Tag Archives: slavery

The Notting Hill Carnival on stamps

The Notting Hill Carnival takes place this Sunday and Monday in West London. Carnival was originally staged in 1959 as a response to the state of race relations in Britain at that time. A decade earlier immigrants from the Caribbean began to arrive in large numbers to fill post-war labour shortages, but this caused resentment amongst some white Britons. Throughout the 1950s white racists and West Indian immigrants clashed, with riots taking place in Notting Hill for four days and nights during the Bank Holiday weekend in 1958.

Four stamps issued in 1998 commemorating the Notting Hill Carnival

Four stamps issued in 1998 commemorating the Notting Hill Carnival

Claudia Jones appeared on a stamp as part of the Women of Distinction issue, 2008

Claudia Jones appeared on a stamp as part of the Women of Distinction issue, 2008

In response, Claudia Jones, a Trindad-born, New York-raised black activist and political campaigner, decided to organise a festival through which white and black Britons could understand each other’s cultures. Originally called Mardi Gras and staged in St Pancras Town Hall, the event moved to the streets of Notting Hill in 1964.

Carnival showcases the music and performance culture of the Caribbean, and in particular that of Trinidad & Tobago. Local African-Caribbean groups form carnival bands and play mas (or masquerade) through the streets of Notting Hill, accompanied by music.

Special First Day of Issue Postmarks which accompanied the Notting Hill Carnival stamps. They show Djembe drums and a Steel drum

Special First Day of Issue Postmarks which accompanied the Notting Hill Carnival stamps. They show Djembe drums and a Steel drum

According to the website of Fox Carnival Band, mas is a performance tradition which dates from the time of slavery:

For the six weeks of the European Carnival, slaves were permitted to dress up and play musical instruments – and they developed clever ways to satirize both their condition and its perpetrators.

Because of this history, the mas is flavoured by memories and traditions from Africa. But it also incorporates elements from Western celebrations, such as Christmas, that African slaves encountered. When East Indians were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers, they too imported their own cultural ingredients.

The sources for our modern mas have come from all over the world! Therefore, playing mas involves different kinds of celebration. Historically, it commemorates the liberation from slavery. Today it celebrates our multi-racial, multi-cultural world. Playing mas also honours both teamwork and self-expression.

To play mas, bands of people don costumes or paint their bodies. They dance in the streets to the musics of calypso, soca, reggae and sound systems. The biggest mas bands offer lavish presentations, each of which revolves around a chosen theme. A mas may celebrate heroic feats from history, offer satire or make political commentary. Or it may simply try to be the most beautiful.

Trinidad Carnival Dancers on a stamp issued to commemorate the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965. (Designers: David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease)

Trinidad Carnival Dancers on a stamp issued to commemorate the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965. (Designers: David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease)

Claudia Jones died in 1964 but her work in creating greater understanding between native and immigrant cultures in Britain was a resounding success. Carnival is now one of the biggest events held in Europe, attracting more than a million visitors each year.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. The theme for IWD 2010 is “Equal rights, equal opportunities, progress for all”, so in celebration here’s a look at how female equality campaigners have been represented on British stamps. 

50th anniversary of Votes for Women stamp (1968)

50th anniversary of Votes for Women stamp (1968)

Fittingly, the first woman commemorated on a British stamp was suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, as part of a 1968 commemorative celebrating the 50th anniversary of Votes for Women.

Within our Archive we hold all artwork submitted for the 1968 Votes for Women stamp. The issued stamp was designed by Clive Abbot, and is based on a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst which was erected in Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Palace of Westminster. However, the instructions to the artists invited to submit designs for this stamp (Abbott, M.C. Farrar-Bell, David Gentleman and Jeffrey Matthews of Harrison & Sons) had something very different in mind.

It was suggested that the stamp have “a shadowy background of the House of Commons with a pictorial representation of two women, one in 1918 dress, the other in 1968 dress, dropping their votes in a ballot box”. Two designs along these lines were submitted by M.C. Farrar-Bell, but were rejected.

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by M.C. Farrar-Bell

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by M.C. Farrar-Bell

Jeffrey Matthews submitted a design which differed slightly from the instructions, incorporating the House of Commons and a ballot box, but also a laurel wreath, a symbol of the Women’s Social & Political Union and of victory, and a scroll motif suggestive of the banners, flags, and sashes of the suffragettes.

Clive Abbott and David Gentleman both submitted designs based on this famous photograph showing Emmeline Pankhurst’s arrest at a protest. Gentleman also submitted another design, based on a photograph such as this (there are many similar photographs showing suffragettes with sandwich boards), but this was also rejected. (We’ll be making more of the artwork from this issue available in the future as part of the Stamp Artwork Project.)

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by David Gentleman

Unadopted design for Votes for Women stamp by David Gentleman

Emmeline Pankhurst and the theme of women’s rights have been celebrated several times more on British stamps, in 1999, as part of The Citizen’s Tale issue, in 2006, when a portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst was used as part of the National Portrait Gallery issue, and, as long time readers of this blog will remember, in 2008 when Millicent Garrett Fawcett, suffragist and wife of former Postmaster General Henry Fawcett, appeared on the Women of Distinction issue.

A trio of women's suffrage stamps

A trio of women's suffrage stamps: Votes for Women stamp (1999), Emmeline Pankhurst portrait (2006) and Millicent Garrett Fawcett stamp (2008)

The Women of Distinction issue also featured Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman to become a Doctor in Britain and the first female Mayor in England, family planning pioneer Marie Stopes, Member of Parliament and women’s rights campaigner Eleanor Rathbone, black political activist Claudia Jones, who organised the first Notting Hill Carnival, and Barbara Castle who piloted the equal pay act.

Women of Distinction presentation pack (2008)

Women of Distinction presentation pack (2008)

Elizabeth Fry stamp from the Social Reformers issue (1976)

Elizabeth Fry stamp from the Social Reformers issue (1976)

Hannah More stamp from Aboltion of the Slave Trade issue (2007)

Hannah More stamp from Aboltion of the Slave Trade issue (2007)

Other female equality campaigners who have been represented on stamps include the champion of women prisoners Elizabeth Fry, whose work was commemorated as part of the Social Reformers issue of 1976 (designed by David Gentleman), and poet and campaigner Hannah More, who appeared on a stamp released in 2007 as part of the Abolition of the Slave Trade issue. More’s anti-slavery poems are considered to some of the most important written during the abolitionist period, and part of one of them, The Sorrows of Yamba, can be seen in the background of the Hannah More commemorative stamp.

The most recent female equality campaigners to appear on British stamps were pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and Judy Fryd, founder of Mencap and campaigner for mentally handicapped children, who both appeared in last year’s Eminent Britons issue.

From the Eminent Britons stamp issue (2009): Mary Wollstonecraft and Judy Fryd

From the Eminent Britons stamp issue (2009): Mary Wollstonecraft and Judy Fryd

A visit to Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Project Manager 

The exterior of the Museum of London Docklands, a former dock side warehouse completed in 1802.

External view of the Museum of London Docklands

Earlier this week I visited the Museum of London Docklands to see their new exhibition, Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world. This is the first exhibition to open this year as part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

The Museum is located in a former warehouse in West India Quay. Completed in 1802, West India Quay was the largest dock complex in the world, through which most of the nation’s sugar was imported. The sugar was produced on slave farms in the West Indies and the museum devotes an entire gallery – the London, Sugar and Slavery Gallery – to examining the transatlantic slave trade.

Visitors viewing the display Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world at Museum of London Docklands

Visitors viewing the display

It is in this gallery that you can see the new temporary display, Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world, until 30 June 2010. The display explores how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through the everyday postage stamp.

It’s a fascinating look at the different approaches taken by different countries and how these have changed over time, since Sierra Leone issued the first stamp to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1933.

Four drawings by students show scenes of slavery and slave ships, as well designs for commemorating Freedom From Slavery

Drawings by Barnet College students

I enjoyed finding out more about some of the differences in the images and symbols used on stamps that were issued by former slave colonies as opposed to countries like Britain and America. It was also interesting to see how, while these stamps have often depicted those involved with bringing about the end of slavery, more recently there is a shift from showing the public figures involved (like Abraham Lincoln) to those who struggled personally to end enslavement, like Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian revolutionary.

The final section contained designs by students at Barnet College, developing their own ideas about how abolition should be commemorated on stamps.

The Museum of Docklands and this display are well worth a visit. There are also two free talks about the collection, details of which are on the London 2010: Festival of Stamps website.

Three of the people who helped make the exhibition happen:  (left to right) Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History, Nigel Sadler, Sands of Time Consultancy who loaned the stamps in the exhibition, Lucie Fitton, Inclusion Officer, Museum of London.

Three of the people who helped make the exhibition happen: (left to right) Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History, Nigel Sadler, Sands of Time Consultancy who loaned the stamps in the exhibition, Lucie Fitton, Inclusion Officer, Museum of London.

Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world

The first event on the London 2010: Festival of Stamps calendar opens today at the Museum of London Docklands. This new display can be found in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery, and looks at how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through postage stamps from the 1930s onwards.

A 1963 US stamp depicting a broken chain and the words "Emacipation Proclamation", produced to celebrate 100 years since the abolition of slavery.

1963 US stamp celebrating the abolition of slavery

Post Abolition is created in partnership with the Sands of Time Consultancy. It features over 30 designs, together with new stamps created by students from Barnet College as part of a community project with the Museum.  Key stamps in the display include a 1965 Jamaican stamp marking Paul Bogle and the Morant Bay uprising. Also featured are the ‘Black Heritage’ series of stamps launched in 1978 by the US Postal Service featuring Harriet Tubman, known as the Moses of her people for helping men and women escape from the American slave states.

Tom Wareham, Curator at the Museum of London Docklands, said: “The great thing about these stamps is that they are not just miniature works of art, they also convey what the abolition of slavery has come to mean to people in different parts of the world. This display highlights the subtle messages and symbolism often contained within the designs.”

Nigel Sadler from the Sands of Time Consultancy said: “These stamps feature people who fought for freedom, rebellion leaders who died for independence together with iconic images of emancipation and life on the plantations. Stamps providing a history of slavery and its abolition commemoration are a rare sight in museum exhibitions. Sands of Time Consultancy is pleased to have been able to support the Museum of London Docklands with this display to coincide with London 2010: Festival of Stamps.”

The exhibition runs from 18 January – 30 June 2010. There are also a number of related events taking place. For more details on opening times and how to get there, please visit the Museum of London Docklands website.

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.