Tag Archives: Charles Darwin

The Royal Society 350 Years

This year is the 350th anniversary of The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. In celebration, Royal Mail has today released ten 1st class commemoratives featuring significant Royal Society figures whose portraits are paired with dramatic and colourful imagery representing their achievements. 

Royal Society 350th Anniversary stamps

The Royal Society 350th Anniversary stamps

The “brainstorming” design was the idea of Hat-trick Design, responsible for the interlocking “jigsaw” approach used for the 2009 Darwin stamps. But with more than 1,400 Fellows and Foreign Members to choose from, how were ten significant scientific figures to be selected?

Fittingly, it was The Royal Society itself which suggested the solution: a case of basic division. It was agreed to split the 350-year history into ten 35-year “blocks” in which it could be demonstrated how, through the work of its Fellows, The Royal Society has had a major impact on the World.

Royal Mail consulted with experts from the Society to determine the ten Fellows, and due to the global nature of the organisation, non UK citizens were included, such as one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, and the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford.

Lister Centenary Stamps, 1965

Lister Centenary Stamps, 1965

Science, scientific achievement and scientists have long been featured on British stamps. It could be argued that the British Empire Exhibition (1924 and 1925) or Festival of Britain (1951) commemoratives in part marked scientific and industrial achievement, as both events featured scientific displays. Even the National Productivity Year commemoratives (1962) hint at the business imperative behind much scientific research. However, the first British stamp issue explicitly celebrating scientific achievement was the Lister Centenary stamps (1965). Fittingly, Sir Joseph Lister, who first developed antiseptic surgery, is also commemorated on the new Royal Society stamps.

300th Anniversary of Isaac Newton's Principa Mathematica, 1987

300th Anniversary of Isaac Newton's Principa Mathematica, 1987

Newton's Moon and Tides Diagram with Early Telescopes stamp, released as part of the Astronomy issue, 1990

Newton's Moon and Tides Diagram with Early Telescopes stamp, released as part of the Astronomy issue, 1990

Other notable scientists commemorated on the Royal Society issue are appearing on British stamps for the second or even third time. The 300th anniversary of astronomer Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking Principa Mathematica was celebrated in 1987. Newton’s achievements were again celebrated in 1990 as part of the Astronomy issue.

Bicentenary of American Independence stamp, 1976

Bicentenary of American Independence stamp, 1976

A bust of Benjamin Franklin (commemorated here for developing electricity) appeared on the 1976 stamp marking the Bicentenary of American Independence, and Edward Jenner’s development of the smallpox vaccine was commemorated in 1999 as part of The Patients Tale issue. The birth bicentenary of Charles Babbage, who pioneered the computer, was commemorated in 1991 as part of the Scientific Achievements issue, and crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin was previously featured in the Women of Achievement issue (1996).

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stamp, released as part of The Patients Tale issue (1999); Birth Centenary of Charles Babbage (computer pioneer) stamp, released as part of Scientific Achievements (1990); Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (scientist) stamp, released as part of the Famous Women issue (1996).

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stamp, released as part of The Patients Tale issue (1999); Birth Centenary of Charles Babbage (computer pioneer) stamp, released as part of Scientific Achievements (1990); Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (scientist) stamp, released as part of the Famous Women issue (1996).

Newcomers to British stamps are chemist Robert Boyle, naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford and earth scientist Sir Nicholas Shackleton.

One Royal Society Fellow not present on this issue is Rowland Hill, although from a philatelic point of view Hill’s work has been celebrated many times. You can find out more about Rowland Hill and the Royal Society by reading the speech given by Philip Parker, Head of Stamp Policy at Royal Mail, at last night’s launch of this stamp issue, which is now on our website.

COMPETITION! We have a number of Royal Mail’s Royal Society 350 Years wall posters to give away. To win one e-mail us at blog@postalheritage.org.uk with your comment(s) on what you’d like to see more of on this blog. Please include your name and postal address. Posters will be allocated on a first come first serve basis. And yes, we will post overseas.

In celebration of Charles Darwin

Today is International Darwin Day, a global celebration of science and reason held on or around the birth anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. Last year Royal Mail released a set of stamps and a miniature sheet to mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, but Darwin or Darwin’s achievements have featured on three other stamp issues, making him one of the most celebrated non-Royals on British stamps.

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 2009

200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 2009

Charles Darwin Galapagos Islands miniature sheet, 2009

Charles Darwin Galapagos Islands miniature sheet, 2009

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection came about following his journey aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830’s. The main aim of the Beagle’s voyage was to conduct a hydrographic survey of South America, but Captain Robert FitzRoy wanted a naturalist onboard who could investigate local geology and natural history; Darwin, who had recently left the University of Cambridge, was chosen. During the journey Darwin collected the fossils of extinct mammals and noted the slight variations in species from region to region. It was these discoveries which were lead to Darwin’s famous theory.

Darwin made his first appearance on British stamps when Royal Mail issued four commemoratives in honour of his death centenary in 1982. The stamps were designed by David Gentleman and are well known to philatelists, but Gentleman’s original concept for the issue was rather different. Gentleman described it in his book Artwork as “four portrait heads [of Darwin], drawn or photographed in childhood, youth, maturity and age…These Victorian portraits of a growing and evolving person were fascinating in themselves and also suggested the idea of a personal evolution.”

When this concept was rejected by the Stamp Advisory Committee, Gentleman came up with a new idea: “For the second set I used only one head, that of Darwin as an old man, flanked in three of the designs by the three pairs of creatures [iguanas, finches and tortoises from the Galapagos Islands] whose puzzling variations helped to spark off his evolutionary theory…The fourth design shows two anthropoid skulls, one from early in the evolutionary scale, the other from halfway along it, again with Darwin’s own inquiring and thoughtful face between them.”

Death Centenary of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 1982

Death Centenary of Charles Darwin stamp issue, 1982

Darwin's Theory of Evolution stamp from The Scientist's Tale issue, 1999

Darwin's Theory of Evolution stamp from The Scientist's Tale issue, 1999

John Collier's portrait of Charles Darwin as it appeared on a stamp as part of the National Portrait Gallery 150th Anniversary issue, 2006

John Collier's portrait of Charles Darwin as it appeared on a stamp as part of the National Portrait Gallery 150th Anniversary issue, 2006

In 1999, as part of The Scientists’ Tale issue, Darwin’s theory of evolution was again celebrated, with a design featuring a fossilised skeleton and a Galapagos finch. A portrait of Darwin, painted by John Collier a year before Darwin’s death, appeared in the 2006 issue celebrating 150 years of the National Portrait Gallery, London. (For a large view of Collier’s portrait, and for more information about it, see the National Portrait Gallery website.)

At the start of this blog we mentioned that Darwin was one of the most celebrated non-Royals on British stamps. In April we’ll be featuring another famous Briton who has also appeared on British stamps multiple times.