Tag Archives: British stamps

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.

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.

NEW STAMPS: Alice in Wonderland

Today Royal Mail launched ten new stamps to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland, 1st class.

The White Rabbit’s House, 1st class.

Alice in Wonderland, 2nd class.

The White Rabbit, 2nd class.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.28.

The Queen of Hearts, £1.28.

Alice in Wonderland, 81p.

The Mad Tea Party, 81p.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.28.

The Game of Croquet, £1.28.

Alice in Wonderland, 81p.

The Cheshire Cat, 81p.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.47.

Pack of Cards, £1.47.

Alice in Wonderland, 1st class.

Drink Me, 1st class.

Alice in Wonderland, 2nd class.

Down the Rabbit Hole, 2nd class.

Alice in Wonderland, £1.47.

Alice’s Evidence, £1.47.

This is not the first time Alice in Wonderland has appeared on British stamps. The 13p stamp below from July 1979 was issued to mark the International Year of the Child. It features Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat in one of John Tenniel’s memorable illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

internationalyearofthechild

There is little doubt that Tenniel’s drawings have helped make Alice in Wonderland an icon, just as much as the words of her creator Lewis Carroll.

The stamps are available online, by phone on 03457 641 641 and in 8,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

Auditing the Stamp Artwork Collection

The Philatelic team is busy auditing the BPMA’s post 1985 stamp artwork collection, in preparation for its move to a new storage facility. 

We are half way through checking the location and housing conditions of approximately 12,000 pieces of adopted and unadopted artwork. Every piece of artwork must be packed safely to prevent damage during transit and location control must be maintained so that nothing is lost.

An unadopted design by Ralph Steadman for Appearance of Halley’s Comet, 1986.

An unadopted design by Ralph Steadman for Appearance of Halley’s Comet, 1986.

The collection, which includes pieces by David Gentleman, Quentin Blake and David Hockney, comprises artwork across a range of forms and sizes including photographs, paintings, drawings, transparencies, digital images and plaster casts.

The stamp artwork collection is diverse in its subject matter and style, and it is intriguing to see how different artists have tackled the same subject. The proposed designs for the Appearance of Halley’s Comet issue, for example,  include scientific illustrations; images of the comet passing over earth in 684, 1066, 1301 and 1910; and bold, cartoon style artwork by Ralph Steadman – four designs of which were chosen for the 1986 issue. One can imagine the debates behind the final selection.

Boxes of stamp artwork in storage at Christie’s.

Boxes of stamp artwork in storage at Christie’s.

Our new home at Calthorpe House will allow us to showcase this fascinating design history resource, which, as yet, has been largely unseen by the public.

– Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Classic Locomotives of Wales Miniature Sheet released

Today marks the release of the last in the series of four Miniature Sheets that began in England in 2011: Classic Locomotives of Wales Miniature Sheet. The Scotland Miniature was released in 2012 and Northern Ireland in 2013. The Classic Locomotives series pays tribute to the stream locomotives, assets to the railways before diesel and electric technology completely took over in the 1960s.

Classic Locomotives of Wales - First Day Cover.

Classic Locomotives of Wales – First Day Cover.

The earliest railways in Wales were built for commercial and industrial purposes and served collieries and smelting works. Classic Locomotives of Wales features steam locomotives used on the public railway network and  industrial settings.

LMS No.7720, 1st Class.

LMS No.7720, 1st Class.

W&LLR No. 822 The Earl, 88p.

W&LLR No. 822 The Earl, 88p.

BR 5600 No.5652, £1.28.

BR 5600 No.5652, £1.28.

Hunslet No.589 Blanche, 78p.

Hunslet No.589 Blanche, 78p.

All four Miniature Sheets and associated products, with the exception of the First Day Covers, are still available.

The Classic Children’s TV stamps can be ordered through royalmail.com/classiclocomotives and by phone on 08457 641 641. They are also available in Post Office Branches across the UK.