Tag Archives: stamp issue

Celebrations of Literature

Novels are regularly depicted on commemorative stamps as part of Royal Mail’s aim to reflect British contribution to the arts. Appealing to the dual market of philatelists and bibliophiles, these issues are extremely popular. From a design perspective, the issues have enjoyed varied levels of success. This blog examines two magnificent celebrations of British literature, Sherlock Holmes 1993 and Peter Pan 2002, and evaluates two issues which were arguably less successful, Jane Austen 2013 and Harry Potter 2007. Commemorative stamps depicting novels must conform to the functional requirements of all British postage: to clearly show the monarch’s head and the value of the stamp. Artists are tasked with transmitting the spirit of a novel onto a canvas sometimes as small as 20mm by 24mm.

The Peter Pan issue, illustrated by Colin Shearing, was released on 20 August 2002 to mark the 150th Anniversary of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. The issue commemorates the institution’s relationship with the author which was cemented when Barrie bequeathed the story’s rights to the hospital in 1929. The power of imagination fills in the gaps intentionally left in three of the designs.

Captain Hook stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

Captain Hook stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

On the 47p stamp, Captain Hook’s large figure and feathered hat is shown in silhouette with his infamous hook protruding from the image. The artist has reduced the size of the already small stamp to a slither through which one eye and a menacing smile glower at the viewer.

Peter Pan stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

Peter Pan stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

The practice of only showing part of a character is taken a step further in the depiction of Peter Pan. Peter’s pixie boots and legs clad in green tights are shown at the moment of taking flight against a vivid red background. There is no face in the design yet there is no question that this is Peter.

Wendy, John and Michael Darling in front of Big Ben. Stamp issued 20 August 2002.

Wendy, John and Michael Darling in front of Big Ben. Stamp issued 20 August 2002.

The first class stamp, my personal favourite, depicts the silhouettes of Wendy, George and Michael with the characters only identifiable by a nightgown, a top hat and umbrella, and a teddy bear respectively. The images are effective representations of Peter Pan because they do not attempt to portray the characters in complete detail. The images hint at the characters’ exploits and leave the viewers’ imagination to complete the picture. When Captain Hook bursts through the sail, one knows exactly how his figure will loom before us. As Peter Pan takes flight, one can hear his woops and yells. As the three children make their way to Neverland, we know what wondrous adventures await them. The stamps are a testament to the novel and emphasise the magic and excitement of the story. The illustrations cleverly manipulate the confines of the small scale and turn this limitation into a design advantage by demanding the participation of the viewers’ imagination.

In contrast to the strength of the Peter Pan issue is the Harry Potter issue, with seven stamps reproducing the seven novel jackets, which was released in 2007 to mark the completion of J. K. Rowling’s saga. One might argue that the decision to use the book jackets is a tribute to the positive influence of the novels on children’s literacy as opposed to a quick design fix however a successful book jacket does not automatically translate into a successful stamp. Due to the scaling down of the image size, much of the font is extremely small and the illustrations are no longer striking. Whilst the images are recognisbale due to the prevalence of the book jacket they, unlike the Peter Pan issue, do not speak to the imagination in a new or interesting way.

Harry Potter book cover stamps, issued 17 July 2007.

Harry Potter book cover stamps, issued 17 July 2007.

The Jane Austen issue, released in 2013 to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, is arguably unsuccessful despite featuring newly commissioned artwork. The illustrations are certainly very pretty but they do not capture the urgency or emotion of the moments they portray. The 77p Mansfield Park stamp depicts a Fanny Price who does not appear to be reaching for the door handle in “desperation” while fighting panic and anxiety over what waits for her beyond the threshold. On the first class Sense and Sensibility stamp, Marianne certainly looks quite poorly but not “almost choked by grief”. The illustration does not parallel Austen’s distressing description of a young girl almost screaming in “agony”.

Jane Austen stamps, issued 21 February 2013.

Jane Austen stamps, issued 21 February 2013.

The issue depicts fabulous regency costumes and interiors which lovers of the period will admire however there is no juxtaposition of the human experience, which Austen describes unflinchingly with all of its embarrassments; humour; conceits and pain, against this background of polite society.

Released in 1993 to mark the centenary of The Final Problem, the Sherlock Holmes issue features a restrained colour palette, ominous images and expressive characters. Utilising forest green, grey and black across the illustrations ties the issue together nicely. The creature is suitably menacing in The Hound of the Baskervilles, characters look chillingly out into the darkness in The Greek Interpreter and the falling hat and crumbling rock in The Final Problem emphasise the characters’ peril. The inclusion of the deerstalker in the 24p stamp may understandably rile Sherlock Holmes puritans! For the aspiring sleuth, the issue contains a mystery: hidden within the issue is a five letter anagram which I invite you to puzzle over. The Sherlock Holmes illustrations communicate the novel’s themes and demonstrate how stamps can engage and intrigue. The ordinary postage stamp which drops through our letter box, lands on our desk and is handled by countless people every day is in a unique position to act as an instrument of inspiration and a celebration of literature.

Sherlock Holmes. Centenary of the Publication off "The Final Problem" stamps, issued 12 October 1993.

Sherlock Holmes. Centenary of the Publication off “The Final Problem” stamps, issued 12 October 1993.

- Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Which issue do you think celebrates literature most successfully?

Do you have a favourite literature issue which was not discussed here?

Is there a novel which you think should be immortalised on a postage stamp?

Butterflies

Butterflies are a topic popular with stamp collectors and the public alike. A Butterflies issue from Royal Mail, available from today, celebrates the British love of butterflies on 10 beautiful stamps.

Butterflies presentation pack.

Butterflies presentation pack.

The last time Royal Mail issued a set of stamps devoted to butterflies was 1981; hence it was high time that subject was returned to.

Butterflies stamps issued 13 May 1981. 14p – Aglais urticae, 18p – Maculinea arion, 22p – Inachis io, 25p – Carterocephalus palaemon.

Butterflies stamps issued 13 May 1981. 14p – Aglais urticae, 18p – Maculinea arion, 22p – Inachis io, 25p – Carterocephalus palaemon.

To create a brand new special issue, Royal Mail turned to renowned artist Richard Lewington. The 10 UK species of butterflies chosen are a mix of endangered and the more common and familiar, and the delicate illustrations depict these beautiful creatures to stunning effect.

1st Class - Comma (Polygonia c-album)

1st Class – Comma (Polygonia c-album)

1st Class - Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

1st Class – Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

1st Class - Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

1st Class – Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

1st Class - Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)

1st Class – Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)

1st Class - Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

1st Class – Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

1st Class - Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

1st Class – Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

1st Class - Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia)

1st Class – Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia)

1st Class - Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

1st Class – Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

1st Class - Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

1st Class – Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

1st Class - Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

1st Class – Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

Royal Mail features at least one set of stamps on wildlife each year, and in recent years has chosen to highlight the plight of threatened species by promoting them on the post. Many butterflies are in decline in the UK. Three quarters of UK species have decreased in either distribution or numbers over the last 10 years. However, intensive conservation efforts have increased a number of threatened species, such as the Marsh Fritillary, featured in the set. The yearly nationwide survey, the Big Butterfly Count, takes place from 20 July–1 August, 2013.

The full range of Butterflies stamps and products are available from Post Offices across the UK, online at www.royalmail.com/butterflies, and by phone on 08457 641 641.

Great Britons

Royal Mail is today issuing a set of ten 1st Class stamps celebrating some of Britain’s greatest individuals and their achievements. Entitled ‘Great Britons’, the stamp issue celebrates individuals across sport, journalism, music, politics and the arts whose anniversaries of birth or outstanding achievement fall in 2013.

The set of Great Britons stamps, issued 16 April 2013.

The set of Great Britons stamps, issued 16 April 2013.

World renowned actress Vivien Leigh, famous for her leading roles in Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, takes centre stage alongside actor Peter Cushing, who is perhaps best known for his roles as Baron Frankenstein and Doctor Van Helsing in horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions.

Vivien Leigh, 1913-1967 - Stage and film actress.

Vivien Leigh, 1913-1967 – Stage and film actress.

Peter Cushing, 1913-1994 - Film and television actor.

Peter Cushing, 1913-1994 – Film and television actor.

From the world of sport, Scottish footballer and manager William ‘Bill’ Shankly features. Regarded as one of football’s most successful and respected managers, Shankly was manager of Liverpool from 1959 to 1974, leading them to triumph as First Division champions in 1964, 1966 and 1973, FA Cup winners in 1965 and 1974 and UEFA Cup winners in 1974.

Bill Shankly, 1913-1981 - Football player and manager.

Bill Shankly, 1913-1981 – Football player and manager.

Notable figures from the world of politics are also featured with the first and only Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and John Archer, the first mayor of African-Caribbean descent, to head a London Metropolitan Borough Council in the collection.

David Lloyd George, 1863-1945 - Prif Weinidog Prime Minister.

David Lloyd George, 1863-1945 – Prif Weinidog Prime Minister.

John Archer, 1863-1932 - Politician and civil rights campaigner.

John Archer, 1863-1932 – Politician and civil rights campaigner.

One of the UK’s best loved classical composers Benjamin Britten is included in the ten, with celebrated portrait and fashion photographer Norman Parkinson bolstering the arts contingent.

Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976 - Composer and pianist.

Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976 – Composer and pianist.

Norman Parkinson, 1913-1990 - Portrait and fashion photographer.

Norman Parkinson, 1913-1990 – Portrait and fashion photographer.

Richard Dimbleby, the well known journalist, broadcaster and father of David and Jonathan Dimbleby, is included within the set of 1st Class stamps, as well as celebrated cookery writer Elizabeth David, who was credited with introducing post-war Britain to ‘exotic’ Mediterranean cooking, featuring ingredients such as avocado, pasta, olive oil and red peppers.

Richard Dimbleby, 1913-1965 - Journalist and broadcaster.

Richard Dimbleby, 1913-1965 – Journalist and broadcaster.

Elizabeth David, 1913-1992 - Writer on food and drink.

Elizabeth David, 1913-1992 – Writer on food and drink.

Completing the ten is eminent archaeologist and anthropologist, Mary Leakey, who was credited with forcing scientists to re-think their long held views on human evolution thanks to her significant discoveries.

Mary Leakey, 1913-1996 - Archaeologist and anthropologist.

Mary Leakey, 1913-1996 – Archaeologist and anthropologist.

Writer and journalist Nigel Fountain has written the accompanying presentation pack, which provides an overview of the lives of the Great Britons featured on the stamps.

The Great Britons stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/stamps and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

The birth centenary of Alan Turing

Tomorrow is the birth centenary of Alan Turing the mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist who was highly influential in the development of computers and artificial intelligence.

A stamp from the Britons of Distinction issue, 23 February 2012. 1st Class – Alan Turing.

A stamp from the Britons of Distinction issue, 23 February 2012. 1st Class – Alan Turing.

Turing is perhaps most famous for his work during World War 2 at the code breaking centre in Bletchley Park. There he and others broke a number of German codes, including that of the Enigma machine.

At Bletchley Park Turing worked with a number of engineers seconded from the General Post Office’s engineering department, including Gordon Radley and Tommy Flowers. Radley and Flowers were both involved in the development of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which broke the Nazi’s Lorenz codes and convinced General Eisenhower to go ahead with D-Day. While Alan Turing was not directly involved in the development of Colossus his work fed in to the thinking behind it.

After the war Gordon Radley returned to the Post Office where he was involved in the development of the first transatlantic submarine cable, the invention the hearing aid, and projects to mechanise post sorting which led to the development of the postcode. He eventually rose to become Director General (Secretary to the Post Office), the first engineer to do so.

Tommy Flowers also returned to the Post Office after his time as a code breaker, where he was involved in developing the pioneering electronic telephone exchange at Highgate Wood, and ERNIE, the random number generator used by Premium Bonds.

Alan Turing’s post-war work and legacy are even more significant. Until his death in 1954 Turing undertook pioneering work in computer development and programming, mathematical biology and morphogenesis. He also developed the “Turing Test” for artificial intelligence, which states that a machine can only be said to be intelligent if its behaviours are indistinguishable from that of a human being.

A stamp from The Inventors' Tale issue, 12 January 1999. 63p – Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers).

A stamp from The Inventors’ Tale issue, 12 January 1999. 63p – Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing’s work on computers).

For this and his many achievements Alan Turing is often labelled a “genius”. A stamp from 1999, part of The Inventor’s Tale issue, is testament to this: it features E Paolozzi’s artwork Computers, portraying a computer inside a human head. It is one of many of Paolozzi’s artworks inspired by Alan Turing.

A stamp released earlier this year (pictured above) as part of the Britons of Distinction issue commemorates Turing’s work as a mathematician, computer scientist and code breaker. The stamp shows Turing’s “Bombe” code breaking machine at Bletchley Park.

2012 is Alan Turing Year, celebrating the life and work of Alan Turing.

Charles Dickens stamps

Mr Bumble, Mr Pickwick and Mr Micawber are all instantly recognisable creations of Charles Dickens, one of Britain’s greatest novelists. To commemorate the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth Royal Mail is celebrating his life and work of with ten new stamps issued today.

The stamps feature iconic characters from some of Dickens’ most famous novels, including Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist, Mr Micawber from David Copperfield and Captain Cuttle from Dombey and Son. Six of the stamps feature original illustrations adapted from Character Sketches from Charles Dickens, by Joseph Clayton Clarke (otherwise known as Kyd) and originally published around 1890.

2nd Class – Mr Bumble – Oliver Twist; 1st Class – Mr Pickwick – The Pickwick Papers; 77p – The Marchioness – The Old Curiosity Shop; 87p – Mrs Gamp – Martin Chuzzlewitt; £1.28 – Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son; £1.90 – Mr Micawber – David Copperfield.

2nd Class – Mr Bumble – Oliver Twist; 1st Class – Mr Pickwick – The Pickwick Papers; 77p – The Marchioness – The Old Curiosity Shop; 87p – Mrs Gamp – Martin Chuzzlewitt; £1.28 – Captain Cuttle – Dombey and Son; £1.90 – Mr Micawber – David Copperfield.

Royal Mail is also issuing a miniature sheet of four stamps of illustrations by Hablot Knight Brown (known as Phiz), who illustrated ten books by Dickens.

1st Class - Nicholas Nickleby; 1st Class - Bleak House; 1st Class - Little Dorrit; 1st Class - A Tale of Two Cities.

1st Class – Nicholas Nickleby; 1st Class – Bleak House; 1st Class – Little Dorrit; 1st Class – A Tale of Two Cities.

The presentation pack that accompanies the issue is written by Lucinda Dickens Hawksley, who takes a look at her great, great, great grandfather’s life and works.

Charles Dickens or his work has appeared on three previous stamp issues: Literary Anniversaries (1970), Christmas (150th Anniversary of A Christmas Carol, 1993) and Musicals (Oliver! 2011).

Four stamps from the Literary Anniversaries issue, 3 June 1970. 5d – Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller – Pickwick Papers; 5d – Mr and Mrs Micawber – David Copperfield; 5d - David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood – David Copperfield; 5d - Oliver asking for more – Oliver Twist.

Four stamps from the Literary Anniversaries issue, 3 June 1970. 5d – Mr Pickwick and Sam Weller – Pickwick Papers; 5d – Mr and Mrs Micawber – David Copperfield; 5d – David Copperfield and Betsy Trotwood – David Copperfield; 5d – Oliver asking for more – Oliver Twist.

150th Anniversary of Publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens issue, 9 November 2011. 19p – Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim; 25p – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; 30p – Scrooge; 35p – The Prize Turkey; 41p – Mr Scrooge’s Nephew.

150th Anniversary of Publication of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens issue, 9 November 2011. 19p – Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim; 25p – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig; 30p – Scrooge; 35p – The Prize Turkey; 41p – Mr Scrooge’s Nephew.

A stamp from the Stage Musicals issue, 22 February 2011. 1st Class - Oliver!

A stamp from the Stage Musicals issue, 22 February 2011. 1st Class – Oliver!

Two first day of issue handstamps are available with the new Charles Dickens stamps. One features Dickens’ initials and Dickens’ sometime pseudonym “Boz”, the other features a book design.

Charles Dickens first day of issue handstamps.

Charles Dickens first day of issue handstamps.

The Charles Dickens stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Two Charles Dickens Coaching Prints from our collection can be viewed on Flickr.

New Diamond Jubilee stamps

Royal Mail is marking the culmination of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations with eight new stamps featuring significant events over the past 60 years. The Diamond Jubilee stamps are issued today in time for the extended Jubilee Bank Holidays on 4 and 5 June.

Issued in four se-tenant ‘pairs’, the stamps use archive photographs showing The Queen performing her official duties both at home in the UK and on the world stage. These include such diverse tasks as the first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957, to Her Majesty’s inspection of the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh, as head of the UK’s Armed Forces, half a century later in 2007.

The Diamond Jubilee stamps are: 1st Class – Golden Jubilee 2002, Trooping the Colour 1967. 77p – The Royal Welsh 2007, First Christmas TV Broadcast 1957. 87p – Silver Jubilee Walkabout 1977, Garter Ceremony 1997. £1.28 – United Nations Address 1957, Commonwealth Games 1982.

The Diamond Jubilee stamps are: 1st Class – Golden Jubilee 2002, Trooping the Colour 1967. 77p – The Royal Welsh 2007, First Christmas TV Broadcast 1957. 87p – Silver Jubilee Walkabout 1977, Garter Ceremony 1997. £1.28 – United Nations Address 1957, Commonwealth Games 1982.

These stamps demonstrate The Queen’s devotion to duty since her accession to the throne on 6 February 1952. Much of this is recounted in a 24-page prestige stamp book written by Daily Mail journalist Robert Hardman that is also being issued to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

This is the third and final Royal Mail stamp issue in 2012 to mark The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The first was The House of Windsor issue (2 February), which featured a 1954 portrait of The Queen. The second, the Diamond Jubilee Miniature Sheet, was issued on 6 February, the same day The Queen came to the throne in 1952.

Two first day of issue postmarks are available for this issue, including one featuring a depiction of a royal coach.

Diamond Jubilee pictorial handstamps

Diamond Jubilee pictorial handstamps

A display of philatelic material celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, including an exclusive insight into the making of the stamps released to mark the occasion, can be viewed free of charge at the Royal Mail Archive, London.

Jubilee Stamps Designer Kate Stephens and Royal Mail Design Manager (Stamps & Collectibles) Catharine Brandy will discuss Designing the Diamond Jubilee Stamps at the Phoenix Centre, London on 27 September. Tickets are £3/£2.50 concession, please book online.

The stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Roald Dahl stamps

The writer Roald Dahl is regarded as one of the world’s most imaginative, successful and loved storytellers. His stories are currently published in 49 languages worldwide, and continue to inspire the world’s most creative collaborators, resulting in new movie adaptations, classical music, opera, plays and musicals.

Today Royal Mail has issued ten stamps paying tribute to the work of Roald Dahl. The 30th anniversary of The BFG, or Big Friendly Giant, one of Dahl’s most popular characters, is marked by a special sheet of four stamps all of which feature scenes from the story.

The BFG miniature sheet

The BFG miniature sheet

The other six stamps feature illustrations from the Dahl books Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Twits, and The Witches.

Roald Dahl presentation pack

Roald Dahl presentation pack

The illustrations which appear on the stamps are by Quentin Blake, whose drawings appeared in all of Roald Dahl’s children’s classics. Blake’s illustrations also appear on the postmarks, covers and sheets associated with this issue.

Roald Dahl first day of issue postmarks

Roald Dahl first day of issue postmarks

The Enormous Crocodile stamp, 2006

The Enormous Crocodile stamp, 2006

A Roald Dahl character illustrated by Quentin Blake has previously appeared on a Royal Mail stamp as part of the 2006 issue Animal Tales. On this stamp the Enormous Crocodile can be seen eyeing-off the cameo portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, on the Royal Mail website, the Royal Mail eBay shop and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.