Tag Archives: John Gibbs

Delving into the Unknown

BPMA volunteer Don Staddon looks at philatelic material within the British Postal Museum & Archive.

I have been recently working on a project to bring together artwork, essays, and issued stamps for the period from 1985 to 1991. It has revealed many unadopted designs and essays, some of which may be of interest.


On March 12, 1985 a set was issued depicting Insects: a number of artists had been asked to submit designs. Watercolours by wildlife artist and broadcaster Gordon Beningfield were used for the issued stamps, featuring the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee, Seven Spotted Ladybird, Wart Biter Bush Cricket, Stag Beetle and Emperor Dragonfly.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

However, also approached were Brian Hargreaves who also used watercolours, one of his designs showing the Two-spot Ladybird, while John Norris Wood adopted woodcuts, his designs including a Queen Hornet and Cat Flea.

Brian Hargreaves' Two-spot Ladybird design.

Brian Hargreaves’ Two-spot Ladybird design.

John Norris Wood's Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood’s Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood's Cat Flea design.

John Norris Wood’s Cat Flea design.

Gordon Beningfield had previously designed the set depicting Butterflies issued in 1981, while Brian Hargreaves was a well-known butterfly artist responsible for the Collins guide to the butterflies of Britain and Europe, as well as designing butterfly stamps for several other countries. John Norris Wood was a renowned wildlife artist. There were also designs submitted by Cherry Denman featuring household bugs.

Cherry Denman's household bugs designs.

Cherry Denman’s household bugs designs.

European Music Year

In the same year a set was issued on May 14 to mark European Music Year featuring the works of various composers: again several artists had been approached to submit ideas. The designer chosen was the Scottish illustrator and artist Wilson McLean who illustrated famous works by the composers Handel, Holst, Delius and Elgar.

Wilson McLean's European Museum Year stamp designs.

Wilson McLean’s European Museum Year stamp designs.

Among the designs not selected was a portrait of Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker, of Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte, and a set representing four composers created by David Driver.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

David Driver's designs.

David Driver’s designs.

Glynn Boyd Harte was a leading watercolour and lithographic artist as well as a part time musician. Note that while the unadopted designs were all based on portraits, they each used different backgrounds embracing musical symbols, score or instruments.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force set that was issued on September 16, 1986 depicts five senior Officers.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

However, about two years previously trial essays, dated December 18, 1984, had been produced showing aircraft, including the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

As we know, these designs were not developed into issued stamps, but I think they look impressive: sadly no designer is credited, although they appear to have been adapted from photographs.

The issue marked the 50th anniversary of the RAF being organised into various functional and operational commands, and I suspect this is the reason that Commanders were more prominent in the designs rather than the aircraft. The chosen designs were by Brian Sanders.

Thomas Hardy

It is well known that what was intended to be a set of four stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hardy, ended up as being just a single stamp. It was issued on July 10, 1990, and was the work of John Gibbs. The reason given for the reduction in the number of stamps in the set was not to overburden the collector, following the decision to release stamps to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen Mother on August 2.

However, it is widely known that when the essays reached Buckingham Palace, the designs were not approved. I am illustrating essays that were sent for Royal approval: it is not possible to divulge the reaction from the Palace to the essays but I have always understood it was felt the designs were not an appropriate representation of the characters they sought to portray.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

A total of artists had produced submissions for this set. They included: Ian Pollack, whose work was not favoured when seen at Buckingham Palace; John Gibbs who designed the issued stamp; Eileen Hogan, who featured scenes from Hardy’s works; Keith Bowen and Chloe Cheese, who both chose to depict characters from his novels.

This article originally appeared in Cross Post, the journal of the Friends of the BPMA. Visit our website to find out how you can Volunteer for the BPMA.