Tag Archives: Philately Friday

Stamps in the 21st Century

Next month the BPMA will host the panel discussion Stamps in the 21st Century, which will look at the use, design and future of the postage stamp.

The panel will be chaired by Brian Goodey, Chair of The Postal Heritage Trust and Professor Emeritus in the Joint Centre for Urban Design at Oxford Brookes University. Brian Goodey will speak about Architecture as Public Art – Buildings on British Stamps at the BPMA in December.

The 4d Carmine, 1855. The first stamp to be printed using the surface printing method.

The 4d Carmine, 1855. The first stamp to be printed using the surface printing method.

The rest of the panellists are:

Jean Alexander, co-author of the British Stamp Booklets series (available from The Great Britain Philatelic Society) and a member of the Stamp Advisory Committee, which advises Royal Mail on the design of British Stamps.

Tony Bryant, who has been with De La Rue plc for over 20 years. De La Rue has been printing stamps since the UK’s four penny Carmine in 1855 and continues to be at the forefront of stamp technology.

Barry Robinson, former Design Director at The Post Office. Barry Robinson estimates he was responsible for over 200 special stamp issues, the ongoing development of the Machin and country definitives, and the full range of support products.

Guy Thomas, editor of Stamp Magazine. Having recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, Stamp Magazine is Britain’s best-selling independent magazine for philatelists.

The panel discussion takes place at the Phoenix Centre, Phoenix Place, Clerkenwell, London, WC1X 0DL on 11 Thursday 11th March from 7.00-8.00pm. Tickets are free. To book for this event call 020 7239 2570 or email info@postalheritage.org.uk.

We are now looking for questions to put to the panel. If you have a question, please send it with your name and contact details to newsletter@postalheritage.org.uk or by post to Laura Dixon, BPMA, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL.

The panel discussion will be recorded for our podcast and will be made available at the end of April.

This event is part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

New items on our online catalogue

Earlier today we uploaded more than 4000 new records to our online catalogue, bringing the total available to the public to 81,238. The BPMA online catalogue records information about many of the objects and archive material in our collection, allowing anyone to search for it online before visiting us. Not everything we hold at the BPMA has been catalogued as yet, but we currently have 10 staff working full time to put this right. 

A special handstamp from the first flight of the Aerial Post between Windsor and Hendon in 1911

A special handstamp from the first flight of the Aerial Post between Windsor and Hendon in 1911

Some of the cataloguing team have been writing progress reports for this blog and now you can see the results of their work online. New to the catalogue are 2520 slogan dies, 841 objects from the Wilkinson Collection, 402 King George V black proof sheets, 440 handstamps and 158 records about the stamp artwork from the era of King Edward VIII.

Among the 440 handstamps are some real gems, such as special handstamps from the first flight of the Aerial Post between Windsor and Hendon in 1911. There is also an Aycliffe Penny Post handstamp from 1839-1843, and a group of handstamps used on board S.S Quest on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition in 1921-2.

Also of interest are handstamps formerly belonging to the British Post Office in Rio de Janeiro. These were returned to the GPO in November 1896 from the British Consulate, where they had lain since 30th June 1874 when the British Post Office in Brazil closed.

A photograph of King Edward VIII by Hugh Cecil, used on the definitives issued in 1936.

A photograph of King Edward VIII by Hugh Cecil, used on the definitives issued in 1936.

The digitisation of all stamps, proposed stamps, and album artwork from the reign of Edward VIII will be of particular interest to philatelists. The death of King George V on 20th January 1936, and the consequent accession of Edward VIII resulted in ambitious plans from the Post Office. It was decided that there would be three possible stamp issues, a temporary “Accession” issue, which would be replaced by a special “Coronation” issue, and finally a “Permanent” issue.

One of the King Edward VIII definitives issued in 1936

One of the King Edward VIII definitives issued in 1936

While four accession stamps were issued in September 1936, the King’s abdication three months later brought work on the Coronation and Permanent issue stamps to an abrupt end. However, there is still a wealth of material in the BPMA collections, including all the work which went into creating the four Accession definitives – photographs, artwork, essays and issued stamps – and all artwork and essays produced for the Coronation and Permanent issue stamps, produced right up to the week of the abdication.

To access the new material on the online catalogue please follow these links:
King George V black proof sheets
King Edward VIII stamp artwork
The Wilkinson Collection

Slogan dies
Handstamps

Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms

If there is one man who can be said to have changed the face of the postal service forever it is Rowland Hill. Hill was a noted reformer in the Victorian era, pioneering pupil-focused mass education and working for the South Australian Colonisation Commission, but he also had an interest in the postal service. In 1837 he published and circulated the pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. During the 1830’s there were growing calls for postal reform and Hill’s pamphlet proved influential, ultimately leading to the introduction of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, in 1840.

A cross-written letter

A cross-written letter

Prior to 1840 the postal system was expensive, confusing and seen as corrupt. Letters were paid for by the recipient rather than the sender, and were charged according to the distance the letter had travelled and the number of sheets of paper it contained. As a result cross-writing, the practice of writing in different directions, was a common method of saving paper and money, and envelopes were rarely used.

For ordinary people the cost of receiving a letter was a significant part of the weekly wage. If you lived in London and your relatives had written to you from Edinburgh you would have to pay one shilling and one pence per page – more than the average worker earned in a day. Many letters were never delivered because their recipients could not afford them, losing the Post Office a great deal of money.

But while ordinary people scrimped and saved to use the postal system, many items, such as newspapers, were not subject to charge, and Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords had the right to frank and receive letters for free. Well-connected individuals could thus ask their MP to frank their mail for them, further reducing Post Office revenue.

After the Napoleonic Wars postage rates were high – a sly method of taxation – and there were many other anomalies and a number of local services with different charges. The system was ripe for reform.

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill’s solution was prepayment, and a uniform rate of one pence for all letters weighing up to one ounce. Hill made no mention of the method of prepayment but later proposed the use of stamped covers (an idea previously suggested by Charles Knight). At an official inquiry into the Post Office, Hill outlined his ideas further and suggested that “a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” be used. When the inquiry reported it recommended Hill’s plan to reduce postal charges and appended samples of stamped covers to the report.

The establishment of a parliamentary Select Committee chaired by fellow postal reform campaigner Robert Wallace followed, and at the same time a Mercantile Committee on postage was set up by merchants to campaign for lower postal rates. Rowland Hill was a member of the Mercantile Committee.

The Select Committee recommended Hill’s ideas in early 1839, but favoured a uniform rate of 2d. After public pressure was put on the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, the uniform rate was reduced to 1d, and on 15th August 1839 a bill was passed in favour of a universal penny post. The same bill abolished free franking and introduced prepayment in the form of stamped paper, stamped envelopes and labels.

Penny Black and Twopence Blue

Penny Black and Twopence Blue

Rowland Hill was appointed to the Treasury to oversee the implementation of the bill and the uniform penny post was introduced on 10th January 1840. Covers, envelopes and the world’s first adhesive stamps, the Penny Black and Twopence Blue, were introduced in May 1840. The stamps quickly proved themselves to be most popular method of prepayment.

Rowland Hill’s idea for a universal penny post was quickly vindicated. The number of chargeable letters in 1839 had been only about 76 million. By 1850 this had increased to almost 350 million and continued to grow dramatically. The Post Office’s revenue was initially cut but with the increase in the number of letters it soon recovered.

Adhesive postage stamps were gradually introduced throughout the world and with the change to charging by weight, envelopes became normal for the first time. Hill’s brother Edwin invented a prototype envelope folding machine, enabling increased production to fulfil the growing demand.

The rapid increase in the use of the postal service is also partly credited with the development of the transport system, particularly the railways, and improved opportunities for businesses in the Victorian era and beyond. The lower charges also had wide social benefits and the increasingly literate working classes took full advantage of the now affordable postal system.

Death Centenary of Rowland Hill stamp, 1979

Death Centenary of Rowland Hill stamp, 1979

Rowland Hill continued to influence the Post Office, becoming Secretary to the Postmaster General in 1846 and Secretary to the Post Office in 1854. During this period Hill established the Post Office Savings Bank, which encouraged more people to save, and introduced postcodes to London – essential in a city made up of lots of little villages all growing into each other, where streets in different parts of the city often had the same name.

Fittingly, Rowland Hill and his reforms have been celebrated on several postage stamps, including four stamps released to mark his death centenary in 1979, and the 1995 Communications stamps which commemorate the campaign for a universal penny post and the introduction of the Penny Black. Rowland Hill has also been honoured by three public statues and is buried in Westminster Abbey, a mark of how important his work was. There is also an awards scheme named after Hill for innovation, initiative and enterprise in the field of philately, and the Rowland Hill Fund, established in 1882, offers financial aid to past and present Royal Mail workers in times of need.

Pioneers of Communication: Rowland Hill stamps, 1995

Pioneers of Communication: Rowland Hill stamps, 1995

For more on postal history during the Victorian era please see our online exhibition Victorian Innovation.

Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary

Forty years ago today the General Post Office released the first British stamp to commemorate an overseas leader and the first to be designed by an overseas artist. The stamp in question celebrated the birth centenary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, although it was released to coincide with Indian Independence Day (15th August), rather than Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October).

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 stamp

The designer of the stamp was Biman Mullick an Indian graphic designer and illustrator then teaching at the Folkestone School of Arts and Crafts. Mullick’s design was simple but effective, showing Gandhi in front of the Indian flag. “The design brief gave complete freedom to the designers,” Mullick said. “Mahatma Gandhi maintained an extremely simple life style. This was a lead for me. I set out to achieve stark simplicity in this design.”

Scans of newspaper articles and other material related to the stamp issue can be seen on Mullick’s website. One interesting item is a Post Office press release from 14th May 1970 stating that the Indian Philatelic Society gave the Gandhi stamp a Gold Medal at the international Gandhi stamp exhibition in Calcutta that year. Mullick’s website also contains information about Bangladesh’s first stamps, which he designed following that country’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The British Postal Museum & Archive holds a great deal of material about the Gandhi stamp, including essays and unadopted designs. Six other artists submitted designs for the stamp – Bradbury Wilkinson, Rosalind Dease, Harrison & Sons, Philip Sharland, R. Stribley and Martin Stringer – and many of the un-adopted designs included the Charkha (spelt “Chakra” in our archives) or spinning wheel.

“The spinning wheel eventually became the symbol not only of Gandhi, but also the symbol of the Indian Congress Party,” noted a caption for one rejected design. “Ashoka’s Wheel, on the Indian National Flag of today, has a clear link with Gandhi’s spinning-wheel” it continued.

While the Charkha did not appear on the Gandhi stamp, it was used in poster advertising for the issue.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

A rejected design by Mullick also featured Gandhi’s honourary title Mahatma (“Great Soul”) in devanagari, the script used for many South Asian languages.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Apart from Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi is the only overseas leader to have been honoured with a British stamp.

Midpex 09

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

Last Saturday I went to Midpex 09, a two-yearly stamp show, held just outside Coventry. Midpex is one of the largest UK stamp shows and attracts 600 visitors and 50 stamp dealers.

One of the things that makes Midpex different to many other shows is the large number of specialist societies represented (40 this year) for whom the show acts as a place to meet fellow enthusiasts, showcase their activities and recruit new members.

One of the Polar Explorers stamps from 1972, featuring Robert Falcon Scott.

One of the Polar Explorers stamps from 1972, featuring Robert Falcon Scott.

Whatever your collecting interest there will be a society where you can meet like minded people, share your interests and learn. Some of those present at Midpex included: the Aden and Somaliland Study Group; the Cinderella Stamp Club; the Forces Postal History Society; the Pacific Islands Study Circle; and the Polar Postal History Society of Great Britain.

As I waited for the shuttle bus to collect me from a rather rain-drenched Canley rail station, I took the opportunity to talk to some collectors about their involvement in philately and what brings them to Midpex.

Eric was stationed in Gibraltar with the RAF and this led to an interest in the stamps of the island later in life. He had collected as a child and then returned to philately about 30 years ago when he joined the Gibraltar Study Circle. He now has a very respectable collection of material from Gibraltar, is active in a number of societies and exhibits competitively at a national level. He will be entering one of the classes at the London 2010 International Stamp Exhibition.

Eric now sources most new acquisitions for his Gibraltar collection from specialist auctions so at Midpex he was on the look out for material for his secondary collecting interests of Madeira and the Ionian Islands. He attends about half a dozen stamp shows a year.

Similarly to Eric, David collects stamps from an area he has a strong connection to – the Isle of Man. He has been visiting since 1934. He has many friends there and his parents retired to, and were later buried, on the island.

Not so much a Snaefell cachet, more a stamp which may have been cancelled by one: John Nicholsons regional definitive for the Isle of Man, 1958.

Not so much a Snaefell cachet, more a stamp which may have been cancelled by one: John Nicholson's regional definitive for the Isle of Man, 1958.

David’s collecting passion is the Snaefell Summit cachets. Snaefell is the only mountain on the Isle of Man and has been a popular tourist destination since the mountain railway opened in 1895. Letters and souvenir postcards can be posted on the summit during the summer months. Since 1904, these have been marked by a special diamond-shaped hand-stamp. His ambition is to collect an example of every cachet issued and he is already a good way there. Considered to be one of the world’s two foremost experts on the cachets, David gives talks on the subject to societies. He visits each Midpex and always attends the London International Stamp Exhibitions that take place every ten years.

And in case you’re wondering why so many stamp shows end with ‘PEX’, it’s a shortening of ‘Philatelic EXhibition’.

The United States on British stamps

Tomorrow citizens of the United States will celebrate Independence Day, marking the approval by Congress of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. As Britain was the country from which the United States became independent, you may think that this date has never been celebrated on a British stamp, but in fact it has.

The Bicentennial of American Independence stamp (1976)

The Bicentennial of American Independence stamp (1976)

A stamp released on 2nd June 1976 to celebrate the US Bicentenary shows Benjamin Franklin, one of the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence, and the first Postmaster of the United States. Franklin was also the subject of the first US postage stamp, released on 1st July 1847.

Three further stamps with American themes were released by Royal Mail in the 1990s. In 1992, 42 member countries of CEPT (Conference of European Postal & Telecommunications), including the United Kingdom, released stamps on the theme of Voyages of Discovery in America. The first UK stamp shows Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, about to make landfall in the Americas. The second UK stamp shows the Kaisei, a Japanese brigantine which was involved in the Grand Regatta Columbus, an event celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ journey. Participating in the rally were members of Raleigh International, which has organised charitable expeditions since 1978.

The Landfall in the Americas and Grand Regatta Columbus stamps (1992)

The Landfall in the Americas and Grand Regatta Columbus stamps (1992)

The Settlers Tale: 17th Century Migration to the Americas (1999)

The Settlers' Tale: 17th Century Migration to the Americas (1999)

In 1999 Royal Mail celebrated the approaching Millenium by releasing a number of sets of stamps on various themes. The Settler’s Tale stamps, on the theme of migration to, from and within the UK, were released on 6 April 1999 and include a stamp on migration to the Americas in the 17th Century. The stamp shows a Pilgrim couple trading with a Native American.

But perhaps the most interesting depictions of the Americas on British postal stationery are the envelope and letter sheet designed by William Mulready. The Mulready stationery was released at the same time as the Penny Black, but proved unpopular, partly due to the elaborate design. The design shows Britannia between depictions of the continents of Asia and America, and, in the lower corners, small family groups anxiously reading letters. The Americas are represented by Pilgrims, Native Americans, and toiling slaves – remember, this was 1840! (For a closer view of the Mulready stationery see Volume II of the R M Phillips Collection, an award-winning collection of British stamps from the Victorian era in the care of the BPMA.)

A coloured version of The Mulready Envelope (1840)

A coloured version of The Mulready Envelope (1840)

So, Happy Independence Day to our readers in the United States, and if you’d like to tell us about US stamps with British themes please leave a comment.

The BPMA does Swinpex

by Jo Sullivan, New Centre Project Assistant

Jennifer and Jo man the BPMA stall at Swinpex

Jennifer and Jo man the BPMA stall at Swinpex

On Saturday 13th June, Jennifer Flippance (BPMA’s London 2010 Project Officer) and myself attended Swinpex, a philatelic show hosted by the Swindon Philatelic Society.  Although there primarily to promote the joint aims of the BPMA‘s New Centre Project and the 2010 Festival of Stamps and not to sell (or buy) anything we were given an exceptionally warm welcome by all those involved.  In fact, we received star billing in the programme, our presence described as “a great coup for Swindon philately!”

The crowds at Swinpex

The crowds at Swinpex

Swinpex is one of the largest and best attended philatelic shows in the country and gets around 400 to 500 visitors on the day.  This year organisers reported over 500 people attended and, if the crowds in the main hall were anything to go by, we could well believe it.

The BPMA’s stand was right by the front door and we had a steady stream of people coming over to talk to us throughout the day, lured in no doubt by the promise of free 2010 postcards and free newsletters (free gifts at stamp shows it would appear is manna from heaven).  Here we have to give thanks to the BPMA’s continued communication and PR effort as everyone we spoke to not only knew about the proposed move to Swindon but were enthusiastic and supportive.  In fact, the only complaint people had was that we can’t be open sooner.  

Some of the BPMA leaflets and postcards available on the day

Some of the BPMA leaflets and postcards available on the day

It is not just philatelic societies that can’t wait for us to arrive in Swindon as I also spoke to local history and family history group members and a teacher who was interested in the BPMA’s wealth of Key Stage educational resources.  Those looking forward to next year’s Festival of Stamps were able to see facsimiles of some of the King George V stamp artwork and essays that will be on display as part of the Empire Mail exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery.

I found out that Swinpex 2010 is being held at one of the BPMA’s neighbours on the Churchward Village site, Steam. Society members were looking forward to having a new venue for Swinpex and being able to see the BPMA’s new home for themselves (although I perhaps should mention to the organisers they will need to provide 500 hard hats and high vis jackets if they want the tour inside the building).  Whilst some were excited that the proximity of the McArthur Glenn Designer Outlet meant they could combine two of their favourite hobbies: shopping and philately!