Tag Archives: Elizabeth Fry

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The theme for IWD 2010 is “Equal rights, equal opportunities, progress for all”, so in celebration here’s a look at how female equality campaigners have been represented on British stamps. 

50th anniversary of Votes for Women stamp (1968)

50th anniversary of Votes for Women stamp (1968)

Fittingly, the first woman commemorated on a British stamp was suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, as part of a 1968 commemorative celebrating the 50th anniversary of Votes for Women.

Within our Archive we hold all artwork submitted for the 1968 Votes for Women stamp. The issued stamp was designed by Clive Abbot, and is based on a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst which was erected in Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Palace of Westminster. However, the instructions to the artists invited to submit designs for this stamp (Abbott, M.C. Farrar-Bell, David Gentleman and Jeffrey Matthews of Harrison & Sons) had something very different in mind.

It was suggested that the stamp have “a shadowy background of the House of Commons with a pictorial representation of two women, one in 1918 dress, the other in 1968 dress, dropping their votes in a ballot box”. Two designs along these lines were submitted by M.C. Farrar-Bell, but were rejected.

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by M.C. Farrar-Bell

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by M.C. Farrar-Bell

Jeffrey Matthews submitted a design which differed slightly from the instructions, incorporating the House of Commons and a ballot box, but also a laurel wreath, a symbol of the Women’s Social & Political Union and of victory, and a scroll motif suggestive of the banners, flags, and sashes of the suffragettes.

Clive Abbott and David Gentleman both submitted designs based on this famous photograph showing Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest at a protest. Gentleman also submitted another design, based on a photograph such as this (there are many similar photographs showing suffragettes with sandwich boards), but this was also rejected. (We’ll be making more of the artwork from this issue available in the future as part of the Stamp Artwork Project.)

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by David Gentleman

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by David Gentleman

Emmeline Pankhurst and the theme of women’s rights have been celebrated several times more on British stamps, in 1999, as part of The Citizen’s Tale issue, in 2006, when a portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst was used as part of the National Portrait Gallery issue, and, as long time readers of this blog will remember, in 2008 when Millicent Garrett Fawcett, suffragist and wife of former Postmaster General Henry Fawcett, appeared on the Women of Distinction issue.

A trio of women's suffrage stamps

A trio of women's suffrage stamps: Votes for Women stamp (1999), Emmeline Pankhurst portrait (2006) and Millicent Garrett Fawcett stamp (2008)

The Women of Distinction issue also featured Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to become a Doctor in Britain and the first female Mayor in England, family planning pioneer Marie Stopes, Member of Parliament and women’s rights campaigner Eleanor Rathbone, black political activist Claudia Jones, who organised the first Notting Hill Carnival, and Barbara Castle who piloted the equal pay act.

Women of Distinction presentation pack (2008)

Women of Distinction presentation pack (2008)

Elizabeth Fry stamp from the Social Reformers issue (1976)

Elizabeth Fry stamp from the Social Reformers issue (1976)

Hannah More stamp from Aboltion of the Slave Trade issue (2007)

Hannah More stamp from Aboltion of the Slave Trade issue (2007)

Other female equality campaigners who have been represented on stamps include the champion of women prisoners Elizabeth Fry, whose work was commemorated as part of the Social Reformers issue of 1976 (designed by David Gentleman), and poet and campaigner Hannah More, who appeared on a stamp released in 2007 as part of the Abolition of the Slave Trade issue. More’s anti-slavery poems are considered to some of the most important written during the abolitionist period, and part of one of them, The Sorrows of Yamba, can be seen in the background of the Hannah More commemorative stamp.

The most recent female equality campaigners to appear on British stamps were pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and Judy Fryd, founder of Mencap and campaigner for mentally handicapped children, who both appeared in last year’s Eminent Britons issue.

From the Eminent Britons stamp issue (2009): Mary Wollstonecraft and Judy Fryd

From the Eminent Britons stamp issue (2009): Mary Wollstonecraft and Judy Fryd

Gentleman on Stamps

by Sue Barnard, Exhibitions and Learning Manager

Every year we mount a new exhibition in our Search Room on a philatelic theme. This year’s exhibition will feature the work of one of the most prolific contributors to British stamp design, David Gentleman.

David Gentleman’s association with the Post Office and Royal Mail dates back to 1962, when his designs to mark National Productivity Year were selected. His contribution to pictorial stamp design during the 1960s is described by Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately at the BPMA as “supremely important”.

Keen to address the visual limitations imposed by the inclusion of the monarch’s head on British commemorative stamps, it was during that decade that David Gentleman wrote to Tony Benn, then Postmaster General, about the possibilities of alternative approaches. The resulting “Essays in Stamp Design” proposed new commemorative stamp subjects such as birds, transport, architecture and regional landscapes.

The proposals also included a single sheet of se tenant stamps featuring each of the eighteen rulers of Britain since the Anglo Scottish Union of 1603, which David Gentleman describes as one of the most interesting subjects to design.

Some of the 100 essays that comprise what became known as “The Gentleman Album” will be on display. For Douglas Muir, this early work demonstrates how David Gentleman was responsible for revolutionising the concept, format and extent of pictorial design.

David Gentlemans stamp celebrating the social reforms of Lord Shaftesbury

David Gentleman's stamp celebrating the social reforms of Lord Shaftesbury

The British Pioneers of Social Reform stamps of 1976 will be exhibited to illustrate the processes worked through from the design stage into print. The series comprises four stamps commemorating the work of important nineteenth century reformers. Rather than take a traditional approach to representing individual achievement through portraiture, David Gentleman chose to use strong imagery to convey the very essence of what it was each campaigner wanted to reform.

Thomas Hepburn, the pioneer of the first miners union is represented by the hewing of coal, the visionary cotton mill owner Robert Owen by the pulley-wheels and belts of the textile factory, Lord Shaftesbury, the campaigner for improved working conditions, is represented by the brush of a chimney sweep, and Elizabeth Fry, champion of women prisoners, by the bars of a cell.

A visual theme running throughout all four is the symbolic use of hands, representing the shared suffering endured by many of the underprivileged in nineteenth century society. The display will include artwork showing some of the stages through which the design of the Robert Owen stamp developed.

It is an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of specific printing techniques that Douglas Muir believes marks David Gentleman out from other designers. The 1994 Regional Definitives exemplify this, and examples of the same scene depicted in wood engraving, lithography and watercolour will be on display.

David Gentleman describes how he found the deliberate, well-thought-out aspects of design attractive quite early in his career. This encouraged him to take up wood engraving, often working on a small scale.

One of David Gentlemans unadopted Ulster paintings

One of David Gentleman's unadopted Ulster paintings

When designing stamps later on it was this need to focus on an idea and to exclude everything non-essential that was important. Douglas Muir highlights the 1971 Ulster Paintings as demonstrating this ability to think and work stamp size. A selection of these rapid sketches will be included in the exhibition.

Focusing on stamps previously unseen, this section of the exhibition will also include examples from the 2001 English Definitives. In these, various buildings and landscapes are used to represent English culture and identity. Ranging from the pictorial to the abstract, designs in this series incorporate natural and man-made features, such as chalk down, cornfield and white horse, as well as formal architectural elements.

Gentleman on Stamps can be seen in BPMA’s Search Room from 7th May. On display will be the artwork behind some of Gentleman’s issued stamps as well as unadopted designs and issues previously unseen by the public. As stamp design is but one element of Gentleman’s work the exhibition will also include a selection of posters from his own collection. In addition a 1968 GPO film Picture to Post, featuring the work of David Gentleman, will be screened.

An online version of Gentleman on Stamps, including a downloadable pdf on The David Gentleman Album, can be viewed on our website. David Gentleman will deliver a talk entitled Design Into Print at the BPMA on 14th May 2009.