Tag Archives: seahorses

New Merchant Navy and Bertram Mackennal stamps

As always during Stampex Royal Mail are issuing several sets of new stamps. Today sees the launch of a commemorative issue on the Merchant Navy and commemorative sheets marking the 150thanniversary of the birth of Bertram Mackennal.

Merchant Navy

The Merchant Navy stamps salute the heritage of the UK’s trading fleet of ships, run by various companies. These export and import goods from around the world as well as carrying passengers, and historically have been intertwined with the fortunes of the nation.

Merchant Navy stamp - 1st Class – Atlas, 1813.

Merchant Navy stamp – 1st Class – Atlas, 1813.

Merchant Navy stamp - 1st Class – Britannia, 1840.

Merchant Navy stamp – 1st Class – Britannia, 1840.

Merchant Navy stamp -1st Class - Cutty Sark, 1870.

Merchant Navy stamp -1st Class – Cutty Sark, 1870.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Clan Matheson, 1919.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Clan Matheson, 1919.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Queen Elizabeth, 1940.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Queen Elizabeth, 1940.

Merchant Navy stamp - £1.28 - Lord Hinton, 1986.

Merchant Navy stamp – £1.28 – Lord Hinton, 1986.

The accompanying miniature sheet honours the contribution of the Merchant Navy in times of war, when its ships assisted in the war effort. 2013 will mark the 70th anniversary of the turning point of what is called the Battle of the Atlantic, after which losses reduced considerably.

Merchant Navy: Miniature Sheet - The Atlantic and Arctic Convoys.

Merchant Navy: Miniature Sheet – The Atlantic and Arctic Convoys.

Bertram Mackennal

Bertram Mackennal was born on 12th June 1863 in Melbourne, Australia, to parents of Scottish descent. After initial training in design and sculpture at the National Gallery in Melbourne, Mackennal travelled to Europe. Having completed further studies in London and Paris he began to receive commissions in Australia and the United Kingdom, and eventually came to the attention of King George V.

In 1910 Mackennal began work on the effigy of King George V for new British and imperial coins and medals, and from this he developed the designs for the King’s head on British postage stamps and also worked on Indian and colonial stamps. Through this work, he began a lifelong friendship with the king helping to establish his philatelic legacy. In 1921, Mackennal was knighted by King George V.

The Mackennal stamps available from today feature ten definitive sized 1st Class Royal Seal stamps alongside images showing key works from Mackennal. These include the halfpenny green and one penny red stamps from 1912-1913, the George V five shilling Seahorses stamp from 1913 and a commemorative Olympic Games medal from 1908.

Bertram Mackennal commemorative sheet.

Bertram Mackennal commemorative sheet.

Royal Mail has also produced a facsimile pack of the Seahorses stamps. The ‘Seahorses’ were high value definitive postage stamps issued during the reign of King George V and designed by Mackennal. These stamps were notable for the quality of the engraving and the design, featuring Britannia on her chariot behind three writhing horses on a stormy sea.

Bertram Mackennal facsimile pack.

Bertram Mackennal facsimile pack.

The Merchant Navy stamps are available online via www.royalmail.com/merchantnavy. The Bertram Mackennel stamps are available online via www.royalmail.com/mackennal.

Both issues are also available from the Royal Mail stand at Stampex, in Post Office branches or by phone on 08457 641 641.

King George V definitive stamps

Artwork and other material related to King George V definitive stamps has now been made available on our website. During George V’s 26 year reign (1910-1936) only three definitive designs were issued – the Downey Head, the Mackennal (or Profile) Head and the Seahorse High Values. Our webpages include material related to these three issues, with separate webpages devoted to the First Designs (1910) and the Photogravure designs (1933-36).

Barnett Freedman's design for a proposed photogravure 7d or 8d value, November 1935. (GV-13-24)

Barnett Freedman’s design for a proposed photogravure 7d or 8d value, November 1935. (GV-13-24)

For those with a special interest in stamps from the George V era there are links from these webpages to further material on our online catalogue.

Visit www.postalheritage.org.uk/kgv-definitives to see the new webpages.

A Cup of Tea and its Consequences

Chris West explains how he came to write the book First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Like many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a stamp collection. A rather mediocre one… But one Sunday, I went to tea with my great uncle.

I happened to mention that I collected stamps, and Uncle Frank said he’d done that too. He disappeared and came back with a dark blue ‘Lincoln’ album. Inside was a treasurehouse of stamps featuring Edward VII and Queen Victoria – including a Penny Black (it had a corner missing, but still…) Frank then said that he didn’t really bother with them any longer – did I want them? The album became my pride and joy. I even took it to school to show everybody. Sadly, one viewer was so impressed that he stole half the stamps. The collection never felt the same afterwards, and vanished into an attic. Forty years later, I was cleaning out the attic when I came across the album. For a moment an old fury came back, but then I decided that a much healthier reaction was to reassemble the collection.

The 'Seahorse' stamp.

The ‘Seahorse’ stamp.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

As I did this, I found myself ever more intrigued with the stamps, as items of beauty but also as tiny pieces of history. Who stuck this Penny Black on an envelope, and what was in the letter? More generally, what was Britain like at the time? I found envelopes that had been sent in Ireland around the time of the appalling famine, a Seahorse sent just before World War One, a stamp celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (an event I had never heard of, but which was as big as the Olympics in its day), an envelope that had enclosed a censored letter from World War Two, the classic 4d stamp celebrating the 1966 World Cup win… Stamps, I realised, tell stories.

Finally, I assembled these stories into a book, that would tell the nation’s tale through its stamps – or 36 of them, anyway. It’s been a joy to research and write. And all thanks to my great uncle and a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps is available from the BPMA online shop.

Chris West will give a talk based on First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps at the BPMA on Thursday 21 February 2013.

Bertram Mackennal

As part of our continuing series of events on themes related to George V, the BPMA’s Curator of Philately Douglas Muir will give a free talk next month on the work of Bertram Mackennal. Mackennal was a noted sculptor who designed coins, stamps and medals during the reign of George V. Douglas Muir’s talk will include images from the Royal Philatelic Collection and the Royal Mint as well as the BPMA, together with examples of Mackennal’s work in sculpture.

The unpopular “Downey Head” (left), the frame of which was designed by Bertram Mackennal and G.W. Eve. George V disliked the three-quarter profile and the replacement “Profile Head” (right) was issued the following year. The “Profile Head” effigy of George V was designed by Mackennal and the frame by Eve.

The unpopular “Downey Head” (left), the frame of which was designed by Bertram Mackennal and G.W. Eve. George V disliked the three-quarter profile and the replacement “Profile Head” (right) was issued the following year. The “Profile Head” effigy of George V was designed by Mackennal and the frame by Eve.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1863, Edgar Bertram Mackennal received his early training in sculpture from his Scottish immigrant father John Simpson Mackennal and at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. At age 19 Mackennal left for Europe, where he undertook further study in London and Paris and began to be commissioned to produce reliefs, figures and busts.

Having completed a number of significant works in England, Australia and India, including statues of monarchs and other notable persons, Mackennal was commissioned to design the medals for the 1908 London Olympic Games. Two years later, when George V ascended the throne, Mackennal was commissioned to prepare an effigy of the King for coins and medals. The Post Office was also keen to employ Mackennal to work on the new definitive stamps, and although initially reluctant, Mackennal agreed.

The popular Seahorses design depicts Britannia being driven through the sea on a chariot pulled by three horses. In her hands are a trident and a shield bearing the Union Jack. Mackennal took inspiration from Greek and Roman depictions of chariot races for this design.

The popular Seahorses design depicts Britannia being driven through the sea on a chariot pulled by three horses. In her hands are a trident and a shield bearing the Union Jack. Mackennal took inspiration from Greek and Roman depictions of chariot races for this design.

Mackennal was involved in the design of all definitive stamp issues during the reign of George V, including the much-loved Seahorses design. Originally issued by the Post Office on 30th June 1913 this design was seen as revolutionary for its time, being the first British stamp to bear a pictorial illustration alongside the monarch’s head and the value. In many ways it can be said to be the pre-cursor to the first British commemorative stamp, issued to celebrate the opening of the British Empire Exhibition 11 years later.

Douglas Muir’s talk on Bertram Mackennal will take place on Thursday 7 October at the BPMA. Information on how to book can be found on our website. Tickets are free.

Douglas Muir’s book George V and the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity is available from the BPMA online shop.

King George V Registration Sheets

by Stuart Aitken, Collections Assistant

The entire collection of King George V registration sheets is now fully accessible on our online catalogue. Registration sheets, often imperforate, exist as the very first prints taken from the printing plate for each stamp in sheet form. The collection consists of 1,027 sheets in total.

The reign of King George V (6th May 1910 – 20th January 1936) marked one of the most fascinating eras of British postage stamps; a period of change, progression and vast improvements with stamp production. The King himself was a proud philatelist so it is no great surprise that such diversity and experimentation occurred during this time.

2½d Downey Head 1911

2½d Downey Head 1911

The first King George V stamps, the ½d and 1d Downey Head, released on the 22nd June 1911 to coincide with the King’s coronation, immediately faced a storm of criticism as it was the first time a three-quarter profile of the monarch had been used (up to this stage all Great Britain issues had previously used a side-on profile). It was also argued that the use of a typographed image from a photograph had not been hugely successful. Consequently the Downey Head was replaced in August 1912 by the designs of Bertram Mackennal, which saw a return to the profile head. Since the Downey issues, all Great Britain stamps have used a profile head design.

½d Photogravure 1935

½d Photogravure 1935

In 1934 a new design for definitive issues was introduced which was printed using the Photogravure process. Utilising high-speed production and at a lower cost, these stamps underwent subtle resizing and modifications over the years to allow improvements. Information such as this can be found in the description field of each catalogue entry, along with a scanned section of each sheet.

1d British Empire Exhibition 1924

1d British Empire Exhibition 1924

The first British commemorative stamps were also issued during the reign of King George V to mark the 1924/25 Empire Exhibition at Wembley, featuring a Lion in a striking stance. Following this issue other commemorative issues were subsequently produced to mark the 1929 London Postal Union Congress and the 1935 Silver Jubilee of the King.

Also included in the collection are registration sheets of the high value Seahorse issues, the first ever postage due stamps, colour trials, black proof sheets and official governmental overprints relating to their official use in various British territories outside the UK.

Each catalogue entry in the collection is detailed, comprehensible and provides a great research tool and insight into this unique collection of British registration sheets.

Philatelic Congress of Great Britain

The Philatelic Congress of Great Britain, one of the highlights of the British philatelic calendar, takes place in Kenilworth next week. Amongst the special guest speakers is our Curator of Philately Douglas Muir who will speak on the work of Bertram Mackennal, designer of stamps, coins and medals during the reign of King George V.

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

Bertram Mackennal’s most admired stamp design was for the “Seahorses” High Values, originally issued by the Post Office on 30th June 1913. This design was seen as revolutionary for its time, being the first British stamp to bear a pictorial illustration alongside the monarch’s head and the value. In many ways it can be said to be the pre-cursor to the first British commemorative stamp, issued to celebrate the opening of the British Empire Exhibition 11 years later.

Other speakers at this year’s Congress of Great Britain will also cover stamps and postal history from the era of George V. In addition there will be a number of static displays, society meetings and social events taking place throughout the three-day event.

The full programme of events and booking details for the Philatelic Congress of Great Britain can be found on the Association of British Philatelic Societies website.

The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO podcast

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

In May, stamp designer Brian Webb and independent fine art consultant Peyton Skipwith spoke at the BPMA about the work of some of the artists who have been employed by GPO and Royal Mail over the years. Their talk is now available as a podcast.

Well known names such as Bertram Mackennal, Eric Gill, Edward McKnight-Kauffer, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious and David Gentleman produced some of their earliest work for the GPO, designing stamps, posters and other items. Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith discuss these designs, as well as other works by the same artists.

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

David Gentleman’s role in revolutionising British stamp design is well known and has been discussed on this blog before, but Peyton Skipwith notes that many of the design difficulties highlighted by Gentleman in Essays in Stamp Design were also encountered by earlier artists. The problem of how to include the monarch’s head and the value of the stamp into the design was anticipated in Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamps, he argues.

Other artists discussed include some of those who worked on the Millennium stamps, such as David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Craigie Aicheson.

The podcast The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO is free to download. While we couldn’t include the designs discussed within the podcast, many of them can be found by searching our online catalogue.