Tag Archives: George VI

Miniature Posters: the stamp designs of Abram Games

This Thursday (17 September) Naomi Games, daughter of designer Abram Games (1914-1996), will be joining us to talk about her father’s stamp designs, his working process and show progressive sketches from his archive. Here she gives us some background on her father and a taste of what to expect.

Abram Games with his controversial ATS poster, which was later withdrawn.

Abram Games is best known for his posters. He was the official war poster artist during WW2, and during his sixty year career he designed three hundred posters, notably for London Transport, Guinness, the Financial Times and BOAC. He also designed the first animated ident for BBC television, the covers of Penguin Books, and the emblems for the Festival of Britain and the Queen’s Award to Industry. Less is known of his numerous award-winning stamp designs for Britain, Jersey and Israel. In 2014, his centenary year, he was included in the ‘Remarkable Lives’ issue. Royal Mail also issued a special Abram Games postmark to celebrate his 100th birthday. Always an obsessive letter writer, he would have been delighted!

Poster advising on the best time to post mail. Poster artist: Games, Abram

Poster advising on the best time to post mail. Poster artist: Games, Abram

His first published stamp was for the 1948 Olympic Games and he was nicknamed ‘Olympic Games’ thereafter. He boasted that he was the only artist to have his name on a British stamp, as designers were not allowed to sign their work.  After winning the competition to design the Festival of Britain symbol, he  also won the stamp competition and his ubiquitous Britannia appeared alongside side the head of King George V1. His involvement in the Festival of Britain was a great boost to his career and he continued to secure many prestigious commissions throughout his life.

KGVI, 1949 Universal Postal Union: Submitted design by Abram Games

KGVI, 1949 Universal Postal Union: Submitted design by Abram Games

Games was a self-taught designer. His only formal training was two terms at St Martin’s College of Art but he continued to study life drawing and anatomy. He believed drawing would be the key to becoming a successful designer. He faithfully followed his axiom ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’, always keeping all his designs as simple as possible. When creating a poster or stamp, he filled a layout pad with several ideas. He wasted no time covering large areas and avoided detail. Once he had selected his thumbnail design, he circled it with red pencil. He said, ‘I never work large because posters, seen from a distance are small. If ideas don’t work an inch high, they will never work.’ Thus the design of stamps – his ‘miniature posters’ – was second nature to him.

The event will take place on Thursday 17 September 18.30-19.30 at The Phoenix Centre, Phoenix Place, London, WC1X 0DL.

To book tickets please visit abramgames.eventbrite.co.uk or telephone 020 7239 2570.

Countdown to Sotheby’s: George VI stamps

On 11 July the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) will be selling 191 lots of surplus, duplicate philatelic material at Sotheby’s auction house. The proceeds of the sale will support the significant fundraising efforts currently being undertaken by the BPMA to deliver an important new postal museum and archive in Central London. In this blog Alison Bean, Web Officer at The British Postal Museum & Archive, chooses her favourite lots.

Most of the lots in The British Postal Museum & Archive auction are stamps from the reign of King George VI. All of this material comes from registration sheets, which were an official record (normally imperforate) taken from the beginning of the print run. Other than the fact that they are imperforate and have various manuscript or typescript markings they are exactly the same as the issued stamps. Some were registered at Somerset House, then the home of the Inland Revenue (the department of British government responsible for taxation), and the rest came to be held in the Royal Mail Archive. It is duplicates of the officially archived registration material that we are selling in this auction.

While this material is interesting from a philatelic perspective it’s the designs of the low value definitives that most excite me. Produced between 1937 and 1947 these stamps are a dazzling riot of colours and patterns displayed as a collage in Sotheby’s auction catalogue.

Pages from Sotheby’s auction catalogue, showing Lot 46 – 1937-47 ½d to 1s, set of 16 vertical marginal blocks, estimated at £120,000-£150,000.

Pages from Sotheby’s auction catalogue, showing Lot 46 – 1937-47 ½d to 1s, set of 16 vertical marginal blocks, estimated at £120,000-£150,000.

The stamps were designed by two artists, Edmund Dulac and Eric Gill. Dulac is responsible for the portrait of The King, and in the BPMA collection we hold his original plaster model.

Plaster model of King George VI’s head, by Edmund Dulac.

Plaster model of King George VI’s head, by Edmund Dulac.

King Edward VIII 2½d stamp.

King Edward VIII 2½d stamp.

As with the portrait on the stamps of King Edward VIII, King George VI’s portrait is simple and striking. Yet in Dulac’s portrait George VI is shown as benevolent, almost smiling, while in Hugh Cecil’s portrait of Edward VIII The King seems more severe, almost sad.

It’s questionable whether one portrait can portray a person’s character, but it’s difficult not draw a connection between the anger and sadness in Edward VIII’s face, and his difficult decision to abdicate to be with the woman he loved, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. By contrast, George VI, who is usually framed by history as a reluctant King, looks every bit the regal figure as rendered by Dulac.

King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

Eric Gill, possibly better known for designing the Gill Sans typeface, designed one of the frames which surround the King’s head on the George VI definitive stamps. This incorporates the Crown and floral symbols of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and makes use of Gill’s Perpetua font for the words “POSTAGE REVENUE” and the denomination.

Lot 191 - 6d stamp from a collection of King George VI issues, estimated at £75,000-£100,000.

Lot 191 – 6d stamp from a collection of King George VI issues, estimated at £75,000-£100,000.

Dulac designed another frame, hexagonal in shape, which was used on the higher denominations. These stamps are printed in a number of vivid colours, including turquoise-blue, bright carmine and emerald-green.

Detail of Lot 47 - King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

Detail of Lot 47 – King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

While many of his subjects knew that George VI was a shy man with a severe stammer who loathed public speaking, the design of these stamps gives no clues to that. Dulac’s simple hexagonal border presents George VI as a strong leader, with the dark background and the thick border making him the focus of the design.

Please visit Sotheby’s sale page to find out more about the lots on offer.

Reaching milestones in our documentation and cataloguing work

At the end of February, we reached some significant milestones in the documentation work carried out on our museum and archive collections.

Submitted design (No. 15) by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons.

Stamp Artwork design for the Olympic Games 1948, submitted by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons Oct. 1947. (POST 150/GVI/11/018) It was one of the five designs selected by the Council of Industrial Design and was held as a reserve for the 2 1/2d stamp. In preparing essays Harrisons were to be told "to make sure that the features of the jumper ... cannot be recognised."

The first milestone reached was the completion of an audit of material contained within the museum collection. What this means is that we have entry and location data for every object inherited by BPMA when it was formed in 2004 and for every object subsequently deposited with us. This includes objects held in our Freeling House repository and in our stores in Debden and at Christie’s.

Documentation of collections is a core part of any museum’s activity. Without details such as provenance, custodial history, physical condition and the terms and conditions relating to deposit, a museum cannot be assured of its responsibility and rights to preserve, display, digitise or even dispose (should the item not meet the museum’s collecting policy) of objects in its custody. Furthermore, precise information about an object’s location in our repository and stores means that we can carry out collections review work more efficiently and better prepare for our forthcoming move from our site here at Freeling House to the new postal museum.

This has been a significant amount of work and has taken seven years to complete. Very few museums have achieved a full audit of their holdings and it means that we can now concentrate our efforts in reviewing object collections, creating descriptive catalogues for the online catalogue and also plan our digitisation programmes accordingly. The completion of this work is due to the hard work and discipline of our museum cataloguers past and present, and we congratulate them all for doing such a great job!

Stamp Artwork, Olympic Games 1948, submitted on 29 July 1948 (POST 150/GVI/11/037)

The second milestone is that we’ve passed the 100,000 mark of records available to view on our online catalogue. We now have 100,703 records published. Our most recently published records include:
King George VI London Olympic Games 1948 stamp artwork
• Uniforms
• Handstamps
• Posters
Photographic stills from Post Office films, c.1969-1986
Finally, at the beginning of each year, we also open files that have been closed for 30 years. You can read in the blog by my colleague Gavin McGuffie how we process these. This year, we’ve opened approximately 100 files and the descriptions of these can be viewed via our online catalogue here.

Martin Devereux – Acting Catalogue Manager

The House of Windsor

Today Royal Mail has launched the first of three special Royal stamp issues celebrating Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The House of Windsor stamps feature the five monarchs from the start of the 20th century.

Edward VII who reigned from 1901 to 1910 is featured on the 1st Class Stamp. He was the first British monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, which was renamed the House of Windsor by his son, George V.

The 69p stamp bears the image of George V who became king after his father’s death in 1910 whom he succeeded as King-Emperor of the British Empire.

Edward VIII is featured on the 72p stamp. With a reign of just 325 days, Edward VIII is one of the shortest reigning monarchs in British History. He abdicated after causing a constitutional crisis by proposing marriage to Wallis Simpson. His coronation never took place and he was created Duke of Windsor.

George VI who reigned from 1936 to 1952 appears on the £1.00 stamp. George VI was the second son of King George V and had not expected to inherit the thrown. He served in the Royal Navy during World War I, and after the war took on the usual round of public engagements. He married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.

The set is completed by £1.10 stamp featuring a portrait of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth by Pietro Annigoni. The elder daughter of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, she was born in 1926 and became the Queen at the age of 25, and has reigned through more than five decades of enormous social change and development.

In addition to the five stamps featuring the five Kings and Queens of the House of Windsor a miniature sheet of four stamps highlighting events that have taken place during the Windsor reign has also been issued.

The four miniature sheet stamps feature:

  • Scott’s expedition to the South Pole in 1912
  • The Queen Mother’s a tour of bomb-damaged London during WWII
  • England’s famous World Cup win in 1966
  • The 1994 opening of the Channel Tunnel linking France and the UK

The House of Windsor completes Royal Mail’s epic four-year journey through the six Royal Houses. Titled ‘Kings and Queens’, the series has charted more than 600 years of British history beginning with the House of Lancaster and York in February 2008. We have previously featured The House of Stuart and the House of Stewarts on this blog.

The Miniature Sheet and the new House of Windsor stamps as well as additional philatelic products are available at all Post Office branches, from Royal Mail website, the Royal Mail eBay shop and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Stamps from the reigns of the Windsor monarchs can be viewed on our website.

New records released on our online catalogue

Thankfully, our recent problems with the online catalogue appear to be resolved. We apologise for the inconvenience you may have suffered in recent weeks.

The online catalogue service began switching itself off when we upgraded the catalogue system software. We noticed that our web server was having problems with the new software almost immediately. Although we did test the system before we installed it on our web server, a bug in the system did not become apparent until the online catalogue interface began asking for data from the system database. We’ve now reverted to a stable version of the system so hopefully we will not have any more unplanned interruptions to the online catalogue service.

On a more positive note, we can reveal that 4752 records have been added to the online catalogue and these are now available to the public. These include:

POST 91: Buildings, Furniture and Fittings – over 3000 descriptions of plans, blueprints, photographs, illustrations and documents relating to Post Office sites and installations across the United Kingdom between c.1780 and 2002. We’ve digitised a small number of these records and we hope to attach these to their descriptions in the following months.

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

King Edward Building - two keyboard operators at Single Position Letter Sorting Machine (SPLSM), November 1971 (POST 118/6024)

POST 118: Post Office Photograph Library – 450 descriptions of photographs from 1967-1999. These images form part of a series of photographs compiled by library staff during the course of their work. They include many colour medium-format photographs of sorting offices, technical photographs of equipment and postmen and women on delivery. These records often include digital images of the photographs themselves. Further records from this series will be released in the future.

From the museum collection we have added an additional 450 detailed descriptions of textile and uniform, many of which include photographs of the uniforms. Other significant releases from the museum collection include an additional 114 prints and drawings, and a further 210 handstamps.

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

Coat Jacket - British Postal Agency (Tangier), c. 1950 (2011-0338)

From our philatelic collections, King George VI Overprints are now available, including postage due label overprints. This collection of definitives, commemoratives, high value definitive stamps and postage due label registration sheets include overprints relating to the official use of these stamps in various territories under British control, including the Gulf and former Italian colonies in Africa, occupied by British troops during Word War II.

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

KGVI 6d purple, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 12 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated (POST 150/KGVI/O/BRA/ICL/0008)

Holding particular political and historical significance today, registration sheets overprinted for ‘British Military Administration’ and ‘British Administration’ in ‘Tripolitania’, a historic region in the former province of Libya are included in the collection. These stamps provide a reminder of British domination of this former Italian colony, both in terms of its military administration and also on a civilian basis. Tripolitania included Tripoli in the old system and these registration sheets document the fact that Britain actually set up the combined state of Libya. The British backed King Idris to become Emir of Tripolitania who also proclaimed an independent Emirate of Cyrenaica in 1949.

Various postal agencies in the Gulf used British overprinted stamps after 1948, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat and Qatar.

– Martin Devereux, Acting Catalogue Manager

Search our online catalogue at www.postalheritage.org.uk/catalogue.

Stamp Registration or “Imprimatur” sheets in the BPMA Collections

One of the most important parts of the philatelic collections of the BPMA is the series of registration sheets of stamps from the Penny Black to the present day. All are public records and part of the Royal Mail Archive. These sheets are in the process of being catalogued and made available online. However, the size of the sheets is such that they cannot at the moment be scanned so images available are rather restricted. Anyone wishing to view the original sheets must make an appointment with the Curator, Philately. The following is a summary of what is
available to customers at present.

Queen Victoria (1840-c.1870)

All Victorian registration sheets (sometimes called “imprimatur” sheets by collectors) are imperforate, are catalogued and details can be seen on our online catalogue. There are no scans of any part of the original sheets. Included in this are, of course, all sheets of Penny Blacks in the collection (10 in total, though not every plate is represented) and all sheets of Twopenny Blues from the 1841 and 1858 types. No registration sheets exist for plates 1 and 2 of the original Twopenny Blue. Also included are those Penny Red sheets from 1841 onwards which exist (from plate 12 onwards – 206 in total) and the new series of Penny Reds from 1855 (a total of 106, but excluding plate 77) There are also a very small number of other values.

During the 19th century examples were officially cut from these sheets by the Inland Revenue for official purposes, so none of them is complete. Details of which stamps are missing are given in the catalogue.


Queen Victoria (1870-1901)

All other Victorian registration sheets are catalogued and
details can be seen in the online catalogue. However, none have been photographed and the illustrations in the catalogue are not taken from the actual sheets. Rather they come from the Phillips Collection, as with the earlier sheets. These sheets are also imperforate. There are also a few sheets of overprints on Victorian GB stamps for use by some British government departments (termed “Departmental Overprints”). All such overprinted sheets were already perforated.

King Edward VII (1901-1910)

With the registration sheets of King Edward VII the online catalogue shows a small scanned section or part of the actual sheets. These include special formats for booklets for the first time as well as Departmental overprints, and overprints on British stamps for use in the Levant, Bechuanaland and Morocco Agencies. None of the sheets is available photographed or scanned.

King George V (1910-1936) & King Edward VIII (1936)

Again, all registration sheets are catalogued and details can be found in the online catalogue together with a scan of a small part of each sheet (click here for King George V and here for King Edward VIII). Included are sheets for booklets, rolls, commemoratives and all overprints for overseas territories including Morocco Agencies, Nauru and the Levant. The last are all perforated while the former are imperforate.

George V registration sheet

George V registration sheet

Also catalogued, with a small part illustrated, are a large number of black plate proof sheets from the Royal Mint, as well as the registration sheets for postage due labels.

The gravure sheets of King Edward VIII, together with all varieties of sheet format for booklets and rolls, and all overseas overprints are also available online, again with a small part of each sheet illustrated.

Later Sheets

Work is continuing on the cataloguing of later registration sheets of the reigns of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. These will appear progressively in the online catalogue.

Find out more about our collection of Stamps and Postal History on our website.

The ‘Rescue Man’ and the ‘Danger Squad’: Frederick G. Gurr and the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad

This coming Bank Holiday Monday, Vyki Sparkes, Assistant Curator at the BPMA will give a short talk at Bletchley Park on a little known story of heroism and bravery: Frederick G. Gurr and the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. The talk is one of many activities taking place at Bletchley Park as part of the Post Office at War weekend.

During the Blitz in the Second World War the Salvage Squad were featured in newspapers, a radio broadcast, and Gurr, their overseer, was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI for his heroism. Despite these accolades, this small but important group fell into obscurity – until the recent discovery of a collection of scrapbooks and photographs in our museum collection.

A newspaper article in Gurr's scrapbook about the Salvage Squad meeting George VI

A newspaper article in Gurr's scrapbook about the Salvage Squad meeting George VI

Delayed by Enemy Action handstamp impression

Delayed by Enemy Action handstamp impression

Correspondence was of crucial importance during the Second World War, not only for military or governmental purposes but to maintain social morale. During the War, the Post Office’s intention was that no letter should be delayed more than 48 hours due to enemy action.

From 1940 with the continuous heavy bombardment of London, as well as other parts of the UK, this aim became even more challenging. Frederick G. Gurr, a postman close to retirement in the City of London, was concerned that ordinary Salvage squads did not recognise the importance of the mail, and set up the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. Their purpose: to rescue the mail, money and supplies from Post Offices and letterboxes bombed in the City of London. Gurr kept newspaper cuttings and photographs relating to the squad in a homemade scrapbook, all carefully annotated with his own handwritten accounts.

A newspaper article in the scrapbook showing how Gurr's team rescued £40,000 from a safe

A newspaper article in the scrapbook showing how Gurr's team rescued £40,000 from a safe

The talk at Bletchley Park will feature key moments of the 1940-41 Blitz, told through the pages of this scrapbook and accompanying photographs. All are welcome, and the talk is free, to those who have a valid entry ticket to Bletchley Park.

For those who cannot make it to the Bletchley event, Gurr’s wartime scrapbook is currently on display in the Treasures of the Archive exhibition, in our Search Room.