Countdown to Sotheby’s: George VI stamps

On 11 July the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) will be selling 191 lots of surplus, duplicate philatelic material at Sotheby’s auction house. The proceeds of the sale will support the significant fundraising efforts currently being undertaken by the BPMA to deliver an important new postal museum and archive in Central London. In this blog Alison Bean, Web Officer at The British Postal Museum & Archive, chooses her favourite lots.

Most of the lots in The British Postal Museum & Archive auction are stamps from the reign of King George VI. All of this material comes from registration sheets, which were an official record (normally imperforate) taken from the beginning of the print run. Other than the fact that they are imperforate and have various manuscript or typescript markings they are exactly the same as the issued stamps. Some were registered at Somerset House, then the home of the Inland Revenue (the department of British government responsible for taxation), and the rest came to be held in the Royal Mail Archive. It is duplicates of the officially archived registration material that we are selling in this auction.

While this material is interesting from a philatelic perspective it’s the designs of the low value definitives that most excite me. Produced between 1937 and 1947 these stamps are a dazzling riot of colours and patterns displayed as a collage in Sotheby’s auction catalogue.

Pages from Sotheby’s auction catalogue, showing Lot 46 – 1937-47 ½d to 1s, set of 16 vertical marginal blocks, estimated at £120,000-£150,000.

Pages from Sotheby’s auction catalogue, showing Lot 46 – 1937-47 ½d to 1s, set of 16 vertical marginal blocks, estimated at £120,000-£150,000.

The stamps were designed by two artists, Edmund Dulac and Eric Gill. Dulac is responsible for the portrait of The King, and in the BPMA collection we hold his original plaster model.

Plaster model of King George VI’s head, by Edmund Dulac.

Plaster model of King George VI’s head, by Edmund Dulac.

King Edward VIII 2½d stamp.

King Edward VIII 2½d stamp.

As with the portrait on the stamps of King Edward VIII, King George VI’s portrait is simple and striking. Yet in Dulac’s portrait George VI is shown as benevolent, almost smiling, while in Hugh Cecil’s portrait of Edward VIII The King seems more severe, almost sad.

It’s questionable whether one portrait can portray a person’s character, but it’s difficult not draw a connection between the anger and sadness in Edward VIII’s face, and his difficult decision to abdicate to be with the woman he loved, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. By contrast, George VI, who is usually framed by history as a reluctant King, looks every bit the regal figure as rendered by Dulac.

King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

Eric Gill, possibly better known for designing the Gill Sans typeface, designed one of the frames which surround the King’s head on the George VI definitive stamps. This incorporates the Crown and floral symbols of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and makes use of Gill’s Perpetua font for the words “POSTAGE REVENUE” and the denomination.

Lot 191 - 6d stamp from a collection of King George VI issues, estimated at £75,000-£100,000.

Lot 191 – 6d stamp from a collection of King George VI issues, estimated at £75,000-£100,000.

Dulac designed another frame, hexagonal in shape, which was used on the higher denominations. These stamps are printed in a number of vivid colours, including turquoise-blue, bright carmine and emerald-green.

Detail of Lot 47 - King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

Detail of Lot 47 – King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

While many of his subjects knew that George VI was a shy man with a severe stammer who loathed public speaking, the design of these stamps gives no clues to that. Dulac’s simple hexagonal border presents George VI as a strong leader, with the dark background and the thick border making him the focus of the design.

Please visit Sotheby’s sale page to find out more about the lots on offer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s