Category Archives: Philatelic

Longitude in Stamps

The Royal Observatory is one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, and was designed by one of Britain’s greatest architects Sir Christopher Wren. The 10 August marks 340 years since the building’s foundation stone was laid. The Royal Observatory is now part of The Maritime Museum and as the home of The Prime Meridian it is the centre of world time.

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich Stamp (1975)

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich 8p Stamp (1975)

The building was commissioned by King Charles II to produce a reliable map of the sky in order to improve navigation at sea . Navigating a ship by the stars can be seen in the 37p Astronomy stamp from 1990.

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Distance could also be measured in Longitude by using the time of two separate locations. Sailors calculated local time by the position of the sun, but to know the time back at home they needed to take a clock aboard the ship, the conditions of which caused the clocks to become inaccurate. In 1714 the Government passed an Act of Parliament offering £20,000 to whoever could solve the ‘Longitude Problem’ and produce a way of keeping time at sea.

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

The competition was won by John Harrison, a joiner from Yorkshire, whose expertise in clock making allowed him to produce a devise that could withstand the conditions and motions of a journey.The image on the right of the above stamp shows the first sea fairing clock ‘H1’, a chronometer that compensated for the movement of the ship with two swinging balances.

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Harrison produced numerous attempts to construct a clock that would provide longitude within half a degree. His final and successful clock the ‘H4’ was produced by watch maker John Jeffery to his specification and resembled a pocket watch. The stamp issue Maritime Timekeepers from 1993 celebrated his final product. Captain Cook in fact took a copy of Harrison’s ‘H4’ with him on his second voyage and it proved instrumental when navigating the journey.

Millennium Series, The Travellers' Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Millennium Series, The Travellers’ Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Greenwich is also home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. A meridian is a north south line very much like the equator which acts as Longitude 0°, where astronomical observations are measured from.  The 31p stamp below depicts Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope which is the precise point longitude is measured from.

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey's Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian for the world by an International Conference represented by 25 nations. At this time most sea charts were measured using the Greenwich Meridian, so it seemed logical to continue. The line passes through the observatory and is identified by the steel line on the ground and a green laser that shines across London.

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

As an island nation, sea travel has always been important in Britain. This is reflected in these beautiful stamp designs which celebrate not just sea travel but the innovations and achievements of those that made it possible. This theme of innovation and human endeavour is one that has always been important in the history of the postal service, as well as Britain as a whole, and as such will be prominent in the galleries of The Postal Museum when it opens in late 2016.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

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.