Tag Archives: philately

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.

Getting ready for Europhilex 2015

BPMA newbie and Fundraising Assistant Cat shares all that has gone into preparing for the largest stamp event in Europe – Europhilex 2015

I have just had my two month anniversary working for the BPMA and what a busy two months it has been! I don’t think I could have joined the BPMA at a better time with so many events coming up and it being such a crucial time in the run up to the opening of The Postal Museum and Mail Rail. At the moment, my work has been largely focusing on philately (my new favourite word) and the upcoming Europhilex show. I have been working really closely with our Fundraising Events Officer, Sarah Jenkins who having worked on the regular Stampex shows, has been my philately guru and mentor.

Reading through our article in the London 2015 newsletter

Reading through our article in the Europhilex newsletter

Together, we have made our way through what has sometimes seemed a never-ending to-do list to prepare the BPMA stand at Europhilex. One of the highlights of my first week was watching Sarah and our Marketing and Commercial Assistant Katie use their creativity to map out the stand space in an empty office, using any objects they could find. I think it was at this point that I realised this job was going to be an interesting and unique one!

One lucky winner will go home with a print from the original Penny Black die - visit our stand this week for more details

One lucky winner will go home with a print from the original Penny Black die – visit our stand this week for more details.

I have been amazed at just how much work goes into every event that the BPMA hold. Talks about Europhilex began months before I even started. For the stand, we have worked to a strict timetable with regular meetings discussing all of the details in turn.  I will admit this now;  in these meetings I often found myself writing words in my pad and referring to my good friend Google….the nod and smile tactic was used quite a lot. There have been a lot of discussions around the star of the show – the Machin cast – which will have its own spotlight and plinth. Treatment fit for a Queen!

The Star of the Show - the Machin Cast

The Star of the Show – the Machin Cast

Alongside planning the stand, I have also been organising bits ‘n bobs for events we are holding around Europhilex week including an Afternoon Tea for invited guests. I constantly made the error of ordering cakes and canapés for these events before lunch. I never knew a job could also make you so hungry. This experience has been an incredible one and I am just so excited to see it all in action next week at Europhilex. Wish me luck!

If you want to follow our progress next week then stay tuned to the BPMA on Twitter, where I will be posting updates all week.’

Postal Memories from the Antarctic

Fifty years ago Lewis Juckes, now retired, was a geologist driving a dog sledge among the mountains of Antarctica.  Even in that remote location mailbags played a part in his daily routine.  Here he tells us how that came about.

This story starts over half a century ago, in December 1963 when I was one of twenty or so employees of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who boarded the Kista Dan to sail from Southampton to Stanley in the Falkland Islands and then to our allocated bases.

The Kista Dan unloading in Halley Bay, January 1964.  This was one of the few usable bays in the otherwise continuous ice cliffs that made up the edge of the ice shelf.  The base had been constructed about a mile “inland”, on the flat surface of the ice shelf although by this time the older buildings had become completely  buried by the annual accumulation of snow.

The Kista Dan unloading in Halley Bay, January 1964. This was one of the few usable bays in the otherwise continuous ice cliffs that made up the edge of the ice shelf. The base had been constructed about a mile “inland”, on the flat surface of the ice shelf although by this time the older buildings had become completely buried by the annual accumulation of snow.

In Stanley, and a few days later on the island of South Georgia, most of us bought souvenir postage stamps.  I just followed what the others seemed to be doing and bought a series of stamps working up through the values from the lowest of ½d.  Our understanding was that the Post Office there, and in Britain, was not permitted to frank stamps simply to record the date and place for collectors.  Its job was to deliver mail.  Thus I stuck my stamps on to an envelope, leaving a space in the middle for my own name.  Now I could hand my envelope over the counter, where the assistant would accept it as a piece of mail being posted.  After franking the stamps he would deliver it by handing it back, and no rules had been broken.

The standard rate for a letter between the bases and the Falkland Islands was 1d (one old penny) in the mid-1960s.  It was not an airmail service but often these envelopes were the only ones to hand.

The standard rate for a letter between the bases and the Falkland Islands was 1d (one old penny) in the mid-1960s. It was not an airmail service but often these envelopes were the only ones to hand.

Not all of these sets were full ones, up to the top value.  Leaving out the top two values of £1 and 10s cut the price of the investment by almost three quarters and still left an attractive selection of stamps on the envelope.

A full set of stamps of the Falkland Islands Dependency of South Georgia, dated 9th February 1966.  The last whaling station there had closed a few months earlier but the stamps still reflect that era.

A full set of stamps of the Falkland Islands Dependency of South Georgia, dated 9th February 1966. The last whaling station there had closed a few months earlier but the stamps still reflect that era.

Onward, then, to our main objective: the scientific base at Halley Bay, on the Brunt Ice Shelf on the eastern side of the Weddell Sea.  After a frantic six days of unloading, the ship left and we were on our own for a full year.  Until the next relief all communication with the outside world would be by radio, with the more confidential official messages going in diplomatic code.

A full set of British Antarctic Territory stamps on a letter posted to South Africa from Halley Bay on 30th January 1964.

A full set of British Antarctic Territory stamps on a letter posted to South Africa from Halley Bay on 30th January 1964.

Although the base was also officially a Post Office there was no special building or even an allocated room for it.  The Base Leader automatically held the title of Assistant Colonial Postmaster but he normally delegated the tasks involved so that during my time there it was a meteorologist named Chris Miller who actually sold stamps and franked letters.

After the ship had left, Chris only opened the Post Office once or twice in the next year.  That means he brought out his stock of stamps, his equipment for franking and his cash box from where they were stored in the safe in the Base Leader’s office and he set them up on a table in the lounge.  Midwinter, our biggest celebration of the year, was the main occasion when he set up shop so that we could buy souvenir stamps and have them franked with the date.  In 1965 Chris sold £70 worth of stamps at Midwinter, an impressive sum when one remembers that there were only 32 people at the base.  As for genuine mail items, far more came down for us than we ever sent out and we had a very different use for some of the surplus mailbags that were thus available.

A full set of Falkland Island stamps franked in Stanley Post Office, 15th February 1966.  The ink-pad was probably due for renewal!

A full set of Falkland Island stamps franked in Stanley Post Office, 15th February 1966. The ink-pad was probably due for renewal!

I was there as a geologist which meant that during the summer I would have to spend more than six months in the field, away from the base and travelling with a sledge and dog team.  The main items carried on this sledge were a tent, what we called “manfood”, and dog food.  There were also personal items such as a sleeping bag, a sheepskin to put beneath that, and an inflatable mattress to keep it all off the chilly groundsheet.  Each man had a small kitbag that we called a “P-bag” (for “Personal bag”) holding items like spare garments, reading matter, diary, toilet bag, repair kit and so on.  At night the P-bag also served as a rather bumpy pillow.

Tony Baker and Lewis Juckes drinking in the New Year of 1965 by the light of the midnight sun, about 300 miles east of Halley Bay.  One of the mailbags makes up the front of the sledge load.

Tony Baker and Lewis Juckes drinking in the New Year of 1965 by the light of the midnight sun, about 300 miles east of Halley Bay. One of the mailbags makes up the front of the sledge load.

What was the best container to hold these personal items?  A large sack would be ideal, and it would need to sturdy enough to withstand months of rough use.  As it happened, our Postmaster had a good supply of just such bags.  Our standard dog-sledging routine involved two men per sledge, and our idea of a well-distributed load had one of these mailbags at each end – as can be seen in many of the photographs that we took at the time.

I must admit that I sometimes pictured a British Post Office with a notice on the wall warning against misuse of Post Office property and the severe penalties for such an offence, and wondered whether it might apply to us.  But then, Antarctica has no government and no laws!

All photographs copyright Lewis Juckes

3D Scanning moves into its final phase

Over the last fortnight we have been undertaking the latest stages of scanning of our 3D philatelic objects as part of our Share Academy funded project – from vault to view.

_MG_6943_landscape

Scanning the flintlock pistol.

We took a number of dies, including the Old Original die of the Penny Black, and the Silver Wyon Medal, over to UCL to be photographed in a PTM dome. The dome is opaque and is fitted with 84 flash lights arranged in rings around the hemisphere. Each flash is activated one at a time and a photograph taken. Once all 84 flashes have been triggered the resulting 84 photographs are processed together into one image so that all the lighting conditions can be observed via a special viewing computer program. The observer can manipulate the lighting condition to reveal hidden features – the engraving, the scratches on a die, etc

The activity described above is part of a series of techniques for a process known as Reflective Transformation Imaging (RTI). You can find out more here – http://culturalheritageimaging.org/Technologies/RTI/

ptm_dome

Scanning at UCL

The results of this test are still being processed, but the images we’ve seen so far are impressive and we’re very excited by them.

Last week UCL’s 3D specialist, Mona Hess, visited the BPMA bringing a portable 3D laser scanner with her. This was to be the last set of trials with laser scanning and we wanted to try the same set of objects which were digitised by the PTM dome. This time around, the results were more mixed as the laser had difficulty with the shiny surfaces of the dies and medal. We also tried scanning the flintlock pistol we had scanned previously with the large laser scanner at UCL and the results were slightly better. The scanner rendered the wooden parts of the handle and stock, but struggled to render the metallic parts, such as the barrel and the firing mechanism.

_MG_6925

Latest tests at the BPMA

The preliminary findings of the tests show that the PTM dome renders the most useful images of metallic objects from the stamp printing process. We have one day of scanning left to complete in this fascinating project and we will then make the results of the whole project publicly available.

Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica at The Polar Museum, Cambridge

With a population of just 250, The British Antarctic Territory, which covers 660,000 square miles of Antarctica from offshore islands to the South Pole itself, doesn’t necessarily seem like somewhere that the postal service would need to operate. But, despite the low number of permanent residents, the Territory issues both its own postage stamps and coins and even has an Antarctic Postman, based in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands, who visits the outlying research bases by ship.

Image

With such a fascinating story to tell, it’s no surprise that there is now an exhibition devoted to the postage stamps of this remote territory. Last Thursday The Polar Museum in Cambridge launched the captivating Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica exhibition. With the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Scott Polar Research Institute the exhibition uses stamps, printing proofs and original artworks to shed light on this little known corner of the globe, from native wildlife including Emperor Penguins and Huskies to ships ploughing through ice and planes flying over the frozen sea, commemorating British expeditions to the Antarctic throughout history.

Image

The exhibition at The Polar Museum is a wonderful example of how stamps are much more than just a means of sending a letter from A to B. They are a window into history giving a snapshot of the social, cultural and design influences of any given period across every region of our planet. With every stamp from the Penny Black to the present day and all stamp artwork, both adopted and unadopted (including from such famous artists as Paul Nash, Terence Cuneo and David Gentleman) in our collections, we know that there are hundreds if not thousands of interesting stories just waiting to be told. It’s great to see exhibitions such as that at The Polar Museum bringing these stories into the public domain and I hope you will take the opportunity to pay it a visit.

Adrian Steel – Director

The exhibition will be running at The Polar Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge until 6 September 2014. Entry is free and the museum is open 10-4 Tuesday to Saturday. www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum

Great British Film stamps released

A new stamp issue celebrates six key British movies produced since the Second World War, with the accompanying Miniature Sheet focusing on the work of the General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit, which produced ground-breaking documentaries for the General Post Office in the 1930s.

Secrets and Lies, £1.28

Secrets and Lies, £1.28

Lawrence of Arabia, £1.28

Lawrence of Arabia, 1st class

Bend it like Beckham, £1.28

Bend it like Beckham, £1.28

Chariots of Fire, £1.28

Chariots of Fire, £1.28

A Matter of Life and Death, £1.28

A Matter of Life and Death, 1st class

2001: A Space Odyssey, £1.28

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1st

In the 1930s the GPO Film Unit produced several films, regarded as documentaries. The unit was established initially to explain postal and telephone services, and heighten the reputation of the Post Office, in an era when it was leading the world in technological innovation. This Miniature Sheet celebrates four of the most well-known films.

A Colour Box, 1st class

A Colour Box, 1st class

Night Mail, 1st Class

Night Mail, 1st Class

Spare Time, 1st class

Spare Time, 1st class

Love on the Wing, 1st class

Love on the Wing, 1st class

The immortal Night Mail film is marked with a stamp for the first time, and a stamp for Love on the Wing, a film by director Norman McLaren also marks his centenary in 2014. Night Mail is about a London, Midland and Scottish Railway mail train from London to Scotland. A poem by W. H. Auden was written for it, used in the closing few minutes, as was music by Benjamin Britten. Our archive holds the original poster artwork for Night Mail as well as many others.

Original artwork by Pat Keely (POST 109/377)

Original artwork by Pat Keely (POST 109/377)

The Great British Film stamps are available from 13 May online at www.royalmail.com/personal/stamps-collectibles-gifts, by phone on 08457 641 641 and and in 10,000 Post Offices throughout the UK.

New on the online catalogue

Last week we did one of our periodic uploads of new material onto the online catalogue. More than 2,000 records went on this time.

New to the catalogue is the ‘REPS deposit’. This was a large collection of records on the Royal Engineers Postal Section (REPS) and the Army Postal Service. The material dated from the 1900s to the 1980s, but it was particularly rich in information on the Army Postal Service at home and overseas during and after the Second World War.

The REPS deposit was indexed in the early 1980s by Major J G Long (retired), then archivist of the REPCS Officers’ Association. Long was commissioned c.1980 to write a history of the REPS. The project was later abandoned, and Long resigned the archivist post in 1982. He deposited his research notes and the archives at the Home Postal and Courier Communications Depot, Inglis Barracks, Mill Hill, and that’s where the trail ends. If anyone reading this knows any more about Major Long and his work, we would love to hear from you!

Social Reformers Issue 1976 – David Gentleman (QEII/119/33)

Social Reformers Issue 1976 – David Gentleman (QEII/119/33)

The REPS deposit was catalogued in January and February 2014 by Matt Tantony, our former Project Archivist. The deposit was split between three main areas of the catalogue. Public records on the Army Postal Service have been catalogued in POST 47. Records on the GPO’s actions in wartime are in POST 56. The remainder of the deposit is mostly non-public records, including Major Long’s own research notes, military publications, and reunion dinner plans. These archives are not strictly postal in relevance but will be of interest to anyone studying the history of the REPS as a military unit. They’ve been catalogued as a separate ‘REPS collection’.

Our cataloguing archivist Anna Flood was responsible among other work for plenty more POST 72 (Post Office Headquarters files) going on, completing the catalogue for this large class.

Some small quantities of POST 22 (Counters), 63 (Staff Training) and 68 (Rules and Instructions) also went on. Additionally several sub-series from POST 153 (Mails Division) and 157 (Postal Operations Department) were added.

Stamp artwork for eight issues from 1976 Social Reformers to 1977 Silver Jubilee (POST 150) is now on the catalogue.

Racket Sports Issue 1977 – Andrew Restall (QEII/124/06)

Racket Sports Issue 1977 – Andrew Restall (QEII/124/06)

More than 50 museum objects went online. These included a set of self-designed Christmas cards by Martin Norgate from the 1970s to the present day and a World War One card on a piece of khaki, recently acquired by the BPMA.

'B.E.A. XMAS GREETINGS' Khaki Christmas Card (2013-0091)

‘B.E.A. XMAS GREETINGS’ Khaki Christmas Card (2013-0091)

This Christmas card is written on a piece of khaki, possibly from a uniform. Drawn in ink on the front cover is a cross with the words ‘B.E.A. 1915/ XMAS GREETINGS’ inside. Above the cross a thistle is drawn, whilst below the cross is a banner reading ’25 R.F.’.

Front of the card

Front of the card (2013-0091)

Finally a number of amended War Memorials records are now available.

Eagle-eyed users will notice one or two changes to the way data is represented on the online catalogue since this upload. We have switched our date format from YYYY-Mon-DD to the more conventional DD-Mon-YYYY.

Another change is in the way we arrange the archive hierarchically, we have now changed the hierarchical ‘RefNo’ field so that the whole archive now properly nests under the Collection level description for the whole of the Archive . This change has been prompted in main by our exciting plans to revamp our online catalogue. Updates and progress of this are coming soon!

-Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue & Project Manager