Tag Archives: Eric Gill

The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO podcast

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

In May, stamp designer Brian Webb and independent fine art consultant Peyton Skipwith spoke at the BPMA about the work of some of the artists who have been employed by GPO and Royal Mail over the years. Their talk is now available as a podcast.

Well known names such as Bertram Mackennal, Eric Gill, Edward McKnight-Kauffer, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious and David Gentleman produced some of their earliest work for the GPO, designing stamps, posters and other items. Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith discuss these designs, as well as other works by the same artists.

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

David Gentleman’s role in revolutionising British stamp design is well known and has been discussed on this blog before, but Peyton Skipwith notes that many of the design difficulties highlighted by Gentleman in Essays in Stamp Design were also encountered by earlier artists. The problem of how to include the monarch’s head and the value of the stamp into the design was anticipated in Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamps, he argues.

Other artists discussed include some of those who worked on the Millennium stamps, such as David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Craigie Aicheson.

The podcast The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO is free to download. While we couldn’t include the designs discussed within the podcast, many of them can be found by searching our online catalogue.

The Design is in the Post – Artists and the GPO

Artists and writers Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith, who have penned a series of books exploring the work of notable British designers of the 20th Century, will speak at the BPMA on 20th May. The focus of their talk will be the many artists who have worked for the GPO, and how those artists helped to shape the GPO’s image.

The ‘pre-war’ artists Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, Barnett Freedman and Eric Gill will be covered in some length, along with well known stamp designers such as Edmund Dulac and Bertram Mackennal. Present day artists who worked on the Millennium stamps, David Hockney, Peter Blake, Craigie Aicheson, David Gentleman, Claire Melinsky and John Lawrence, will also be examined.

Brian Webb has kindly sent us some of the images he will show in the talk:

Magazine cover by Edward Bawden

Magazine cover by Edward Bawden

Eric Ravilious’ un-adopted design for the Adhesive Stamp Centenary, 1940

Eric Ravilious’ un-adopted design for the Adhesive Stamp Centenary, 1940

One of David Gentleman’s illustrations from The Swiss Family Robinson, 1963

One of David Gentleman’s illustrations from The Swiss Family Robinson, 1963

Millenium stamps: Freddie Mercury, 2000, designed by Peter Blake

Millenium stamps: Freddie Mercury, 2000, designed by Peter Blake

Further information and booking details for The Design is in the Post – Artists and the GPO can be found on our website.

David Gentleman Design by Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith is available from the BPMA Shop.

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

Third London 2010 postcard coming soon

We will soon be publishing the third in a series of postcards raising awareness of London 2010: Festival of Stamps. The postcard is a limited edition of 5,000 and will be released at this year’s Autumn Stampex (16-19 September 2009).

The image on the postcard consists of a relief of the head of King George VI by Edmund Dulac, which was the basis of the effigy on all his definitives. In the right-hand corner is an essay dated 27th November 1937 of Eric Gill’s unadopted “Heraldic Lions and Dragon” design, incorporating Dulac’s effigy.

London 2010 postcard #3: A relief of George VI by Edmund Dulac

London 2010 postcard #3: A relief of George VI by Edmund Dulac

Artist Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) came to London from France in 1904. He was mainly known as a book illustrator, but had a successful period of designing coins, banknotes and stamps from the mid 1930s, and his designs for the British Post Office span a period of 20 years. One of his greatest achievements was his work on the definitive series for King George VI. He created the portrait as a plaster cast used thereafter throughout the reign (apart from the Royal Silver Wedding issue of 1948), working from photographs rather than from life, and the border designs used for the low values from 7d to 1/-. He also created the designs for the 2/6 and 5/- high values issued in 1939.

The first postcard in our London 2010 series was issued at Autumn Stampex 2008. It features the 1984 Mailcoach Bicentenary stamp issue, an initial engraving by Czeslaw Slania based on a James Pollard print of the 1816 attack by an escaping lioness on the leading horse of the Exeter mailcoach passing The Pheasant Inn near Stockbridge.

London 2010 postcard #1: An attack on the Exeter Mail in 1816

London 2010 postcard #1: An attack on the Exeter Mail in 1816

The second postcard issued depicts an essay of a 1s pictorial stamp for the coronation of Edward VIII, showing St James’s Palace and the photograph (taken by the GPO Film Unit) on which it was based, and is currently available from selected shows organised by member federations of the Association of British Philatelic Societies (ABPS).

London 2010 postcard #2: St Jamess Palace and the coronation of Edward VIII

London 2010 postcard #2: St James's Palace and the coronation of Edward VIII

Please go to www.london2010.org.uk for further information about London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

For more information on stamps from the era of George VI please visit our website.