Tag Archives: commemorative stamps

Celebrations of Literature

Novels are regularly depicted on commemorative stamps as part of Royal Mail’s aim to reflect British contribution to the arts. Appealing to the dual market of philatelists and bibliophiles, these issues are extremely popular. From a design perspective, the issues have enjoyed varied levels of success. This blog examines two magnificent celebrations of British literature, Sherlock Holmes 1993 and Peter Pan 2002, and evaluates two issues which were arguably less successful, Jane Austen 2013 and Harry Potter 2007. Commemorative stamps depicting novels must conform to the functional requirements of all British postage: to clearly show the monarch’s head and the value of the stamp. Artists are tasked with transmitting the spirit of a novel onto a canvas sometimes as small as 20mm by 24mm.

The Peter Pan issue, illustrated by Colin Shearing, was released on 20 August 2002 to mark the 150th Anniversary of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. The issue commemorates the institution’s relationship with the author which was cemented when Barrie bequeathed the story’s rights to the hospital in 1929. The power of imagination fills in the gaps intentionally left in three of the designs.

Captain Hook stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

Captain Hook stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

On the 47p stamp, Captain Hook’s large figure and feathered hat is shown in silhouette with his infamous hook protruding from the image. The artist has reduced the size of the already small stamp to a slither through which one eye and a menacing smile glower at the viewer.

Peter Pan stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

Peter Pan stamp, issued 20 August 2002.

The practice of only showing part of a character is taken a step further in the depiction of Peter Pan. Peter’s pixie boots and legs clad in green tights are shown at the moment of taking flight against a vivid red background. There is no face in the design yet there is no question that this is Peter.

Wendy, John and Michael Darling in front of Big Ben. Stamp issued 20 August 2002.

Wendy, John and Michael Darling in front of Big Ben. Stamp issued 20 August 2002.

The first class stamp, my personal favourite, depicts the silhouettes of Wendy, George and Michael with the characters only identifiable by a nightgown, a top hat and umbrella, and a teddy bear respectively. The images are effective representations of Peter Pan because they do not attempt to portray the characters in complete detail. The images hint at the characters’ exploits and leave the viewers’ imagination to complete the picture. When Captain Hook bursts through the sail, one knows exactly how his figure will loom before us. As Peter Pan takes flight, one can hear his woops and yells. As the three children make their way to Neverland, we know what wondrous adventures await them. The stamps are a testament to the novel and emphasise the magic and excitement of the story. The illustrations cleverly manipulate the confines of the small scale and turn this limitation into a design advantage by demanding the participation of the viewers’ imagination.

In contrast to the strength of the Peter Pan issue is the Harry Potter issue, with seven stamps reproducing the seven novel jackets, which was released in 2007 to mark the completion of J. K. Rowling’s saga. One might argue that the decision to use the book jackets is a tribute to the positive influence of the novels on children’s literacy as opposed to a quick design fix however a successful book jacket does not automatically translate into a successful stamp. Due to the scaling down of the image size, much of the font is extremely small and the illustrations are no longer striking. Whilst the images are recognisbale due to the prevalence of the book jacket they, unlike the Peter Pan issue, do not speak to the imagination in a new or interesting way.

Harry Potter book cover stamps, issued 17 July 2007.

Harry Potter book cover stamps, issued 17 July 2007.

The Jane Austen issue, released in 2013 to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, is arguably unsuccessful despite featuring newly commissioned artwork. The illustrations are certainly very pretty but they do not capture the urgency or emotion of the moments they portray. The 77p Mansfield Park stamp depicts a Fanny Price who does not appear to be reaching for the door handle in “desperation” while fighting panic and anxiety over what waits for her beyond the threshold. On the first class Sense and Sensibility stamp, Marianne certainly looks quite poorly but not “almost choked by grief”. The illustration does not parallel Austen’s distressing description of a young girl almost screaming in “agony”.

Jane Austen stamps, issued 21 February 2013.

Jane Austen stamps, issued 21 February 2013.

The issue depicts fabulous regency costumes and interiors which lovers of the period will admire however there is no juxtaposition of the human experience, which Austen describes unflinchingly with all of its embarrassments; humour; conceits and pain, against this background of polite society.

Released in 1993 to mark the centenary of The Final Problem, the Sherlock Holmes issue features a restrained colour palette, ominous images and expressive characters. Utilising forest green, grey and black across the illustrations ties the issue together nicely. The creature is suitably menacing in The Hound of the Baskervilles, characters look chillingly out into the darkness in The Greek Interpreter and the falling hat and crumbling rock in The Final Problem emphasise the characters’ peril. The inclusion of the deerstalker in the 24p stamp may understandably rile Sherlock Holmes puritans! For the aspiring sleuth, the issue contains a mystery: hidden within the issue is a five letter anagram which I invite you to puzzle over. The Sherlock Holmes illustrations communicate the novel’s themes and demonstrate how stamps can engage and intrigue. The ordinary postage stamp which drops through our letter box, lands on our desk and is handled by countless people every day is in a unique position to act as an instrument of inspiration and a celebration of literature.

Sherlock Holmes. Centenary of the Publication off "The Final Problem" stamps, issued 12 October 1993.

Sherlock Holmes. Centenary of the Publication off “The Final Problem” stamps, issued 12 October 1993.

– Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Which issue do you think celebrates literature most successfully?

Do you have a favourite literature issue which was not discussed here?

Is there a novel which you think should be immortalised on a postage stamp?

Pre-decimal QEII stamp artwork added to our online catalogue

Recently we made a substantial update to our online catalogue. Some 2,450 QEII pre-decimal stamp artwork items, complete with images, have been added to the database, along with 248 pre-decimal GB commemorative stamp registration sheets. Our online offer now provides full catalogue descriptions and digitised images for all registration sheets from the Penny Black to these most recent additions.

QEII Coronation: Submitted design by Edmund Dulac, 21 August 1952. (QEII/1/020)

QEII Coronation: Submitted design by Edmund Dulac, 21 August 1952. (QEII/1/020)

This phase of the BPMA’s stamp artwork cataloguing and scanning project is the fruition of twelve months work, and follows previous uploads of King George V and King George VI artwork. It allows access to first designs, modified designs, essays, final issued stamps, presentation packs and first day cover designs, showing the design and production process for all QEII stamp issues from beginning to end. Each catalogued artwork item is accompanied by a digital thumbnail image enabling online users to see the artwork itself.

QEII 1966 World Cup: Submitted design by William Kempster, 21 February 1966. (QEII/47/001)

QEII 1966 World Cup: Submitted design by William Kempster, 21 February 1966. (QEII/47/001)

Designs by eminent stamp designers and artists, including Jeffery Matthews, Michael Goaman, Reynolds Stone, Faith Jaques and Andrew Restall are well documented throughout the stamp issues for 1953 to 1970. Among the most prolific are the designs by David Gentleman including the 1965 Churchill Commemoration, 1966 anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and the 1969 Prince of Wales Investiture.

QEII 1966 Anniversary of Battle of Hastings: Submitted design by David Gentleman, May 1966. (QEII/53/013)

QEII 1966 Anniversary of Battle of Hastings: Submitted design by David Gentleman, May 1966. (QEII/53/013)

The registration sheets which depict the first examples of stamps in full sheet form to be printed off the press, are without perforations and include unique identifiable inscriptions and markings; including cylinder numbers, paper type(s) and information regarding the phosphors used in the production of each stamp. This information, plus more, is included in the comprehensive catalogue entry of each registration sheet, along with a scanned corner section of each sheet.

QEII 1969 Concorde: Submitted design by David Gentleman (Harrison and Sons Ltd), 9 October 1967. (QEII/65/006)

QEII 1969 Concorde: Submitted design by David Gentleman (Harrison and Sons Ltd), 9 October 1967. (QEII/65/006)

The next upload will include pre-decimal Machins, Castle High Values and pre-decimal postage due label registration sheets, meaning that all pre-decimal QEII essays and registration sheets will then be online.

Access the newly available QEII material via the British Stamps section of the BPMA website.

Royal Portraits

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Her Majesty The Queen, Royal Mail has unveiled a special stamp issue featuring a collection of some of the finest ever portraits of The Queen, including a brand new painted portrait; the first Royal Mail has commissioned of the monarch.

The six Royal Portraits stamps, issued 30 May 2013.

The six Royal Portraits stamps, issued 30 May 2013.

The painting is the result of three especially convened sittings with The Queen for the artist, Nicky Philipps, that took place in the Chinese Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in the late autumn of 2012. The Queen is dressed in the Order of the Garter robes.

Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen by Nicky Philipps, specially commissioned by Royal Mail.

Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen by Nicky Philipps, specially commissioned by Royal Mail.

Nicky painted a double portrait of Princes William and Harry in 2009, which is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery. She was selected for the Royal Mail commission after research and consultation with the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Mail is gifting the portrait to the Royal Collection.

The Queen’s Coronation took place on 2 June 1953 following her accession on 6 February 1952.

The other five stamps feature; study for The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by Terence Cuneo, 1953; Portrait by Andrew Festing, 1999; Portrait by Pietro Annigoni, 1955; Portrait by Sergei Pavlenko, 2000 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Richard Stone, 1992.

Study for The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by Terence Cuneo, 1953 – 2nd Class.

Study for The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II by Terence Cuneo, 1953 – 2nd Class.

Portrait by Nicola Jane Philipps (Nicky), 2013 - 1st Class.

Portrait by Nicola Jane Philipps (Nicky), 2013 – 1st Class.

Portrait by Andrew Festing, 1999 – 78p.

Portrait by Andrew Festing, 1999 – 78p.

Portrait by Pietro Annigoni, 1955 - 88p.

Portrait by Pietro Annigoni, 1955 – 88p.

Portrait by Sergei Pavlenko, 2000 – £1.28.

Portrait by Sergei Pavlenko, 2000 – £1.28.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Richard Stone, 1992 - £1.88.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Richard Stone, 1992 – £1.88.

The Royal Portraits stamps are now available from 9,000 Post Offices across the UK, online at www.royalmail.com/royalportraits, and by phone on 08457 641 641.

The London 1948 Olympic Games – A Collectors’ Guide

From 25th July to 9th September 2012, the British Library is running the exhibition Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games, telling the story of the past and present of the Olympic Games through the medium of postage stamps and related memorabilia. As well as contributing to the exhibition the BPMA has also been involved in the accompanying book The London 1948 Games – A Collectors Guide.

This new publication by Bob Wilcock, of the Society of Olympic Collectors, gives us a detailed postal background of the 1948 Olympic Games.

London 1948 Olympic Games stamps, issued 29 July 1948

London 1948 Olympic Games stamps, issued 29 July 1948

It also includes an essay by the BPMA’s Curator of Philately, Douglas Muir, introducing the fascinating story of the 1948 stamp issue, demonstrating how – just like Royal Mail’s ‘gold medal’ issue today – stamps were used to celebrate and commemorate the Games. He writes:

As the stamp issuing policy at the time was very conservative, not all serious proposals resulted in commemorative stamps – but one event could not be ignored, and that was the holding of the Games of the 14th Olympiad in London and the south of England.

14 designers submitted designs, and from these the Council chose work by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons, S. D. Scott of Waterlows, Edmund Dulac, Percy Metcalfe and Abram Games. Before these were shown to the King, the Postmaster General felt another option should be offered, and recommended a design by John Armstrong. The book contains images of all submitted designs as well as the issued stamps.

John Armstrong's design with mounted horse

John Armstrong’s design with mounted horse

With hundreds of colour illustrations, the books also features first day covers, postmarks, postal stationery, cigarette cards and other ephemera – a must-read for Olympic collectors.

The London 1948 Olympic Games - A Collector's Guide

The London 1948 Olympic Games – A Collectors’ Guide by Bob Wilcock is now available from the BPMA online shop.

Children’s Books – Winnie the Pooh

Since the 1950s European postal administrations have released stamps each year on a common theme; these are known as the Europa issues. This year members of PostEurop, the association of European public postal operators, are releasing stamps on the theme of Children’s Books. Royal Mail’s contribution is 10 stamps featuring characters from the Pooh stories by AA. Milne.

The stamps use E.H. Shepard’s book illustrations from the original Pooh stories, Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and the book of verse, Now we are Six.

Winnie-the-Pooh sheet stamps

Winnie-the-Pooh sheet stamps

Pooh and his friends Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo and Owl feature on the six sheet stamps, while the friendship between Pooh and Christopher Robin is the focus of the four 1st Class stamps in the Miniature Sheet.

Children's Books miniature sheet

Children's Books miniature sheet

Two First Day of Issue postmarks are available, which also make use of Shepard’s illustrations.

Winnie-the-Pooh first day of issue postmarksq

Winnie-the-Pooh first day of issue postmarks

The enduring popularity of the Pooh stories will no doubt make these stamps a best-seller, although keen fans may wish to track down The Year of the Child commemorative issue (1979) which featured illustrations from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as Winnie-the-Pooh.

Year of the Child stamp issue, 1979

Year of the Child stamp issue, 1979

The Winnie the Pooh stamps are available online from the Royal Mail website.

Bertram Mackennal

As part of our continuing series of events on themes related to George V, the BPMA’s Curator of Philately Douglas Muir will give a free talk next month on the work of Bertram Mackennal. Mackennal was a noted sculptor who designed coins, stamps and medals during the reign of George V. Douglas Muir’s talk will include images from the Royal Philatelic Collection and the Royal Mint as well as the BPMA, together with examples of Mackennal’s work in sculpture.

The unpopular “Downey Head” (left), the frame of which was designed by Bertram Mackennal and G.W. Eve. George V disliked the three-quarter profile and the replacement “Profile Head” (right) was issued the following year. The “Profile Head” effigy of George V was designed by Mackennal and the frame by Eve.

The unpopular “Downey Head” (left), the frame of which was designed by Bertram Mackennal and G.W. Eve. George V disliked the three-quarter profile and the replacement “Profile Head” (right) was issued the following year. The “Profile Head” effigy of George V was designed by Mackennal and the frame by Eve.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1863, Edgar Bertram Mackennal received his early training in sculpture from his Scottish immigrant father John Simpson Mackennal and at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School. At age 19 Mackennal left for Europe, where he undertook further study in London and Paris and began to be commissioned to produce reliefs, figures and busts.

Having completed a number of significant works in England, Australia and India, including statues of monarchs and other notable persons, Mackennal was commissioned to design the medals for the 1908 London Olympic Games. Two years later, when George V ascended the throne, Mackennal was commissioned to prepare an effigy of the King for coins and medals. The Post Office was also keen to employ Mackennal to work on the new definitive stamps, and although initially reluctant, Mackennal agreed.

The popular Seahorses design depicts Britannia being driven through the sea on a chariot pulled by three horses. In her hands are a trident and a shield bearing the Union Jack. Mackennal took inspiration from Greek and Roman depictions of chariot races for this design.

The popular Seahorses design depicts Britannia being driven through the sea on a chariot pulled by three horses. In her hands are a trident and a shield bearing the Union Jack. Mackennal took inspiration from Greek and Roman depictions of chariot races for this design.

Mackennal was involved in the design of all definitive stamp issues during the reign of George V, including the much-loved Seahorses design. Originally issued by the Post Office on 30th June 1913 this design was seen as revolutionary for its time, being the first British stamp to bear a pictorial illustration alongside the monarch’s head and the value. In many ways it can be said to be the pre-cursor to the first British commemorative stamp, issued to celebrate the opening of the British Empire Exhibition 11 years later.

Douglas Muir’s talk on Bertram Mackennal will take place on Thursday 7 October at the BPMA. Information on how to book can be found on our website. Tickets are free.

Douglas Muir’s book George V and the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity is available from the BPMA online shop.

Autumn Stampex 2010

 by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Project Manager

Stampex at the Business Design Centre

Stampex at the Business Design Centre

If your interest in stamps and postal history has been piqued by our blog posts or any the events that have taken place this year as part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, why not go along to Stampex next week.

Stampex takes place twice a year at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London. It’s free and 2010 Autumn Stampex is on 15-18th September.

There are many dealers’ stands, including a substantial presence from Royal Mail. Get the new stamps (Medical Breakthroughs) from their first day of issue on Thursday and from Friday you can get brand new pictorial Post & Go stamps. Don’t miss the instant Smiler booth.

I like to stock up on attractive commemorative stamps I’ve missed during the year to use on my own post. It’s always much nicer for someone to receive a special stamp.

Competitive stamp displays at Stampex

Competitive stamp displays at Stampex

Everyone who attends Stampex gets a free postcard and the opportunity to buy other special products only available at the show. There are also displays from the National Competitions of the Association of British Philatelic Societies.

The BPMA Friends will be manning a stand as usual. Pop over to say hello and pick up the brand new free 2010 postcard featuring George V. We’ll also have a selection of our postal themed products on sale, including the popular new Post Offices book by Julian Stray.

Kids auction at Stampex

Kids auction

One of my favourite parts is the children’s auction on Saturday, which is always great fun to watch. Any young philatelists who come along get the chance to collect points by doing activities and these can then be spent at the auction on stamps. There’s always a lot of tactical bidding!

For more details including directions and opening times see – http://www.stampex.ltd.uk/