Tag Archives: King George VI

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

KGVI Overprints – Illustrating the Rise and Fall of Modern Libya

In wake of the recent demise of Muammar Gaddafi, as Libya attempts to build a multiparty democracy (an idea derided by the former leader as being for “donkeys”), the King George VI (KGVI) overprinted stamp registration sheets from this region provide a topical insight into the period of British control. It may come as a surprise to many that Britain was chiefly responsible for uniting Libya under a single monarchy following World War II. This story can be told through a recently catalogued collection of registration sheets, held at the BPMA.

In 1943 the Allies drove the Italians out of Libya (who themselves ousted the Ottoman Turks in the Italo-Turkish War 1911-12), ending Italian rule and the axis powers’ stronghold over the region. Under Mussolini’s fascist government, the Italians divided Libya into three provinces; Britain took military control of two of them – Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, while the French took control of the third region – Fezzan.

The British, as was commonplace throughout the empire and its many military endeavours, wasted no time in implementing the use of its postage stamps in these two territories. The first stamps used were overprinted ‘M.E.F’ (Middle East Forces) 1943-48 as used throughout British control of all former Italian colonies in the Middle East at the time (including Eritrea and Somalia).

KGVI 9d olive-green, overprinted 'M.E.F.' (Middle East Forces), registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 15 September 1942.

KGVI 9d olive-green, overprinted 'M.E.F.' (Middle East Forces), registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 15 September 1942.

The ‘British Military Administration’ (B.M.A) started using its own overprints in Tripolitania (which included Tripoli) from 1948 to 1950, replacing those overprinted ‘M.E.F’.

KGVI 3d pale violet, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 6 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 23 April 1948.

KGVI 3d pale violet, overprinted 'B.M.A. TRIPOLITANIA 6 M.A.L.', registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 23 April 1948.

Following the UN Assembly in 1949 however, the British backed the resolution for Libya to gain its independence, placing Idris as-Senussi as the King within two years. Subsequently British control of the region was reduced to civilian control as the move towards an independent Libya began. The overprints consequently changed to’ British Administration’ (B.A) 1950-51.

KGVI Festival of Britain Issue, 10s blue overprinted 'B.A. TRIPOLITANIA 240 M.A.L.' registration sheet, perforated.  Registration date: 27 April 1951.

KGVI Festival of Britain Issue, 10s blue overprinted 'B.A. TRIPOLITANIA 240 M.A.L.' registration sheet, perforated. Registration date: 27 April 1951.

Libya Stamp - King Idris stamp – April 1952

Libya Stamp - King Idris stamp – April 1952

M.E.F overprinted stamps were used throughout British control of Cyrenaica, until 24 December 1951, when Libya formerly gained independence and Britain ceased all forms of administration in the region, including use of its postage stamps. The three aforementioned provinces therefore were combined to form the United Kingdom of Libya.

Libya’s downfall began in September 1969, when Gaddafi came to power following a military coup, where King Idris was overthrown, thus seeing the beginning of Gaddafi’s Arab nationalist, totalitarian, and brutal regime. The rest as they say is history.

Libya stamps: (L) April 1983, Gaddafi with Green Book, which set out the political philosophy of Gaddafi (recently burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators all over Libya), (R) April 1983 - Propaganda, April 1983

Libya stamps: (L) April 1983, Gaddafi with Green Book, which set out the political philosophy of Gaddafi (recently burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators all over Libya), (R) April 1983 - Propaganda, April 1983

Libya stamp May 1984 - Gaddafi propaganda

Libya stamp May 1984 - Gaddafi propaganda

– Stuart Aitken, Cataloguer/Collections Assistant