Tag Archives: Supermarine Spitfire

By Air, Land and Sea, The Battles of Britain

October 2015 marks 600 years since the Battle of Agincourt, a major English victory in the Hundred Years War. It saw the superiority of English archers defeat the French knights, leading to a unification of the two countries.

Stamps are an expressive way to remember and commemorate historic battles and I have chosen just a few to document the terrains of war faced by the British throughout history. First we will focus on land.

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008) Henry V (1413-22)

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008)

Henry V’s men were greatly outnumbered at Agincourt, however the narrow battleground prevented large scale manoeuvres benefiting the English. Their innovative use of the longbow also kept the progressing French at bay. The defeated French Knights can be seen in the below stamp taken from the illuminated manuscript ‘The Vigil of Charles VII’ c.1484. 

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008) Battle of Agincourt, 1415 Henry V's Triumph

The Houses of Lancaster and York 1st Stamp (2008) Battle of Agincourt, 1415 Henry V’s Triumph

After the battle Henry married the French King’s daughter Catherine of Valois and their children were acknowledged as heirs to the throne. It was their son Henry VI who would become King of both England and France.

The Houses of Lancaster and York 54p Stamp (2008) Henry VI (1422-61 & 1470-71)

The Houses of Lancaster and York 54p Stamp (2008)

As an island nation we have always been under threat from invasion by sea. The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 saw 27 British ships defeat 33 of the combined forces of France and Spain. It was here that Admiral Lord Nelson’s unorthodox tactics confirmed British Naval supremacy.

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 68p Stamp (2005)

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 68p Stamp (2005)

Nelson decided that instead of attacking the enemy ships parallel, which awarded a greater target area, he would attack straight on. By moving two smaller groups forward perpendicular to the enemy he was able to split their line. This formation can be seen in the above stamp from 2005.

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 1st Stamp (2005)

Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1st issue) 1st Stamp (2005)

Though a tremendous victory, it saw the death of Nelson who was mortally wounded aboard his ship the HMS Victory. This event was immortalized in numerous paintings like the one depicted in the stamp above. Nelson’s body was brought back to England in a cask of brandy, where he was honoured with a state funeral.

Maritime Hertiage 24p Stamp (1982) Lord Nelson and HMS Victory

Maritime Heritage 24p Stamp (1982)

With the advancements in technology the new danger to the nation came from the sky. 2015 also celebrates the 75th Anniversary of The Battle of Britain, the first campaign to be fought predominately in the air. Below you can see an image of ‘The Few’, the name given to the boys who defended their country.

The Battle of Britain £1.33 Stamp (2015)

The Battle of Britain £1.33 Stamp (2015)

In the stamps below you can see the Supermarine Spitfire designed by Reginald Mitchell. The aircraft was light, quick and a match for the Lufwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf 109. Although Hawker Hurricanes were used predominately by the RAF, it was the Spitfire that became the iconic symbol of British defence.

Architects of the Air 20p Stamp (1997) Reginald Mitchell and Supermarine Spitfire MkIIA

Architects of the Air 20p Stamp (1997)

1st, Supermarine Spitfire by R.J.Mitchell from Design Classics (2009)

1st, Supermarine Spitfire by R.J.Mitchell from Design Classics (2009)

The Hawker Hurricane can be seen in the below stamp accompanied by Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding. Dowding played a huge role in the success of the Battle of Britain as the Head of RAF Fighter Command. It was here that all information was collected and decisions made, ultimately winning the battle.

Royal Air Force 17p Stamp (1986) Lord Dowding and Hawker Hurricane Mk. I

Royal Air Force 17p Stamp (1986)

Throughout history Britain has been at war. The stamps displayed here celebrate the dedication of those who took part and the lives of the men and women lost in the conflicts. Through the medium of stamps we can circulate a message of national remembrance.

-Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

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?