Tag Archives: Philatelic

Stamps: Why the Portrait?

As an Art Historian (now Philatelic Assistant) I have always been fascinated by the portrait and a stamp in itself is a miniature piece of art. To understand why the Queen’s head appears as it does on GB stamps we need to first understand the significance of the portrait historically.

Some of the earliest profile portraits were produced by the Romans for their coins and medals.  Images of the Emperors illustrated their power and importance and thus the profile became synonymous with these characteristics. It was also a way of distributing the face of their leader, who many would never have seen.

Roman Coin

Roman Coin

We can see the influence of these artefacts in the work of Renaissance artists who tried to recreate this sense of power in their portraits of the wealthy. This is evident in the portrait of the Duke of Urbino and his wife by Piero della Francesca who are both depicted in profile facing one another. Yet this composition had to be used as the Duke had previously lost his right eye in a tournament. You can also see the significance of the medal in Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo De Medici’ c.1474-75.

Piero della Francesca 'Duke of Urbibo' c1467-1470

Piero della Francesca ‘Duke of Urbino’ c.1467-1470

Sandro Botticelli 'Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder' c1474-75

Sandro Botticelli ‘Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder’ c.1474-75

However the initial portrait of Queen Elizabeth II used for postage was not in fact a profile. Instead it was a three quarter view of Her Majesty photographed by Dorothy Wilding in 1952. Though adequate as a Definitive stamp –  the Wilding design was found to be overly challenging for many stamp designers as it took up to one third of the stamp’s area and subsequently compromised the design of the stamp.

Wilding High Value Definitives 1955

Wilding High Value Definitives 1955

As a solution to this problem Tony Benn (Post Master General 1964-66) along with designer David Gentleman introduced the idea of removing the Queen’s head altogether. Initial ideas were produced, however in 1965 the Queen decided she wished to remain on the stamp. This led to the small profile silhouette on commemorative stamps being used instead, reminiscent of those produced in the 18th century of the English high society.

1965 Churchill Commemorative

Churchill Commemorative without the Queen’s Head 1965

A traditional silhouette portrait of the late 18th century

A traditional silhouette portrait of the late 18th century

To produce a profile portrait of the Queen, The Royal Mail approached the British sculptor Arnold Machin. He took inspiration from the simplicity of the Penny Black portrait, which was based on a medal of Queen Victoria by William Wyon. This again acknowledges the historical importance of the profile.

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

The image of the Queen we see today is not only practical for producing stamps but also evokes the idea of power and importance, circulating her image to the nation. The significance of the portrait on a stamp is not merely a representation of the person but as a symbol of their significance. Commemorative stamps elevate the importance of an individual by allowing them to feature prominently on the stamp, though the Queen still remains dominant as the accompanying silhouette.

Winston Churchill 1st (October 14 2014)

Winston Churchill 1st NVI (October 14 2014)

Next time you see a photograph of yourself have a think what you would look like on a postage stamp?

– Georgina Tomlinson Philatelic Assistant.

The 175th Anniversary of The Penny Black

Today we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp, a truly great British achievement that changed the postal service forever. In a world of email and text we can forget the impact it had on communication. To mark this event we are exhibiting one of the original sheets of Penny Blacks in our Search Room until the 7 August.

Penny Black

Penny Black

Before 1839 postage was paid by the recipient not the sender, which limited those who could afford to receive their post. High prices and private franking also restricted who could send letters. To offset this, letters were cross written and codes were devised so that recipients could understand a letter’s contents without paying to receive it. This put the Post Office’s profits significantly at risk.

Cross Written Letter

Cross Written Letter

To counteract these problems Rowland Hill introduced a list of postal reforms, stipulating that postage should be paid by the sender, at a unified price based on weight not distance. These proved successful and in 1839 an act was passed to introduce Hill’s reforms. After a public competition it was proposed that the image of the Queen’s head should be used on the stamp as for security reasons minor differences could be detected in forgeries.

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

The design of the first stamp was based on a medal by William Wyon of Victoria taken at the age of 15, which would subsequently represent her until the end of her reign. Arnold Machin took inspiration from the Penny Black’s simplicity when he produced the Royal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for modern day stamps.

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

The image was then engraved, in reverse, on a die by Charles Heath and rolled 240 times onto a copper plate to produce the sheet. For security, letters were placed in the corners of the stamps; contemporary stamps continue to adapt to stay one step ahead of the forgers.

Penny Black Die

Penny Black Die

The Penny Black was actually put on sale on the 1 May 1840 but was not valid for postage until the 6th. The Twopenny Blue however did not begin to be printed until the 1 May. The process was pretty quick and 600,000 stamps where being produced daily.

Twopenny Blue

Twopenny Blue

To celebrate 175 years a miniature sheet has been produced by Royal Mail with two Penny Blacks and two Twopenny Blues, each with a First Class value. The background to the miniature sheet features a photograph of the printing presses at Perkins Bacon & Petch – the original printers of the Penny Black.

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

This is not the first time we have commemorated the Penny Black in modern day postage. The Penny Black 150th anniversary stamps were produced in 1990 where five differing values depicted Queen Elizabeth alongside Queen Victoria.

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

The Penny Black 175 exhibition at the BPMA is available to view Monday to Friday in Freeling House, London.

-Georgina Tomlinson

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, renowned playwright and poet, famous worldwide for Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and his sonnets…but he has another claim to fame. In 1964 Shakespeare became the first commoner to appear on a stamp.

0158-qeii-24-020

Hamlet contemplating Yorick’s Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

In 1964 the Post Office issued a set of stamps to coincide with the Shakespeare Festival, marking the 400th anniversary of his birth. Five designs were chosen, one by C&R Ironside showing an image of Hamlet and four by renowned stamp designer David Gentleman. Gentleman’s stamp designs proved controversial as the image of Shakespeare’s head was the same size as that of the Queen’s making him appear of equal importance. This objection was however overcome and Gentleman’s designs were issued alongside that of C&R Ironside to celebrate the Shakespeare Festival marking his 400th Birthday.

0158-shakespearefest1964

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

 

It is now his 450th Birthday and both he and his work have found their way onto a variety of stamps worldwide. Some such issues include the Bicentenary of Australian settlement, 1988; the 150th Anniversary of National Portrait Gallery, 2006, which featured celebrated Britons and the Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 1995.

0158-shakespearesglobe1995

Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

 

From Vault to View: Object Selection

Earlier this year we announced  our 3D scanning project with UCL to capture objects from our philatelic collection. Over the past month, the Philatelic team has been selected just a few objects from its vast collection to scan. Joanna Espin, our Philatelic Assistant, introduces the objects in this post.

We have a large collection of three dimensional objects to do with the production of postage stamps; ranging from metal dies and transfer rollers, to printing plates. There are also three dimensional objects to do with the design of stamps and other aspects of postal operations. We have chosen a range of objects, of various sizes and materials, which are important to understanding postal history.

The objects selected are some of the most treasured in the Philatelic collection, and concern the history of the Penny Black, Machin Head and letterpress printing.

Wyon Medal, 1838

The Wyon Medal was the inspiration behind the engraving of Queen Victoria featured on the Penny Black.

Wyon Medal front

Wyon Medal front.

Wyon medal reverse

Wyon medal reverse.

‘Old Original’ Penny Black Die, 1840

The ‘Old Original’ Penny Black die, from which all Penny Black plates and most Penny Red plates were made.

‘Old Original’ Penny Black Die, 1840.

‘Old Original’ Penny Black Die, 1840.

Elizabeth II Machin head plaster cast, 1966

Arnold Machin intended his portrait of Queen Elizabeth to allude to the Penny Black: both were designed from a relief portrait and both monarchs are wearing the George IV State Diadem.

Elizabeth II Machin head plaster cast, 1966

Elizabeth II Machin head plaster cast, 1966

Machin Stamp roller, 1968

This object’s shiny surface has prohibited successful digital rendering. 3D scans would, in connection with the Machin curved plate, explain recess printing.

Machin Stamp roller, 1968

Machin Stamp roller, 1968

Machin curved plate, 1968

The 1968 high value Machin £1 stamp recess printing plate.

Machin curved plate, 1968

Machin curved plate, 1968

Edward VII Die, 2d Tyrian Plum, 1910

Almost 200,000 sheets of this iconic stamp were printed yet only one was ever used, as King Edward VII died before the stamp was issued. We plan to scan the die and box.

George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

This object incorporates interesting shape, detail and colour. It connects with the 1924 Wembley slogan die and letterpress printing.

George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

Downey Head ½d Skin, 1911

The first definitive stamps of King George V’s reign were based on a photograph taken in 1910 by W. & D. Downey. The Downey Head skin we plan to scan is an important part of the history of letterpress printing.

Downey Head ½d Skin, 1911

Downey Head ½d Skin, 1911

Edward VII embossing punch, 1902

Successfully capturing the detail and embossing on the punch would enable effective demonstrations of embossing technique.

Flintlock Pistol, 1816 – 1841

This object demonstrates the diversity of the BPMA Philatelic collection. A 3D rendering of the pistol will highlight the engravings on the end of the barrel, which state that the gun was for official GPO mail coach use.

Flintlock Pistol, 1816 - 1841

Flintlock Pistol, 1816 – 1841

Aerial Handstamp, 1911

The world’s first scheduled airmail service began in 1911 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of King George V. This handstamp, commemorating the event, has wide historical appeal. The object’s shape and material make it ideal for 3D scanning, as reflective surfaces are notoriously difficult to capture.

Aerial Handstamp, 1911

Aerial Handstamp, 1911

Slogan Die, Wembley, 1925

Issued as part of the celebrations marking the British Empire Exhibition, this slogan die has wide historical appeal and, due to its shape and material, is another interesting object on which to experiment 3D scanning techniques.

We will initially test various techniques, a process expected to take several hours for each object, and compare the results to existing two dimensional photographs. The processes to be employed are highly experimental and will shape recommendations for a standardised approach to 3D imaging. The results will enable ground-breaking access to treasured objects in the Philatelic collection and, ultimately, audiences will virtually handle important postal history objects.

Stay tuned next week to find out about the different techniques we will be using!

–  Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Stamp printing plates, dies and rollers: from vault to view

Over the next year, our Philatelic and Digital teams will be working with UCL’s Mona Hess, Research Associate and PhD candidate at UCL, to digitise objects from our collections, including printing dies, rollers and plates. These objects are difficult to photograph and not available for consultation by the public. This project, funded by Share Academy, will provide access to these important objects through a combination of a number of technologies. The final output will be set of 3D digital objects for use by philatelic enthusiasts, researchers and the general public. This blog will regularly update you on what is happening along the way.

Mona discusses various imaging techniques and engagement outputs for the 3D objects. A stamp plate sits at the centre of the table.

Mona discusses various imaging techniques and engagement outputs for the 3D objects. A stamp plate sits at the centre of the table.

Last Friday (24 January), we held a kick-off meeting for our Philatelic 3D digitisation project, a Share Academy project partnership with UCL. Because of the highly-reflective surfaces of these objects, a combination of technologies will be trialled to see which works best.  Some of the objects can be captured at the BPMA’s premises using techniques such as photogrammetry. Others, however, may need to be transported to UCL to be digitised with their large-format 3D scanning device.

Original Heath die of Penny Black with various other dies. (POST 118/1733)

Original Heath die of Penny Black (centre) with various other dies. (POST 118/1733). The reflective and finely-engraved surface makes them difficult to photograph.

Another highlight of the meeting was the demonstration of a possible output for the 3D objects: a mobile/tablet application. The Petrie Museum engages visitors using an application that explores the history of the Nile Valley with 3D digitised objects that can be manipulated by users.

Over the next month, our Philatelic team will be selecting various objects to be captured in the trials (due to take place from March), as well as planning any transportation of objects, where necessary, to UCL.

Are there any particular objects in the Philatelic collection that you want to see as 3D objects? 

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

Release of Classic Children’s TV Stamps

A new set of stamps issued today celebrates much-loved TV characters from the past 60 years. Each decade since the 1950s is represented in this issue including Postman Pat, Dougal from The Magic Roundabout and Postman Pat, among other beloved characters from the past.

2014 marks both the 40th anniversary of Bagpuss appearing on TV and the 50th anniversary of The Magic Roundabout. As the first stamps issued in 2014, they will attract audiences of all ages.

Peppa_Pig_Stamp

Peppa Pig, 1st class.

Paddington Bear, 1st class.

Paddington Bear, 1st class.

Mr Benn, 1st class.

Mr Benn, 1st class.

Dougal from The Magical Roundabout, 1st class.

Dougal from The Magical Roundabout, 1st class.

Ivor the Engine, 1st class.

Ivor the Engine, 1st class.

Windy Miller from Camberwick Green, 1st class.

Windy Miller from Camberwick Green, 1st class.

Bob the Builder, 1st class.

Bob the Builder, 1st class.

Bagpuss, 1st class.

Bagpuss, 1st class.

Andy Pandy, 1st class.

Andy Pandy, 1st class.

Great Uncle Bulgaria from The Wombles, 1st class.

Great Uncle Bulgaria from The Wombles, 1st class.

Shaun the Sheep, 1st class.

Shaun the Sheep, 1st class.

Postman_Pat_Stamp

Postman Pat, 1st class.

Postman Pat has been a popular children’s TV series since the first episode in 1981. Royal Mail were keen to use Pat as a publicity tool for Post Office services and the programme promoted the idea of the Postman as an essential community figure.

Plastic Postman Pat shape sorter van.

Plastic Postman Pat shape sorter van.

The BPMA collection has a variety of Postman Pat related objects, ranging from original Postman Pat artwork for the comic Buttons Special through to clothing and toys, such as the wind-up Postman Pat.

Postman Pat wind-up walking toy

Postman Pat wind-up walking toy.

The Classic Children’s TV stamps can be ordered through the royalmail.com/childrenstv and by phone on 08457 641 641. They are also available in Post Office Branches across the UK.

Philatelic stocktake

Regular readers of the BPMA blog will know that we undertake a yearly stock take. Stock take, a concerted burst of ‘collections housekeeping’, has recently been utilised to prepare for our move to the new museum at Calthorpe House. Our last stock take was earlier this year, but the ever keen Philatelic team scheduled two additional stock taking sessions; the first of which took place last week.

The week was extremely beneficial as we made significant progress in a number of important areas: 537 boxes were reorganised into numerical order and re-listed, 348 shelves and 167 albums were relabelled, oversize registers were prepared for housing, and duplicate material was identified and removed.

Philatelic material during the stock take.

Philatelic material during the stock take.

These tasks are an essential part of the move planning process: we must know exactly what is in each box, where each box is and where each box is going to be housed in the new museum in order for the collection to be transported safely and stored efficiently.

Our next Philatelic stock take, scheduled for November 2013, will focus on rationalising more essays and regional postcards.

– Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Visit our website for information on accessing our philatelic collection for research.