Tag Archives: Alan Reynolds Stone

William Shakespeare on stamps

In February we marked International Darwin Day by taking a look at stamps commemorating the achievements of naturalist Charles Darwin. Today we celebrate the work of another notable Briton who has been commemorated on stamps multiple times, playwright and poet William Shakespeare, who died on this day in 1616.

Surprisingly, given the importance of Shakespeare’s contribution to world culture, requests to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth on stamps were not immediately approved. At the time the Post Office would only mark Royal or postal anniversaries, and current events of national or international significance. Lobbying followed, and eventually the stamps were approved as a commemoration of the national Shakespeare Festival of 1964, held to mark Shakespeare’s quatercentenary.

Hamlet contemplating Yorick's Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

Hamlet contemplating Yorick's Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

Reynolds Stone and Edward Bawden were amongst those who submitted designs for the stamps, but it was four designs by David Gentleman and a further design by C and R Ironside  which were chosen. The artists had been asked to ensure that if an image of Shakespeare was included in their design that it was not larger than the Queen’s head.

While the Ironside design showed Hamlet rather than Shakespeare, Gentleman’s designs complied with the instructions, but still proved to be controversial. This was partly because Shakespeare’s head was the same size as the Queen’s, giving it equal importance, but mainly because the image of a commoner had never appeared on a stamp before. “This caused a fuss that would be unimaginable now,” Gentleman later noted in his book Artwork. “…And there were jokes in Parliament about the proximity of the Queen’s head to Shakespeare’s Bottom.”

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

Shakespeare on a stamp celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement, 1988

Shakespeare on a stamp celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement, 1988

The rules were much more relaxed by 1988 when Royal Mail and Australia Post released a joint issue to celebrate the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement. Shakespeare joins John Lennon, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a stamp reflecting the continuing links between Australia and Britain through the performing arts. The Bicentenary of Australian Settlement stamps were designed by Melbourne-based designer Garry Emery, who was chosen from a number of British and Australian designers by the Stamp Advisory Committees from both countries. The Australian Bicentenary stamps were the first British stamps to be designed outside of the British Isles.

The National Portrait Gallery: William Shakespeare stamp, 2006

The National Portrait Gallery: William Shakespeare stamp, 2006

Shakespeare’s portrait is one of 10 portraits of well known Britons to appear on the stamps marking the 150th Anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery in 2006. The portrait is attributed to John Taylor and the original can be viewed on the National Portrait Gallery website.

British Theatre stamp depicting Hamlet, 1982

British Theatre stamp depicting Hamlet, 1982

Apart from images of Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s work as a playwright and poet has also been commemorated on stamps. The 1982 set on British Theatre included another stamp depicting Hamlet contemplating the skull of Yorick.

Greetings in Arts: All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, 1995

Greetings in Arts: All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, 1995

In 1947 Sylvan Press published the book All the Love Poems of Shakespeare, with illustrations by Eric Gill. One of Gill’s illustrations was included on a stamp released in 1995 as part of the Greetings In Arts issue. This was not the first British stamp to feature a Gill design. The Coronation stamps for George VI were designed by Gill with Edmund Dulac, and Gill also worked on the Proposed Coronation stamps for Edward VIII.

Also issued in 1995 was a set of stamps to mark the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. The stamps show not only the original Globe Theatre, but many other Elizabethan theatres in which Shakespeare and his plays were performed.

Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

Post Office: Publicity artwork and designs

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

POST 109 is now available for browsing on our online catalogue. It contains original artwork produced for posters and leaflets, as well as designs produced for a variety of purposes, including greetings telegram forms, logos and logotypes, vehicle livery and postal equipment. Material includes paintings and pencil and ink drawings, as well as photographs, transparencies and annotated final proofs.

Much of the artwork in the series was commissioned by the Public Relations Department, which was first created in 1934, under the first Post Office Public Relations Officer, Stephen Tallents. Right from the conception of the department, it assumed responsibility for commissioning designs for posters, which it considered to be a vital part of Post Office publicity; it did this initially in consultation with a ‘Poster Advisory Group’, but from 1937 it operated in its own right.

A postman wheels his bike down a country lane

Sketch for rural postman: artwork for a poster, by John Nash, 1935

The department approached leading artists for the production of posters of two kinds, known respectively as ‘Prestige’ and ‘Selling’. ‘Prestige’ posters fell into two categories: those specially prepared for distribution to schools and those for display in Crown Post Offices and non-public offices in Post Office buildings, they were intended to be more formal in style, eye catching rather than persuasive. ‘Selling’ posters had a direct ‘selling’ appeal and were intended to persuade the beholder to use a particular service or buy a particular product.

POST 109 includes a number of adopted poster designs, but it also contains examples of commissioned artwork that was rejected. Artworks include an Edward Bawden poster about the Post Office Underground Railway (later known as Mail Rail)  (below), John Nash’s watercolour depicting a rural postman (above left), an oil painting by Edgar Ainsworth showing a night scene at a sorting office (POST 109/507), and George Charlton’s Interior of Travelling Post Office (POST 109/375).

A drawing of the Post Office underground railway, a driverless train system which carried mail under the streets of London

Post Office Tube Railway: artwork for a poster, by Edward Bawden, circa 1935

The collection also includes rejected designs by artists more usually ‘favourites’ of the Public Relations Department, such as Tom Eckersley (POST 109/15) and Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 109/602-605 and below).

A poster design depicting a postman dragging a giant envelope

Post much earlier this X-mas: Artwork for a poster, by Jan Lewitt and George Him, 1950

The Public Relations Department was also instrumental in commissioning artists to design forms for the Greetings Telegram Service, which was introduced in 1935 as a means of revitalising the telegraph service.

Greetings telegrams were to be associated with special occasions and as such, designs had to be particularly attractive, with an element of luxury, this was encapsulated in the golden envelope designed to accompany the form.

POST 109 includes many examples of adopted designs; for example, the design produced by Margaret Calkin James for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935 (below).

Bordered with a red and black design, the telegram form has a clean centre for typing the message

Margaret Calkin James' design for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935

It also includes a number of unsuccessful designs, including one produced by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis (below), two by Alan Reynolds Stone (POST 109/649 and POST 109/659) and one by Rex Whistler (POST 109/692); Whistler also produced two other designs for greetings telegram forms that made it into print.

Featuring a decorative border with bows and stars.

Greetings Telegram artwork by Cliff & Rosemary Ellis, 1937

Other items in POST 109 include artwork for the familiar GPO monogram, produced by Macdonald Gill in 1934, pillar box designs by Tony Gibbs from 1977 and artwork produced by Ben Maile for inclusion in the book: First Post: From penny black to the present day (Quiller Press, 1990).