Category Archives: Philatelic

Stamps Celebrate British Sporting Legends

The 16th of July 2015 will mark 60 years since legendary British racing car driver Stirling Moss won his first Grand Prix at Aintree, becoming the first British man to win on home turf. With this month’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone and Andy Murray’s efforts at Wimbledon I thought we could take a moment to look at the stamps that celebrate our sporting men and woman.

As an avid Formula 1 fan (“Come on Jenson!!”) we can’t forget the developments of F1 and the dangers those earliest drivers put themselves under. The 2007 Grand Prix Racing Car stamps depict Stirling in his 2.5L Vanwall, which when compared to the modern day Mercedes has very little protection for the driver. He paved the way for British racing car drivers and now the World Championship has been won by a British man 15 times.

Grand Prix 2007 Stirling Moss - 1st NVI

Grand Prix 2007 Stirling Moss – 1st NVI

Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid 2015

Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid 2015

In 2012 Britain was lucky enough to host The Olympic and Paralympic Games showcasing the talents of British sportsmen and women. I myself was glued to the TV, watching sports I’d never seen before but was fascinated by the skill of the professionals. As a country we were able to boast a total of 65 Olympic medals and 120 Paralympic medals. The Gold Medal Winner stamps from 2012 celebrate the achievements of these individuals/teams and act as symbols of national pride.

Team GB Gold Medal Winners 2012 Bradley Wiggins - 1st NVI

Team GB Gold Medal Winners 2012 Bradley Wiggins – 1st NVI

Paralympics Team GB Gold Medal Winners Ellie Simmonds 2012 - 1st NVI

Paralympics Team GB Gold Medal Winners Ellie Simmonds 2012 – 1st NVI

Stirling Moss may have been the first to win a race on home soil but Andy Murray in 2013 conquered Wimbledon after a 77 year gap since the last Brit had managed it. Fred Perry won that tournament in 1936 and since then it has been dominated by the likes of; Björn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. It was electric watching the winning point followed by the triumphant celebrations across the court and the surrounding grounds. As a celebration of his achievements four 1st class stamps were produced of Murray at Wimbledon

Andy Murray - Gentlemen's Singles Champion Wimbledon 2013 - 1st NVI

Andy Murray – Gentlemen’s Singles Champion Wimbledon 2013 – 1st NVI

It is not only individual sporting achievement that is recognized on our postage stamps but also national teams. Miniature sheets were produced when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and when the England Cricketers took home the Ashes in 2005. These products hopefully inspire young children to follow in their footsteps.

England's Victory in Rugby World Cup Championship, Australia 2003 Miniature Sheet

England’s Victory in Rugby World Cup Championship, Australia 2003 Miniature Sheet

England's Ashes Victory 2005 Miniature Sheet

England’s Ashes Victory 2005 Miniature Sheet

Depicting sports men and woman on stamps not only celebrates their achievement but becomes a historical record. These products will be collected and remembered for years to come. It also highlights that people from all walks of life can appear on stamps, it is not their heritage but there contribution to national achievement that is commemorated. 

– Georgina Tomlinson Philatelic Assistant

Stamps: Why the Portrait?

As an Art Historian (now Philatelic Assistant) I have always been fascinated by the portrait and a stamp in itself is a miniature piece of art. To understand why the Queen’s head appears as it does on GB stamps we need to first understand the significance of the portrait historically.

Some of the earliest profile portraits were produced by the Romans for their coins and medals.  Images of the Emperors illustrated their power and importance and thus the profile became synonymous with these characteristics. It was also a way of distributing the face of their leader, who many would never have seen.

Roman Coin

Roman Coin

We can see the influence of these artefacts in the work of Renaissance artists who tried to recreate this sense of power in their portraits of the wealthy. This is evident in the portrait of the Duke of Urbino and his wife by Piero della Francesca who are both depicted in profile facing one another. Yet this composition had to be used as the Duke had previously lost his right eye in a tournament. You can also see the significance of the medal in Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo De Medici’ c.1474-75.

Piero della Francesca 'Duke of Urbibo' c1467-1470

Piero della Francesca ‘Duke of Urbino’ c.1467-1470

Sandro Botticelli 'Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder' c1474-75

Sandro Botticelli ‘Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder’ c.1474-75

However the initial portrait of Queen Elizabeth II used for postage was not in fact a profile. Instead it was a three quarter view of Her Majesty photographed by Dorothy Wilding in 1952. Though adequate as a Definitive stamp –  the Wilding design was found to be overly challenging for many stamp designers as it took up to one third of the stamp’s area and subsequently compromised the design of the stamp.

Wilding High Value Definitives 1955

Wilding High Value Definitives 1955

As a solution to this problem Tony Benn (Post Master General 1964-66) along with designer David Gentleman introduced the idea of removing the Queen’s head altogether. Initial ideas were produced, however in 1965 the Queen decided she wished to remain on the stamp. This led to the small profile silhouette on commemorative stamps being used instead, reminiscent of those produced in the 18th century of the English high society.

1965 Churchill Commemorative

Churchill Commemorative without the Queen’s Head 1965

A traditional silhouette portrait of the late 18th century

A traditional silhouette portrait of the late 18th century

To produce a profile portrait of the Queen, The Royal Mail approached the British sculptor Arnold Machin. He took inspiration from the simplicity of the Penny Black portrait, which was based on a medal of Queen Victoria by William Wyon. This again acknowledges the historical importance of the profile.

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

The image of the Queen we see today is not only practical for producing stamps but also evokes the idea of power and importance, circulating her image to the nation. The significance of the portrait on a stamp is not merely a representation of the person but as a symbol of their significance. Commemorative stamps elevate the importance of an individual by allowing them to feature prominently on the stamp, though the Queen still remains dominant as the accompanying silhouette.

Winston Churchill 1st (October 14 2014)

Winston Churchill 1st NVI (October 14 2014)

Next time you see a photograph of yourself have a think what you would look like on a postage stamp?

– Georgina Tomlinson Philatelic Assistant.

The 175th Anniversary of The Penny Black

Today we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp, a truly great British achievement that changed the postal service forever. In a world of email and text we can forget the impact it had on communication. To mark this event we are exhibiting one of the original sheets of Penny Blacks in our Search Room until the 7 August.

Penny Black

Penny Black

Before 1839 postage was paid by the recipient not the sender, which limited those who could afford to receive their post. High prices and private franking also restricted who could send letters. To offset this, letters were cross written and codes were devised so that recipients could understand a letter’s contents without paying to receive it. This put the Post Office’s profits significantly at risk.

Cross Written Letter

Cross Written Letter

To counteract these problems Rowland Hill introduced a list of postal reforms, stipulating that postage should be paid by the sender, at a unified price based on weight not distance. These proved successful and in 1839 an act was passed to introduce Hill’s reforms. After a public competition it was proposed that the image of the Queen’s head should be used on the stamp as for security reasons minor differences could be detected in forgeries.

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

The design of the first stamp was based on a medal by William Wyon of Victoria taken at the age of 15, which would subsequently represent her until the end of her reign. Arnold Machin took inspiration from the Penny Black’s simplicity when he produced the Royal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for modern day stamps.

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

The image was then engraved, in reverse, on a die by Charles Heath and rolled 240 times onto a copper plate to produce the sheet. For security, letters were placed in the corners of the stamps; contemporary stamps continue to adapt to stay one step ahead of the forgers.

Penny Black Die

Penny Black Die

The Penny Black was actually put on sale on the 1 May 1840 but was not valid for postage until the 6th. The Twopenny Blue however did not begin to be printed until the 1 May. The process was pretty quick and 600,000 stamps where being produced daily.

Twopenny Blue

Twopenny Blue

To celebrate 175 years a miniature sheet has been produced by Royal Mail with two Penny Blacks and two Twopenny Blues, each with a First Class value. The background to the miniature sheet features a photograph of the printing presses at Perkins Bacon & Petch – the original printers of the Penny Black.

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

This is not the first time we have commemorated the Penny Black in modern day postage. The Penny Black 150th anniversary stamps were produced in 1990 where five differing values depicted Queen Elizabeth alongside Queen Victoria.

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

The Penny Black 175 exhibition at the BPMA is available to view Monday to Friday in Freeling House, London.

-Georgina Tomlinson

NEW STAMPS: Comedy Greats

As a celebration of all things funny, Royal Mail  has issued  a selection of 10 stamps depicting the great and good in British comedy. These stamps showcase what British comedy has offered since the 1950s.

Comedy Greats The Two Ronnies Stamp 400% Comedy_Greats_Billy_Connolly_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_French_and_Saunders_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Lenny_Henry_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Monty_Python_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Morecambe_and_Wise_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Norman_Wisdom_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Peter_Cook_and_Dudley_Moore_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Spike_Milligan_Stamp_400% Comedy_Greats_Victoria_Wood_Stamp_400%

These comedians have paved the way for new comedy, breaking down social and economic boundaries proving that anyone can be funny. Comedians such as Victoria Wood, and French and Saunders have encouraged countless young women to follow their example and break into a predominantly male industry. Whereas Billy Connolly and Norman Wisdom represented ordinary working class individuals that people could relate too.

Whether they worked as a group, duo or on their own, these individuals enriched our lives with their comedy and through these stamps we can celebrate our much-loved Comedy Greats.

Comedy and comedians have appeared on British stamps before. Probably the first instance of comedy to appear on a British stamp was in 1964 with the Shakespeare Festival stamps. These featured characters from two of his comedies: Puck and Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Feste from Twelfth Night.

QEII_24_020L

Puck and Bottom, 3d

Festem, 6d

Feste, 6d

Comedy Greats is on sale now and available at www.royalmail.com/comedygreats, by phone on 03457 641 641 and in 82000 Post Offices across the UK.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

 

 

NEW STAMPS: Bridges

The Bridges stamp issue celebrates the leaps in engineering that have seen the UK’s bridges evolve from humble stone crossings, such as Tarr Steps, to dramatic symbolic landmarks conceived by progressive architects, such as the Peace Bridge.

Tees Transporter Bridge, 1st class.

Tees Transporter Bridge, 1st class.

Tarr Steps, 1st class.

Tarr Steps, 1st class.

Royal Border Bridge, 1st class.

Royal Border Bridge, 1st class.

Row Bridge, 1st class.

Row Bridge, 1st class.

Pulteney Bridge, 1st class.

Pulteney Bridge, 1st class.

Peace Bridge, 1st class.

Peace Bridge, 1st class.

Menai Suspension Bridge, 1st class.

Menai Suspension Bridge, 1st class.

Humber Bridge, 1st class.

Humber Bridge, 1st class.

High Level Bridge, 1st class.

High Level Bridge, 1st class.

Graigellachie Bridge, 1st class.

Graigellachie Bridge, 1st class.

British Bridges have made an appearance on stamps before. One issue from 1968 featured the Tarr Steps, Aberfeldy Bridge, Menai Bridge and M4 Viaduct.

1968_3497_l

In this image below you can see Stamp designer Jeffery Matthews working on the design for the 4d Tarr Steps stamp. He also designed the 1s 9d stamp, and the Presentation Pack and First Day Cover for this issue.

Stamp designer Jeffery Matthews at work on the ‘British Bridges’ (1868) issue

Stamp designer Jeffery Matthews at work on the ‘British Bridges’ (1868) issue

Many other designs were submitted by other designers, including David Gentleman. However, only four were selected for the final issue.

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The stamps are available online by phone on 03457 641 641 and in 8,000 Post Offices throughout the UK. Stamps can be bought individually or as a set in a Presentation Pack.

NEW STAMPS: Inventive Britain

The United Kingdom has a long and rich history as an inventive nation. The Inventive Britain stamp issue celebrates this vital and creative aspect of the national character with eight key inventions of the past century in a range of disciplines and applications, from materials to medicine.

Carbon Fibre, £1.28.

Carbon Fibre, £1.28.

Catseyes, 81p.

Catseyes, 81p.

Colossus, 1st class.

Colossus, 1st class.

 DNA Sequencing, £1.47.

DNA Sequencing, £1.47.

Fibre Optics, 81p.

Fibre Optics, 81p.

 i-Limb, £1.47.

i-Limb, £1.47.

Stainless Steel, £1.28.

Stainless Steel, £1.28.

Word Wide Web, 1st class.

Word Wide Web, 1st class.

The stamps are available online by phone on 03457 641 641 and in 8,000 Post Offices throughout the UK. Stamps can be bought individually or as a set in a Presentation Pack for £6.90.

Postal Memories from the Antarctic

Fifty years ago Lewis Juckes, now retired, was a geologist driving a dog sledge among the mountains of Antarctica.  Even in that remote location mailbags played a part in his daily routine.  Here he tells us how that came about.

This story starts over half a century ago, in December 1963 when I was one of twenty or so employees of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who boarded the Kista Dan to sail from Southampton to Stanley in the Falkland Islands and then to our allocated bases.

The Kista Dan unloading in Halley Bay, January 1964.  This was one of the few usable bays in the otherwise continuous ice cliffs that made up the edge of the ice shelf.  The base had been constructed about a mile “inland”, on the flat surface of the ice shelf although by this time the older buildings had become completely  buried by the annual accumulation of snow.

The Kista Dan unloading in Halley Bay, January 1964. This was one of the few usable bays in the otherwise continuous ice cliffs that made up the edge of the ice shelf. The base had been constructed about a mile “inland”, on the flat surface of the ice shelf although by this time the older buildings had become completely buried by the annual accumulation of snow.

In Stanley, and a few days later on the island of South Georgia, most of us bought souvenir postage stamps.  I just followed what the others seemed to be doing and bought a series of stamps working up through the values from the lowest of ½d.  Our understanding was that the Post Office there, and in Britain, was not permitted to frank stamps simply to record the date and place for collectors.  Its job was to deliver mail.  Thus I stuck my stamps on to an envelope, leaving a space in the middle for my own name.  Now I could hand my envelope over the counter, where the assistant would accept it as a piece of mail being posted.  After franking the stamps he would deliver it by handing it back, and no rules had been broken.

The standard rate for a letter between the bases and the Falkland Islands was 1d (one old penny) in the mid-1960s.  It was not an airmail service but often these envelopes were the only ones to hand.

The standard rate for a letter between the bases and the Falkland Islands was 1d (one old penny) in the mid-1960s. It was not an airmail service but often these envelopes were the only ones to hand.

Not all of these sets were full ones, up to the top value.  Leaving out the top two values of £1 and 10s cut the price of the investment by almost three quarters and still left an attractive selection of stamps on the envelope.

A full set of stamps of the Falkland Islands Dependency of South Georgia, dated 9th February 1966.  The last whaling station there had closed a few months earlier but the stamps still reflect that era.

A full set of stamps of the Falkland Islands Dependency of South Georgia, dated 9th February 1966. The last whaling station there had closed a few months earlier but the stamps still reflect that era.

Onward, then, to our main objective: the scientific base at Halley Bay, on the Brunt Ice Shelf on the eastern side of the Weddell Sea.  After a frantic six days of unloading, the ship left and we were on our own for a full year.  Until the next relief all communication with the outside world would be by radio, with the more confidential official messages going in diplomatic code.

A full set of British Antarctic Territory stamps on a letter posted to South Africa from Halley Bay on 30th January 1964.

A full set of British Antarctic Territory stamps on a letter posted to South Africa from Halley Bay on 30th January 1964.

Although the base was also officially a Post Office there was no special building or even an allocated room for it.  The Base Leader automatically held the title of Assistant Colonial Postmaster but he normally delegated the tasks involved so that during my time there it was a meteorologist named Chris Miller who actually sold stamps and franked letters.

After the ship had left, Chris only opened the Post Office once or twice in the next year.  That means he brought out his stock of stamps, his equipment for franking and his cash box from where they were stored in the safe in the Base Leader’s office and he set them up on a table in the lounge.  Midwinter, our biggest celebration of the year, was the main occasion when he set up shop so that we could buy souvenir stamps and have them franked with the date.  In 1965 Chris sold £70 worth of stamps at Midwinter, an impressive sum when one remembers that there were only 32 people at the base.  As for genuine mail items, far more came down for us than we ever sent out and we had a very different use for some of the surplus mailbags that were thus available.

A full set of Falkland Island stamps franked in Stanley Post Office, 15th February 1966.  The ink-pad was probably due for renewal!

A full set of Falkland Island stamps franked in Stanley Post Office, 15th February 1966. The ink-pad was probably due for renewal!

I was there as a geologist which meant that during the summer I would have to spend more than six months in the field, away from the base and travelling with a sledge and dog team.  The main items carried on this sledge were a tent, what we called “manfood”, and dog food.  There were also personal items such as a sleeping bag, a sheepskin to put beneath that, and an inflatable mattress to keep it all off the chilly groundsheet.  Each man had a small kitbag that we called a “P-bag” (for “Personal bag”) holding items like spare garments, reading matter, diary, toilet bag, repair kit and so on.  At night the P-bag also served as a rather bumpy pillow.

Tony Baker and Lewis Juckes drinking in the New Year of 1965 by the light of the midnight sun, about 300 miles east of Halley Bay.  One of the mailbags makes up the front of the sledge load.

Tony Baker and Lewis Juckes drinking in the New Year of 1965 by the light of the midnight sun, about 300 miles east of Halley Bay. One of the mailbags makes up the front of the sledge load.

What was the best container to hold these personal items?  A large sack would be ideal, and it would need to sturdy enough to withstand months of rough use.  As it happened, our Postmaster had a good supply of just such bags.  Our standard dog-sledging routine involved two men per sledge, and our idea of a well-distributed load had one of these mailbags at each end – as can be seen in many of the photographs that we took at the time.

I must admit that I sometimes pictured a British Post Office with a notice on the wall warning against misuse of Post Office property and the severe penalties for such an offence, and wondered whether it might apply to us.  But then, Antarctica has no government and no laws!

All photographs copyright Lewis Juckes