Tag Archives: Graham Sutherland

Barnett Freedman, Stephen Tallents and the making of the Jubilee Stamp

by Scott Anthony 

Historians often remember King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 as a jamboree, a day when the British collectively bunked off from the economic, political and social strife that beset the nation between the wars.

The Silver Jubilee stamp designed by Barnett Freedman was central to the popular celebrations. Philately played a large part in King George V’s popular appeal, and by an odd twist of fate Jubilee day fell on the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Penny Black. It was apt that King George’s Jubilee stamp would become one of a long 20th century line of everyday collectables.

Less appreciated now is Freedman’s extraordinary artistic ambition. Freedman’s design utilised then cutting-edge printing techniques to give the stamp something approaching a three dimensional texture, while his use of shading was designed to make it appear as if light was emanating from the King’s head. As well as a sentimental appeal, for contemporaries the stamp had an almost sci-fi attraction that attracted a degree of controversy.

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

“By taking full advantage of the photogravure process and getting a brilliance of effect hitherto unknown in our stamps”, sniffed The Manchester Guardian, “Freedman has sacrificed what is to some an essential quality of design.” In short, when it came to stamps, the newspaper critics of the day where stuck firmly in the flat earth camp.

However, the popular success of the Jubilee stamp marked an important step towards resurrecting the reputation of the lithograph. Artists like Freedman along with Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland believed that the lithograph enabled mass production while keeping the artist in close personal touch with his audience. Something of Freedman’s working methods can be seen in the GPO Film The King’s Stamp. As the rhetoric of the day went, “in the modern age good art should not be the exclusive property of museums”.

Under the direction of Sir Stephen Tallents, Britain’s first public relations officer, the General Post Office had similarly sought to imbue everyday objects with rare aesthetic value. From Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s Day Telegram to Giles Gilbert Scott’s Jubilee Telephone Kiosk to the bright bakelite phones Tallents placed in Victor Saville musicals, Freedman’s stamp was part of a wider upsurge of what might be best described as a brief moment of Civil Service idealism.

Tallents’ triumphant commissions had also finally secured Freedman’s public reputation. Born of Jewish Russian émigrés in the East End of London, Freedman had begun attending night school at St Martins aged 15, while by day working on the design of tombstones (for a stone mason) and then war memorials (for an architect). After winning a London County Council arts scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, Freedman eeked out an existence teaching and designing book covers. Notable successes included Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoir of an Infantryman and several books by Tallents’ friend Walter de la Mere. Indeed, Freedman would later design the Tallents family Christmas card.

The Post Office’s commissions brought Freedman’s methods to a mass national audience and secured the 33 year-old employment from the most far-sighted and prestigious corporate sponsors of modern art in 1930s Britain; London Transport, Shell and Crawford’s advertising agency. Freedman’s exacting style now playfully emphasised the importance of road safety, modern agricultural methods and the importance of beer drinking to sporting success. He also found minor celebrity as the violin player providing the musical accompaniment to William Simonds’ puppet show.

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

Most importantly, Tallents professional patronage sealed an ongoing personal relationship with Freedman. Both were part of a generation for whom the 1935 Jubilee was indeed a rare jamboree, as Britain was buffeted by successive wars and economic crisis. Post-war austerity required Freedman’s acceptance of an ever greater teaching load, the pressures of overwork, stress and relative poverty contributing to his untimely death at the age of 57.

Tallents and Freedman shared an interest in Alfred Stevens, a cult hero of British art typically held up at the time as a victim of Victorian vulgarity and short-sightedness. Amongst their last letters Tallents pointed out to Freedman that the flat (in Canning Place, Kensington) where he designed The Jubilee Stamp was adjacent to the one in which Stevens had designed his ill-fated Wellington monument.

It was a quirky and amused exchange, but Freedman could have been forgiven for thinking that not all the comparisons with the “British Michaelangelo from Blandford Forum” were entirely happy ones.

Many thanks to Jeremy Parrett at the Sir Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University for his assistance with this article.

Scott Anthony is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and author of the BFI Film Classic Night Mail. On 29th October he will be talking about the GPO’s patronage of art, design and film under Tallents at the BPMA.

GPO publicity: ‘Post early in the day’

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

In 1925 a national campaign was launched, encouraging the public to ‘Post early in the day’.  The idea was to alleviate pressure on the postal work force by avoiding a rush on letter boxes at the end of the working day. After an initial interest, the campaign proved largely unsuccessful. 

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

POST 122/11087: Please Post Early In The Day

It wasn’t until the early 1930s that another national scheme to spread the ‘Post early’ message was considered; with two of the earliest publicity posters commissioned by Public Relations Officer: Stephen Tallents, being on this theme.

These posters, produced in 1934 and depicting postmen on their rounds: PRD 0086 (POST 110/4340) and PRD 0087 (POST 110/1439) are the only two in the collection designed by Graham Sutherland, a then up and coming artist.

POST 110/1439: Post Early

POST 110/1439: Post Early

This initial push was followed a few years later by an all out national campaign targeting businesses in particular; this was officially launched by the Assistant Postmaster General in a speech to the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce in February 1937.

A leaflet entitled ‘Post during the lunch hour’ (which became the slogan of the campaign) was published in the same month.

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

POST 122/10941: Post During The Lunch-Hour leaflet

This was followed up by two posters. The first, PRD 0155 was entitled: ‘Post during lunch hour’ (POST 110/2491), it was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer, who went on to produce a set of GPO posters for use in schools entitled ‘Outposts of Britain’ later that same year.

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

PRD 0155: Post during lunch hour

The second poster, PRD 0173 was entitled: ‘Post early in the day’ (POST 110/1159); it was designed by Pat Keely, who went on to produce a number of posters for the GPO throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

PRD 0173: Post early in the day

The campaign gathered momentum throughout the early years of the Second World War, when it was particularly important to get the message across due to extra pressure on the postal workforce brought about by conscription.  Some key artists of the era were called in to produce posters; these included Hans Schleger (Zero), who produced a set of posters (PRD 0250-0252) featuring a running chef, encouraging the public to ‘Post before lunch’ In order to achieve the best war time delivery (see POST 110/4150, POST 110/2966 and POST 110/1173). The posters were used both in post offices and on mail vans in an attempt to reach the widest possible audience.

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0251: Post before lunch

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

PRD 0252: Posting before lunch enables the Post Office to give your letters the best possible war-time delivery

Other war time artists included Jan LeWitt and George Him, who worked together on a number of inspirational poster designs between 1933 and 1954 when their partnership dissolved.  They produced some memorable posters for the ‘Post Early’ campaign, each involving the image of a cartoon postman dragging a large letter over his shoulder (PRD 0238 and PRD 0241 (POST 110/3184 and POST 110/2502)).

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0238: Post your letters before noon for first delivery next morning in

PRD 0242: Post early - And dont miss the Noon post

PRD 0242: Post early - And don't miss the "Noon" post

‘Post early’ was not the only publicity campaign to be pursued during the Second World War; posters were also produced on themes such as: ‘Save for national security’; ‘Don’t telephone or telegraph if a letter or postcard will do’ and ‘Airgraphs get priority’. I will be exploring some of these posters in my next blog.