Tag Archives: Routemaster Bus

British Design Classics

Newly appointed Philatelic Assistant, Joanna Espin, is tasked with preparing the British Postal Museum & Archive’s philatelic collection in readiness for the move to Calthorpe House in 2015. In her first blog, Joanna discusses her favourite stamp issue: British Design Classics, 2009.

Since discovering the British Design Classics stamp issue in the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) collection, I have questioned what establishes a design as a classic; how design classics are utilised; under what circumstances designs are appropriated and what I would add to the list of icons.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

British Design Classics, date of issue: 13 January 2009.

Good design must first and foremost be fit for the intended purpose: function takes precedence over aesthetics. A classic design is something of outstanding quality and usefulness which outlives the era in which it was produced to become an essential, everyday item which is perhaps overlooked because of its commonplace nature. Jeans for example: born out of labourers’ need for durable clothing in the 19th century American West, symbolising subversion for the 1950s and 1960s American youth and becoming an equalising element of the global wardrobe today. Jeans are undoubtedly a design classic.

The British Design Classics stamp issue celebrates the Mini, Concorde, the Mini Skirt, the Routemaster Bus, the London Underground Map, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Polypropylene Chair, the K2 Telephone Kiosk, Penguin Books and the Anglepoise Lamp as bastions of British design.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

Polypropylene Char by Robin Day, British Design Classics, 2009.

I particularly admire the polypropylene chair for its simple shape, functionality and use of low cost materials. Designed by Robin Day in 1963, the innovative chair pioneered the use of polypropylene, invented nine years before, to create the first plastic shell chair. Due to the benefits of being lightweight, comfortable, stackable and affordable, the chair quickly became ubiquitous in British institutions such as schools; a childhood association which instils the design with nostalgia and classroom memories. I have recently spotted the polypropylene chair in a number of the upmarket coffee shops close to the BPMA which emphasises Zandra Rhodes’s assertion that during periods of austerity “simplification is in fashion.” The ability of a design to be used in a variety of settings is part of the benchmark of good design but it also makes one recognise cases of the appropriation of a design in order to make a fashion statement (as in the case of the polypropylene chair) or comment on society.

An example of the appropriation of a British design classic for a subversive agenda is the punk appropriation of the union jack. The Sex Pistols’ 1977 album artwork, depicting a controversial image of the Queen against the British flag and symbolising rebellion and anarchy, was able to convey a powerful anti-establishment message because of the incorporation of the union jack. The union jack design is immediately recognisable and bold; a design classic instilled with concepts of nation and Britishness. The Sex Pistols album artwork is an example of a classic design which has been subverted in order to criticise tradition and contemporary society.

Conversely the Machin definitive stamp, depicting Queen Elizabeth II in profile, is a design which celebrates British tradition and contemporary society. The postage stamp is a symbol of Britain’s industrial history and social reform. In 1840 Britain issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp which reduced postage costs and radically increased communication. First printed in 1967, the Machin image, of which there are more than 200 billion reproductions, is the most reproduced image of all time. The Machin stamp issue is functional, identifiable, innovative and affordable. Heralding British history whilst remaining an essential component of everyday modern life, the Machin design is the definitive (if you will excuse the pun) British Design Classic.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

A block of 4d Machin head stamps, 1967.

British design classics are functional, simple, affordable and innovative. Referencing British culture, subculture, history and contemporary society; British design classics are emblems of the nation which are woven into the essential fabric of daily life.

Which is your favourite stamp in the British Design Classics issue? What would top your personal list of British design classics?

Concorde – A British Design Classic

Having recently catalogued all Great Britain Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal commemorative registration sheets of stamps, it dawned on me how much the ‘First Flight of Concorde’ stamps of 1969 stood out; both in terms of their slick design and ultimately the subject that they embodied. After all, this ‘Supersonic’ airliner, of Anglo-French origin is as an aviation and engineering icon.

During the late 1950’s, The British, French, Soviets and Americans were in competition, as each nation industriously worked towards developing a form of commercial civilian supersonic transport. It was the British and French however (both funded by their respective governments) who jetted ahead in this particular pursuit. Subsequently they developed designs called the ‘Type 233’ and ‘Super-Caravelle’ respectively, which ultimately saw them leading the commercial aircraft market at the time, which until then had been dominated so ardently by the United States.

First Flight of Concorde - 4d value, designed by M. and S. Goaman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 4d value, designed by M. and S. Goaman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde - 9d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 9d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde - 1s6d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

First Flight of Concorde – 1s6d value, designed by David Gentleman, issued 3 March 1967.

Due to the impending costs which ensued with the production costs however, the British and French combined forces, forming an international treaty (rather than an agreement on commercial terms) in the early 1960’s, where their newly formed British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aérospatiale companies merged, on what famously became the ‘Concorde’ project. It was this partnership which proved triumphant, as the first Concorde prototype was presented in 1967.

Concorde’s maiden flight on the 2nd March 1969 was heralded as ‘faultless’. The aircraft took off from Toulouse and reached 10,000ft. The following day three postage stamps were issued in Britain, with one design (4d) by M. and S. Goaman and the other two (9d and 1s 6d) designed by the prolific and imperious David Gentleman. Looking at Gentleman’s designs specifically, the simple but bold minimal style sits well within current trends in graphic design, thus evoking a timeless appeal. Printed by Harrison and Sons on chalk-surfaced paper, with two phosphor bands, the stamps pay homage to this British design great.

French Stamp – ‘First Commercial Flight of Concorde’, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘First Commercial Flight of Concorde’, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘Regions of France – Pyrenees’ featuring Concorde, 10/01/1976

French Stamp – ‘Regions of France – Pyrenees’ featuring Concorde, 10/01/1976

Although a success, Concorde’s maiden flight never actually reached above 300mph, thus failing to achieve its potential ‘supersonic’ status. Concorde’s first supersonic flight (for those inquisitive amongst you) came on the 1st October 1969 where it achieved closer to the 1,300mph it was capable of. Concorde’s first commercial flights took place on 21st January 1976 – Air France flew from Paris to Rio and British Airways’ Concorde flew from London Heathrow to Bahrain. Concorde’s final flight was on 26th November 2003, following the tragic aftermath of Concorde’s only crash on 25th July 2000, and the global economic downfall of the subsequent years.

Evidently, Concorde was voted the winner in the ‘Great British Design Quest’ competition of 2006. Organised by BBC2’s The Culture Show and London’s Design Museum, the Concorde design beat competition from 25 other British design classics – including Mary Quant’s mini skirt, the Routemaster Bus and Harry Beck’s 1931 London Underground Map design (runner-up). This news came as a delight to Concorde fans, notably Tony Benn – the former Postmaster General – who himself has been so prominent throughout British Postal History. Benn was the Aviation Minister responsible for giving Concorde the go-ahead in the first place.

The 2009 stamp issue ‘British Design Classics’ features ten iconic designs, including Concorde and the other aforementioned ‘design classics’, plus others – thus tying in nicely with the British Design Classic theme of which Concorde so famously championed.

British Design Classics stamps - 13/01/2009

British Design Classics stamps – 13/01/2009

The full series of Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal commemorative registration sheets are due to be made available via the BPMA’s online catalogue, each with a full catalogue description and a digitised section of each sheet, including of course the 1969 Concorde stamps.

You may also enjoy watching this video of Concorde’s maiden flight:

Stuart Aitken – Cataloguer, Philately