Forty years ago today the General Post Office released the first British stamp to commemorate an overseas leader and the first to be designed by an overseas artist. The stamp in question celebrated the birth centenary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, although it was released to coincide with Indian Independence Day (15th August), rather than Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October).
The designer of the stamp was Biman Mullick an Indian graphic designer and illustrator then teaching at the Folkestone School of Arts and Crafts. Mullick’s design was simple but effective, showing Gandhi in front of the Indian flag. “The design brief gave complete freedom to the designers,” Mullick said. “Mahatma Gandhi maintained an extremely simple life style. This was a lead for me. I set out to achieve stark simplicity in this design.”
Scans of newspaper articles and other material related to the stamp issue can be seen on Mullick’s website. One interesting item is a Post Office press release from 14th May 1970 stating that the Indian Philatelic Society gave the Gandhi stamp a Gold Medal at the international Gandhi stamp exhibition in Calcutta that year. Mullick’s website also contains information about Bangladesh’s first stamps, which he designed following that country’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.
The British Postal Museum & Archive holds a great deal of material about the Gandhi stamp, including essays and unadopted designs. Six other artists submitted designs for the stamp – Bradbury Wilkinson, Rosalind Dease, Harrison & Sons, Philip Sharland, R. Stribley and Martin Stringer – and many of the un-adopted designs included the Charkha (spelt “Chakra” in our archives) or spinning wheel.
“The spinning wheel eventually became the symbol not only of Gandhi, but also the symbol of the Indian Congress Party,” noted a caption for one rejected design. “Ashoka’s Wheel, on the Indian National Flag of today, has a clear link with Gandhi’s spinning-wheel” it continued.
While the Charkha did not appear on the Gandhi stamp, it was used in poster advertising for the issue.
A rejected design by Mullick also featured Gandhi’s honourary title Mahatma (“Great Soul”) in devanagari, the script used for many South Asian languages.
Apart from Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi is the only overseas leader to have been honoured with a British stamp.