Tag Archives: Sotheby’s

Countdown to Sotheby’s: George VI stamps

On 11 July the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) will be selling 191 lots of surplus, duplicate philatelic material at Sotheby’s auction house. The proceeds of the sale will support the significant fundraising efforts currently being undertaken by the BPMA to deliver an important new postal museum and archive in Central London. In this blog Alison Bean, Web Officer at The British Postal Museum & Archive, chooses her favourite lots.

Most of the lots in The British Postal Museum & Archive auction are stamps from the reign of King George VI. All of this material comes from registration sheets, which were an official record (normally imperforate) taken from the beginning of the print run. Other than the fact that they are imperforate and have various manuscript or typescript markings they are exactly the same as the issued stamps. Some were registered at Somerset House, then the home of the Inland Revenue (the department of British government responsible for taxation), and the rest came to be held in the Royal Mail Archive. It is duplicates of the officially archived registration material that we are selling in this auction.

While this material is interesting from a philatelic perspective it’s the designs of the low value definitives that most excite me. Produced between 1937 and 1947 these stamps are a dazzling riot of colours and patterns displayed as a collage in Sotheby’s auction catalogue.

Pages from Sotheby’s auction catalogue, showing Lot 46 – 1937-47 ½d to 1s, set of 16 vertical marginal blocks, estimated at £120,000-£150,000.

Pages from Sotheby’s auction catalogue, showing Lot 46 – 1937-47 ½d to 1s, set of 16 vertical marginal blocks, estimated at £120,000-£150,000.

The stamps were designed by two artists, Edmund Dulac and Eric Gill. Dulac is responsible for the portrait of The King, and in the BPMA collection we hold his original plaster model.

Plaster model of King George VI’s head, by Edmund Dulac.

Plaster model of King George VI’s head, by Edmund Dulac.

King Edward VIII 2½d stamp.

King Edward VIII 2½d stamp.

As with the portrait on the stamps of King Edward VIII, King George VI’s portrait is simple and striking. Yet in Dulac’s portrait George VI is shown as benevolent, almost smiling, while in Hugh Cecil’s portrait of Edward VIII The King seems more severe, almost sad.

It’s questionable whether one portrait can portray a person’s character, but it’s difficult not draw a connection between the anger and sadness in Edward VIII’s face, and his difficult decision to abdicate to be with the woman he loved, American divorcee Wallis Simpson. By contrast, George VI, who is usually framed by history as a reluctant King, looks every bit the regal figure as rendered by Dulac.

King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

Eric Gill, possibly better known for designing the Gill Sans typeface, designed one of the frames which surround the King’s head on the George VI definitive stamps. This incorporates the Crown and floral symbols of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and makes use of Gill’s Perpetua font for the words “POSTAGE REVENUE” and the denomination.

Lot 191 - 6d stamp from a collection of King George VI issues, estimated at £75,000-£100,000.

Lot 191 – 6d stamp from a collection of King George VI issues, estimated at £75,000-£100,000.

Dulac designed another frame, hexagonal in shape, which was used on the higher denominations. These stamps are printed in a number of vivid colours, including turquoise-blue, bright carmine and emerald-green.

Detail of Lot 47 - King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

Detail of Lot 47 – King George VI, 1937-47, 8d bright carmine example from unique set of 17 horizontal marginal Registration blocks, estimated at £400,000-£500,000.

While many of his subjects knew that George VI was a shy man with a severe stammer who loathed public speaking, the design of these stamps gives no clues to that. Dulac’s simple hexagonal border presents George VI as a strong leader, with the dark background and the thick border making him the focus of the design.

Please visit Sotheby’s sale page to find out more about the lots on offer.

Countdown to Sotheby’s: Rare and colourful – the King Edward VIII accession issue

On 11 July the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) will be selling 191 lots of surplus, duplicate philatelic material at Sotheby’s auction house. The proceeds of the sale will support the significant fundraising efforts currently being undertaken by the BPMA to deliver an important new postal museum and archive in Central London. In this blog Julia Lee, Assistant Editor at Stamp Magazine gives her thoughts on the auction.

I’m very excited about the Sotheby’s sale. It will be the first major sale I’ve been to since the Sir Gawaine Baillie sale, and I can’t wait to see what some of this material goes for. And, of course, to write screaming headlines about it.

The BPMA asked me to pick an item to talk about, and while the journalist in me wants to highlight the most expensive, it’s the King Edward VIII 2 1/2d registration sheet that I’d buy if I had the chance.

Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

In fact, King Edward VIII helped me get the job as Assistant Editor on Stamp Magazine. ‘What happened with his stamps?’ I wondered in the interview.

Now I know the answer. A set of four stamps was issued in September 1936, at a time when, even though there was a voluntary press blackout on King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson‘s relationship, the General Post Office must have known a constitutional crisis was looming. In fact, three months later, in December, the GPO was asked by the Cabinet Office to bug the King’s phones.

The stamps’ simplicity and the very obvious break with the previous florid tradition appeals to me. They’re also very much of their time, with the clean styling of head, crown and value.

The 2½d bright blue registration sheet makes a real impact on the page. We didn’t have space to put it in our June issue, but I wish we had. It’s a great colour – far better than any bistre or olive-green!

Detail of Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

Detail of Lot 18: King Edward VIII registration block of 48 (2½d value, blue), estimated at £100,000-120,000.

And while all postal history of any kind tells a story, Edward VIII’s references a very specific period in British history. Almost anyone you show the stamps to will grasp their significance immediately and ask you whether or not they were issued.

Like all the best stamps, it provides an easy way to suck people into the historical and social stories philatelists know are lying under the surface of our hobby.

Please visit Sotheby’s sale page to find out more about the lots on offer. And don’t forget to follow Stamp Magazine on Twitter!

Countdown to Sotheby’s: Tides of change, the King George V “Seahorse” issues

On 11 July the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) will be selling 191 lots of surplus, duplicate philatelic material at Sotheby’s auction house. The proceeds of the sale will support the significant fundraising efforts currently being undertaken by the BPMA to deliver an important new postal museum and archive in Central London. In this blog Harry Huskisson, communications manager at the BPMA explains why the King George V “Seahorse” Issues are his favourite item from the sale.

I cannot admit to being an expert when it comes to the technical ins and outs of stamps. As fresh meat to the philatelic scene knowing the difference between perforate and imperforate is pretty much as good as it gets.

But that doesn’t mean stamps don’t interest me, even if I wouldn’t class myself as a philatelist. What amazes me is their design and the stories they can tell – the implicit or explicit moment in time that they represent. For both those reasons I’ve picked the George V Seahorse issue as my stamp of choice from the lots on offer at Sotheby’s on July 11.

Lot 7: King George V, 1934. Re-engraved set of 3 marginal singles (2s6d example). Estimated at £5,000-£6,000.

Lot 7: King George V, 1934. Re-engraved set of 3 marginal singles (2s6d example). Estimated at £5,000-£6,000.

Even at first glance it’s hard to ignore the sheer beauty, complexity and power of this stamp. Purely on an aesthetic level you can’t fail to appreciate the intricacies of the design and the hours the engraver must have spent bent double perfecting each individual element.

But what I love most is the powerful history this stamp can tell. Although the lots on sale date from 1915-1934, the “Seahorse” Issues first appeared in 1913, and appear to give an interesting insight into the national psyche during a period of rapid change and threat to the British Empire. The stamps picture Britannia all-powerful, defiant and in command of the turbulent sea. First produced at a time of heightened Anglo-German naval tension and major advancements in maritime technology, it represents a Britain that is either oblivious to – or desperately trying to hide the realisation of – what lies just around the corner, the cataclysm of mechanised warfare and the beginning of the end as the world’s greatest colonial power.

In my opinion, it is a unique insight into a country making a concerted effort to portray itself in a certain light to its subjects and its rivals, perhaps not completely unaware but neither completely aware of the shifting tides on the European continent. It screams power, and almost seems to goad its nearest rivals with its overt reference to naval might. Affixed to packages disseminated across the globe from the hub of the Empire not just throughout the First World War but up to the outbreak of the Second World War, this stamp would have been seen further afield than the British colonies, and could even be seen as a small piece of propaganda.

This stamp does not, perhaps, lend much to the arguments around Empire and Britain’s position on the world stage during the first half of the 20th Century, but it does offer a unique insight, as does so much in the BPMA’s collection, into Britain’s social history.

Lot 4: Complete sheet of the 1923 Bradbury Wilkinson 10s 'Seahorse' design, printed on 'Joynson' paper. Estimated at £100,000-120,000, it is extremely rare since no other examples exist on the philatelic market.

Lot 4: Complete sheet of the 1923 Bradbury Wilkinson 10s ‘Seahorse’ design, printed on ‘Joynson’ paper. Estimated at £100,000-120,000, it is extremely rare since no other examples exist on the philatelic market.

Detail of Lot 4 (above).

Detail of Lot 4 (above).

Please visit Sotheby’s sale page to find out more about the lots on offer.

Historic Duplicate Stamp Sale to Benefit New Home for The British Postal Museum & Archive

  • Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA)
  • Important sale, estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million, will support a spectacular new home for the British Postal Museum & Archive, set to open in early 2016
  • State-of-the-art centre will represent an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape, showcasing the BPMA’s world-class collections and celebrating a unique aspect of British heritage
  • New museum will serve as a key cultural hub as part of a major regeneration scheme in Camden & Islington

On 11th July 2013 Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring surplus duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive. The auction will provide essential funds for a state-of-the-art new home for the BPMA, representing an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape when it opens in 2016.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

New Home for Britain’s Postal History

Described by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as “a national treasure of global importance”, the BPMA is the leading resource for all aspects of British postal heritage. It cares for the visual and written records of 400 years of British postal, social and design history, comprising over 60,000 artefacts and 2.5 miles of archives. Together, the collections and archive tell a fascinating human story of British communication, industry and innovation, illuminating and celebrating a unique and integral part of the nation’s heritage.

Under a scheme endorsed by the Government and backed by Britain’s leading heritage organisations, the BPMA is planning a new Postal Museum and Archive to provide a first class home for its archive and collections, which are currently held in storage and largely inaccessible to the general public. The new centre will be situated in Calthorpe House, in the London Borough of Camden, adjoining the country’s oldest mail centre at Mount Pleasant.

World-class Archive and Collections

As well as featuring a purpose-built archive repository, the new Postal Museum and Archive will feature spectacular exhibition spaces to showcase the BPMA’s archive and collections, which range from postal vehicles to pillar boxes, staff records, posters, photographs, uniforms, weapons and the world’s greatest collection of British stamps.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Highlights include every British stamp issued from 1840 to the present day; original evidence from the Great Train Robbery trial; the world’s first commercial Christmas card produced in 1843; a 1930s art-deco Mobile Post Office; Valentine’s Day cards dating from c. 1790; telegrams relating to the Titanic disaster; weapons used to protect the mail against theft or piracy; a digital Oral History collection recounting the personal stories of hundreds of current and retired postal staff from around Britain; a first edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, intercepted in the post for being obscene; uniforms of Victorian River Postmen; a Travelling Post Office railway coach; films produced by the iconic GPO film unit; telegrams sent by the royal family; medals awarded to Post Office Employees including a rare Victoria Cross; and posters, prints and paintings by celebrated artists including Edward Bawden, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

Understanding and celebrating Britain’s postal heritage and wider social history

The new Postal Museum and Archive will feature a state-of-the-art education centre and extensive research facilities, designed to encourage school children, students and the wider public to learn from and be inspired by postal heritage in all its depth and context. The new education space will increase the BPMA’s annual educational engagement from 2,000 to 12,000 pupils, representing a 600% increase on its current offering.

Key examples of how the BPMA’s collections reflect Britain’s social history:

  • In 1840 the launch of the Penny Black, the world’s first prepaid stamp, encouraged people to write and became a vehicle for education, friendship and commerce
  • The opening of Post Office Savings Bank backed by the Government in 1861 encouraged people of all walks of life to save money safely and to help combat debt
  • W. Reginald Bray became the first ‘human letter’ when he posted himself, later emulated by two suffragettes who attempted to have themselves delivered to Downing Street
  • During WW1 the Post Office co-ordinated all army mail and by 1918 had 22,000 pigeons carrying messages to the front
  • In 1943 the world’s first programmable electronic computer was built by the GPO’s Tommy Flowers, helping to break many German encrypted codes during WW2

Mail Rail: London’s Best Kept Secret

As an added visitor attraction, the BPMA is exploring plans to convert a section of Mail Rail, the former underground Post Office railway network. Introduced in 1927 and operational until 2003, Mail Rail was the world’s first driverless electrified railway, which revolutionised the delivery of mail in the UK. To this day it remains the world’s only dedicated underground mail transport system, representing an important and largely unseen element of Britain’s industrial heritage.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Subject to sufficient funding, the Mail Rail depot at Mount Pleasant will be transformed into an immersive visitor centre, introducing a fascinating 15 minute ride on the Mail Rail network on newly-designed trains through the existing tunnels.

Benefitting the local area and contributing to an improved sense of community

Bridging the boroughs of Camden and Islington, the new Postal Museum and Archive will serve as an important cultural hub and community resource. As well as offering cultural and training opportunities for young people, the BPMA will organise out-of-school cultural opportunities and strong community outreach programmes, contributing to a vibrant Camden and Islington.

Historic Stamp Sale

The project to develop the new Postal Museum and Archive will cost approximately £22 million and a fundraising campaign is currently underway, with considerable support from Royal Mail and Post Office Limited. Other funding is in place from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from the BPMA itself.

As part of the fundraising campaign, the BPMA is pursuing two sales of surplus duplicate philatelic material currently held in its custody though not part of its accessioned collections. The historic auctions will take place at Sotheby’s, which held the first ever stamp auction in Europe in 1872. The first sale, held on 11th July 2013, will comprise 191 lots and is estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said:

Since we first announced our project to open a new first class home for Britain’s postal heritage in London last year we have received widespread support, and following last month’s announcement of this sale it has been great to receive encouragement from those who want to play their part in our fundraising campaign by participating in the auction. The BPMA’s collections are of the utmost richness in iconic British heritage and engaging personal stories, and from family historians to families who want to immerse themselves in something new as part of a day out in London, our new centre offers something sparkling with fascination and enjoyment for everyone. It will safeguard all our collections into the future, and by taking up the chance to own the rare philatelic specimens on offer at Sotheby’s, all potential buyers can feel proud that they are helping to safeguard the originals, and all our world class collections, from Penny Blacks to packet ship records, for the nation and the world to enjoy.