Tag Archives: Silver Jubilee

Royal Philatelic Collection podcast

We have just uploaded a new podcast featuring Michael Sefi speaking at the BPMA about the Royal Philatelic Collection. Michael Sefi has been Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection since 2003 and he, along with several assistants, cares for and describes the collection, as well as enabling public access to it.

Bermuda ‘Perot’; one of only 12 surviving examples of this locally-produced stamp.

Bermuda ‘Perot’; one of only 12 surviving examples of this locally-produced stamp.

The Royal Philatelic Collection is Queen Elizabeth II’s private collection and includes material collected by her ancestors over the past 120 years. The majority of the holdings were collected by King George V, aka the philatelist king, but since his death the collection has been added to. It is considered to be the finest collection of its type, and consists almost entirely of British and Commonwealth material, including stamps, covers and stamp artwork, some famous errors and oddities, and a number of unique and highly valuable items.

‘Post Office Mauritius’. This item from the Royal Philatelic Collection is considered to be the finest of the four surviving examples of this stamp.

‘Post Office Mauritius’. This item from the Royal Philatelic Collection is considered to be the finest of the four surviving examples of this stamp.

In his speech, given here in February, Michael Sefi described the history of the Collection and discusses some of its highlights. These include George V Silver Jubilee covers from almost all Commonwealth Countries, stamp artwork from the era of Edward VIII (some of which was repurposed for George VI), and the rarities illustrating this blog.

2d Tyrian Plum on a cover sent to the Prince of Wales the day before he became George V. The Tyrian Plum was never issued, and this is the only used example.

2d Tyrian Plum on a cover sent to the Prince of Wales the day before he became George V. The Tyrian Plum was never issued, and this is the only used example.

Items from the Royal Philatelic Collection are often shown publically. Upcoming displays include Masterworks Museum, Bermuda – 19 to 28 April 2012, Planète Timbres (Stamp Planet), Paris – 9-17 June 2012, and Australia 2013 World Stamp Exhibition, Melbourne – 10-15 May 2013. In 2010 the British Postal Museum & Archive and the Royal Philatelic Collection collaborated on Empire Mail: George V & the GPO at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

Download the Michael Sefi podcast from www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast or subscribe to the BPMA podcast on iTunes.

Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection to speak at BPMA

Marking The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, Michael Sefi, the Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection introduces and discusses aspects of this famous collection at The British Postal Museum & Archive. In his talk on Thursday 23 February he will cover the history of the collection, illustrate some highlights from it and outline the current structure and operation of what is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest stamp collections.

Waterlow’s accepted design for the Colonial Silver Jubilee omnibus (Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen)

Waterlow’s accepted design for the Colonial Silver Jubilee omnibus (Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen)

Highlights featured in the talk include the Post Office Mauritius, the development of the colonial design for King George V’s Silver Jubilee, stamps and artwork from the British Empire, high value stamps, and famous errors such as the Cape of Good Hope “woodblock” error of colour and the stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Falkland Islands, featuring HMS Glasgow instead of HMS Kent.

An example from the British Empire can be seen below. The hand-painted, stamp-sized watercolour was created as artwork for the 1848 Courbould Britannia design. Underneath the image, the painter has written: ‘The engraver, with a magnifying glass (such as I have not) can finish the toe nails rather more’.

1848 Courbould Britannia design

1848 Courbould Britannia design (Image reproduced by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen)

For further information and bookings please see our website.

5th Festival of Stamps postcard now available

A fifth postcard is now available in the popular series promoting the London 2010: Festival of Stamps. This postcard looks at the stamps produced for the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935.

The postcard features a photographic portrait of George V by Vandyk, alongside essays from 1934 that used this image at two different sizes. It also features an essay with an alternative portrait by Bertram Mackennal, which was much preferred by George V. It was this design that was eventually chosen by the King for the issued stamp.

The fifth London 2010: Festival of Stamps postcard, featuring stamps produced for the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935.

The fifth London 2010: Festival of Stamps postcard, featuring stamps produced for the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935.

The stamp was designed by Barnett Freedman, the 33-year old son of Jewish-Russian political refugees. He had grown up in the East End of London, starting work at the age of 15 as a draughtsman to a monumental mason. He studied art at night school and in 1922 won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. As well as the stamps, he produced several posters and other illustrations for the GPO.

Freedman wrote of his design for the Silver Jubilee stamps;

The fundamental idea in designing the Silver Jubilee Commemoration Postage Stamp, was firstly, to obtain an effect of dignity and simplicity:- that the design and the lettering should be clear and legible, so as to give at once the function of the new issue, and that the complete stamp should be essentially classical in character.

Secondly, I have used only the very simplest forms of symbolism, the main themes being the Laurel Leaves and the Olive Branches, the Laurel for Triumph and Reward, and the Olive branch for Peace and Goodwill.

The Royal Crown is depicted in each of the four denominations but the Laurel and Olive branches have been interchanged in various forms, with the addition of the Oakleaf and acorn (symbolical of strength and stability) so that with the difference of each denomination-colour, there is also a subtle change of design, without alteration to the fundamental character of the stamp.

Many of the rejected designs by other artists for a George V Silver Jubilee stamp can be seen on our online catalogue.

The new postcard will be sent out this week free with the BPMA Newsletter to subscribers. It can also be obtained from the BPMA Search Room (Freeling House) and will be available at Autumn Stampex (15-18 September) from the Friends of the BPMA stand.

Limited edition complete sets of London 2010 postcards will be available for purchase later in the year.

BPMA Curator of Philately Douglas Muir will be speaking on the stamp, medal and coinage designs of Bertram Mackennal at the BPMA on 7 October 2010. See our website for details.

King George V Registration Sheets

by Stuart Aitken, Collections Assistant

The entire collection of King George V registration sheets is now fully accessible on our online catalogue. Registration sheets, often imperforate, exist as the very first prints taken from the printing plate for each stamp in sheet form. The collection consists of 1,027 sheets in total.

The reign of King George V (6th May 1910 – 20th January 1936) marked one of the most fascinating eras of British postage stamps; a period of change, progression and vast improvements with stamp production. The King himself was a proud philatelist so it is no great surprise that such diversity and experimentation occurred during this time.

2½d Downey Head 1911

2½d Downey Head 1911

The first King George V stamps, the ½d and 1d Downey Head, released on the 22nd June 1911 to coincide with the King’s coronation, immediately faced a storm of criticism as it was the first time a three-quarter profile of the monarch had been used (up to this stage all Great Britain issues had previously used a side-on profile). It was also argued that the use of a typographed image from a photograph had not been hugely successful. Consequently the Downey Head was replaced in August 1912 by the designs of Bertram Mackennal, which saw a return to the profile head. Since the Downey issues, all Great Britain stamps have used a profile head design.

½d Photogravure 1935

½d Photogravure 1935

In 1934 a new design for definitive issues was introduced which was printed using the Photogravure process. Utilising high-speed production and at a lower cost, these stamps underwent subtle resizing and modifications over the years to allow improvements. Information such as this can be found in the description field of each catalogue entry, along with a scanned section of each sheet.

1d British Empire Exhibition 1924

1d British Empire Exhibition 1924

The first British commemorative stamps were also issued during the reign of King George V to mark the 1924/25 Empire Exhibition at Wembley, featuring a Lion in a striking stance. Following this issue other commemorative issues were subsequently produced to mark the 1929 London Postal Union Congress and the 1935 Silver Jubilee of the King.

Also included in the collection are registration sheets of the high value Seahorse issues, the first ever postage due stamps, colour trials, black proof sheets and official governmental overprints relating to their official use in various British territories outside the UK.

Each catalogue entry in the collection is detailed, comprehensible and provides a great research tool and insight into this unique collection of British registration sheets.

Barnett Freedman, Stephen Tallents and the making of the Jubilee Stamp

by Scott Anthony 

Historians often remember King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 as a jamboree, a day when the British collectively bunked off from the economic, political and social strife that beset the nation between the wars.

The Silver Jubilee stamp designed by Barnett Freedman was central to the popular celebrations. Philately played a large part in King George V’s popular appeal, and by an odd twist of fate Jubilee day fell on the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Penny Black. It was apt that King George’s Jubilee stamp would become one of a long 20th century line of everyday collectables.

Less appreciated now is Freedman’s extraordinary artistic ambition. Freedman’s design utilised then cutting-edge printing techniques to give the stamp something approaching a three dimensional texture, while his use of shading was designed to make it appear as if light was emanating from the King’s head. As well as a sentimental appeal, for contemporaries the stamp had an almost sci-fi attraction that attracted a degree of controversy.

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

“By taking full advantage of the photogravure process and getting a brilliance of effect hitherto unknown in our stamps”, sniffed The Manchester Guardian, “Freedman has sacrificed what is to some an essential quality of design.” In short, when it came to stamps, the newspaper critics of the day where stuck firmly in the flat earth camp.

However, the popular success of the Jubilee stamp marked an important step towards resurrecting the reputation of the lithograph. Artists like Freedman along with Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland believed that the lithograph enabled mass production while keeping the artist in close personal touch with his audience. Something of Freedman’s working methods can be seen in the GPO Film The King’s Stamp. As the rhetoric of the day went, “in the modern age good art should not be the exclusive property of museums”.

Under the direction of Sir Stephen Tallents, Britain’s first public relations officer, the General Post Office had similarly sought to imbue everyday objects with rare aesthetic value. From Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s Day Telegram to Giles Gilbert Scott’s Jubilee Telephone Kiosk to the bright bakelite phones Tallents placed in Victor Saville musicals, Freedman’s stamp was part of a wider upsurge of what might be best described as a brief moment of Civil Service idealism.

Tallents’ triumphant commissions had also finally secured Freedman’s public reputation. Born of Jewish Russian émigrés in the East End of London, Freedman had begun attending night school at St Martins aged 15, while by day working on the design of tombstones (for a stone mason) and then war memorials (for an architect). After winning a London County Council arts scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, Freedman eeked out an existence teaching and designing book covers. Notable successes included Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoir of an Infantryman and several books by Tallents’ friend Walter de la Mere. Indeed, Freedman would later design the Tallents family Christmas card.

The Post Office’s commissions brought Freedman’s methods to a mass national audience and secured the 33 year-old employment from the most far-sighted and prestigious corporate sponsors of modern art in 1930s Britain; London Transport, Shell and Crawford’s advertising agency. Freedman’s exacting style now playfully emphasised the importance of road safety, modern agricultural methods and the importance of beer drinking to sporting success. He also found minor celebrity as the violin player providing the musical accompaniment to William Simonds’ puppet show.

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

Most importantly, Tallents professional patronage sealed an ongoing personal relationship with Freedman. Both were part of a generation for whom the 1935 Jubilee was indeed a rare jamboree, as Britain was buffeted by successive wars and economic crisis. Post-war austerity required Freedman’s acceptance of an ever greater teaching load, the pressures of overwork, stress and relative poverty contributing to his untimely death at the age of 57.

Tallents and Freedman shared an interest in Alfred Stevens, a cult hero of British art typically held up at the time as a victim of Victorian vulgarity and short-sightedness. Amongst their last letters Tallents pointed out to Freedman that the flat (in Canning Place, Kensington) where he designed The Jubilee Stamp was adjacent to the one in which Stevens had designed his ill-fated Wellington monument.

It was a quirky and amused exchange, but Freedman could have been forgiven for thinking that not all the comparisons with the “British Michaelangelo from Blandford Forum” were entirely happy ones.

Many thanks to Jeremy Parrett at the Sir Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University for his assistance with this article.

Scott Anthony is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and author of the BFI Film Classic Night Mail. On 29th October he will be talking about the GPO’s patronage of art, design and film under Tallents at the BPMA.

The GPO Film Unit

From 1933 until its demise in 1940, many now celebrated talents of cinema and the arts worked for the GPO Film Unit. The films produced during the relatively short existence of the Unit had a major impact on British film, especially in relation to documentary film making. Benjamin Britten, W.H Auden, William Coldstream, Humphrey Jennings, Alberto Cavalcanti and John Grierson are just some of the names that appear in the credits.

Night Mail

Night Mail

Made up of a dedicated, largely youthful (Britten was only 22 when he joined in 1935), but badly paid group of individuals the creative impact of the Unit has been immense. The Unit’s existence is credited to Sir Stephen Tallents who transferred it with him when moving from the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), where he had been working to modernise Britain’s image, to the General Post Office (GPO), where he set about doing the same. Tallents retained John Grierson to head up the Unit, and commissioned work from them and other artists as part of an extensive rebranding exercise for the GPO. It was Grierson and later Cavalcanti who were responsible for negotiating many of the complexities of working for a government department. Budgets were small and rigorously enforced to the extent that an overspend on Night Mail (1936) nearly signalled the end of the Unit.

Today the films provide a fascinating insight into the history of communications in the 20th Century and of course, postal history. They include documentary, animation, advertising, public information films, drama-documentary and satirical comedy on a range of subjects, from postal rates to working class pastimes. Some of the films are a reminder of a bygone era and some are still strangely relevant; documenting the difficulties of delivering mail to a flooded village or promoting the Post Office Savings Bank which was secured by government backing in a money sensitive post-depression age.

The films were shown in cinemas and other venues including schools and community halls reaching a very wide audience. As a result of the popularity of stamp collecting The King’s Stamp (1935), commissioned as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations of King George V, is apparently one of the most watched films of all time alongside Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gone with the Wind and King Kong.

There were mixed ambitions behind the unit including using film to advance PR techniques, experimenting with film and sound, and an intent to empower British Citizens with information through film. Grierson’s vision was for a documentary approach to film making where reality was key and where films had a social purpose: ‘It was something altogether new to be looking at ordinary things as if they were extraordinary’. He was later joined by the Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti, who had a reputation for experimenting with sound and music in film and eventually moved on to work at Ealing Studios. The combined presence of Grierson and Cavalcanti led to a hugely innovative period in British film history.

Colour Box

Colour Box

Work by experimental film makers such as Len Lye and Lotte Reiniger meant that the public saw cutting edge film animation used to promote the services of the GPO. Examples include Lye’s 1936 film Rainbow Dance, a film about the Post Office Savings Bank which saw Lye experiment with new ways of using the Gasparcolour film, and Reiniger’s The Torcher (1938). Lye pioneered the technique of painting directly onto film negative in Colour Box (1935), to which he had added a sequence on the introduction of new cheap parcel rates allowing the film to be bought by Grierson for the GPO. This was at a time when colour film was still a novelty so it is hard to imagine what the films must have looked like to audiences at the time.

The influence of contemporary art, especially Surrealism, can be seen in films from the animation Love on the Wing (1938), promoting the new Air Mail service, to N or NW (1937) on the virtues of using the correct post code, although Love on the Wing was later banned by the Postmaster General, who found some of the imagery too ‘Freudian’. Rainbow Dance (1936) was even released in a programme of Surrealist and Avant-Garde films. Cubism was also an influence as was Soviet cinema, as seen in films including Coal Face (1935).

The documentary style saw its high point in the celebrated Night Mail (1936) where the journey of the overnight postal express for Euston to Glasgow is told through the eyes of those who work on the train; making the working man the screen hero. But the realism gives way to drama as the now famous lines of  W H Auden’s poem are read to Britten’s score and the story of those who will receive the mail comes into play with the words ‘This is the Night Mail crossing the border….’.

Grierson’s documentary vision at the Unit gave rise to drama-documentary and the seeds of our modern day soaps can be seen in films including The Saving of Bill Blewitt (1937) – seen as the first ‘story’ documentary – and Men of the Lightship (1940).

Britain Can Take It!

Britain Can Take It!

In 1939 the unit began to document and produce films to support the war effort, creating an often poignant portrait of Britain during the early years of World War Two. Films included Britain Can Take It! (1940), produced to provide US President Roosevelt with help in securing American popular opinion for Britain’s war effort, to Men of the Lightship (1940), which was a dramatic reconstruction of the bombing of the East Dudgeon lightship –significant as lightships and lighthouses had previously been considered neutral. In 1940 the GPO Film Unit became part of the Ministry of Information as the Crown Film Unit and with that the GPO Film Unit was no more.

Some of the films produced by the GPO Film Unit are now available on DVD from our Shop.