and style, and it is intriguing to see how different artists have tackled the same subject. The proposed designs for the Appearance of Halley’s Comet issue, for example,  include scientific illustrations; images of the comet passing over earth in 684, 1066, 1301 and 1910; and bold, cartoon style artwork by Ralph Steadman – four designs of which were chosen for the 1986 issue. One can imagine the debates behind the final selection.

Boxes of stamp artwork in storage at Christie’s.

Boxes of stamp artwork in storage at Christie’s.

Our new home at Calthorpe House will allow us to showcase this fascinating design history resource, which, as yet, has been largely unseen by the public.

- Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.