by Adam Reynolds, Project Archivist (Stamp Artwork)
Recent months have seen the online publication of all philatelic artwork relating to the reign of King Edward VIII, as part of the ongoing Stamp Artwork Project at the BPMA. Despite the brevity of Edward VIII’s reign, there was a substantial amount of stamp artwork produced, for both the unreleased Coronation issue, and the Accession issue.
The stamps for the Accession issue are particularly striking in their break from the ornamentation characterising the stamps of George V. It was agreed at an early stage that there would be no invitation to artists to submit designs. With the adoption of the photogravure production process, it was possible to produce a portrait more successfully; with this process specifically in mind, the first essential was an acceptable photographic portrait of the King.
Profile pictures by Hugh Cecil were specifically taken for the stamp issue in March 1936. H.J. Brown, then only 17, submitted an unsolicited pencil drawing in April; this formed the basis of the design, along with the Cecil head.
The decision to use a photographic portrait was a cause of controversy to some, with one member of the public commenting that “the Post Office is content to produce these highly important exports without calling in the advice on the real expert – in other words, the artist. As well rebuild Whitehall without an architect!”
As issued in September 1936 the four stamps of King Edward VIII were very simple in format, quite different from anything that had gone before. The design reflected the new King’s desire for simplicity and change. Public reaction to the stamps was generally very positive, in particular praising their simplicity.
Despite this there were still reactionary grumbles to the issue; as one member of the public writing to the Daily Express exclaimed:
“Can anything be done to prevent the new stamp? The crown appears to have nothing to do with the head of the King (which looks as though he has been beheaded). As for the word ‘postage’ – words fail me. In short, it is a horrible production.”
The criticism took on a more apocalyptic tone from James Marchant of Poole, in his letter to The Times on 4th September 1936:
“It so happened that soon after I purchased one of the new stamps I walked into a typical Protestant Church of the Reformation period, with its shivering bareness of brick and whitewash. The new stamp expresses the same spirit which erected that stark abomination. It is the same spirit which is covering the land with iron and concrete barrack-flats in the design of which the artist has been forthright cast out”.
Readers can judge for themselves in viewing all the material related to the design process of the Accession issue on the BPMA’s online catalogue, and can also read more about other stamp issues from the reigns of Edward VIII and George V, at the home of the Stamp Artwork Project.