350th anniversary of the Royal Society stamps


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18 June 2010
Royal Mail’s second set of stamps for February features ten of the world’s most eminent scientists whose inventions and theories, including electricity, computers and the laws of gravity, changed the world forever. ...

A new set of ten stamps from Royal Mail honours some of the UK’s top scientists, to coincide with the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, the country’s national academy of science. The stamps feature a radical split-stamp design, which pairs black and white portraits of the scientists with colourful imagery representing their achievements.  This idea came from Hat-Trick Design, who created the 2009 Darwin ‘jigsaw’ stamps.

History of the Royal Society

The Royal Society was founded on 28 November, 1660, following more than ten years of meetings between members of what was called ‘the secret college’. This was a group of natural philosophers who met each week to carry out scientific experiments. When it became clear that the monarch, Charles II, approved of the college, the members decided to make their meetings official, and the Royal Society was founded.
In choosing which ten scientists to honour on the anniversary stamps, Royal Mail had more than 1,000 former Fellows of the Royal Society to consider. Experts from the Society worked with Royal Mail to make the selection, and the nine men and one woman chosen cover the full 350 years of the Society’s existence, and represent several different branches of science.

Scientists featured on Royal Society stamps

The subject of the first stamp, Robert Boyle, is known as one of the founding fathers of chemistry. He formulated Boyles Law and is the author of The Sceptical Chymist, one of the key texts of this branch of science.
Another early scientist who made Royal Mail’s final ten is Sir Isaac Newton, who is perhaps the best known of the group. Sir Isaac’s work on the laws of gravity and motion were to influence the way science developed in the following centuries. The 300th anniversary of his work Principia Mathematica was marked by a set of four stamps in 1987.
Four of the scientists featured in the set have previously appeared on stamps. Benjamin Franklin, born in 1706, was one of the Founding Fathers of America. His inventions included the lightning rod and the Franklin Stove. He also appeared on an 11p US Bicentenary stamp, issued in 1976.
Edward Jenner, inventor of the smallpox vaccine, was first featured on a 20p Patients Tale stamp in 1999. His contemporary, Charles Babbage, was the first person to come up with a theory of a programmable computer. The sixth scientist featured in the set is Alfred Russel Wallace, who worked with Charles Darwin on the theory of evolution, and is credited with inspiring Darwin to publish his ground-breaking papers on the concept of evolution.
The final four stamps are devoted to scientists who lived during the twentieth century. Joseph Lister was a surgeon who promoted the idea of sterlising medical instruments before and after surgical procedures. Lister’s discovery of antiseptic surgery was recognised in a set of two stamps, issued in 1965.
Former Royal Society President Ernest Rutherford is the man credited with the first splitting of the atom, in 1917, and is known as the father of nuclear physics. Dorothy Hodgkin, the first female Briton to win a Nobel Prize, is the only female scientist to feature on this set of stamps. 2010 is the centenary of her birth, and she previously appeared on a 20p Famous Women stamp in 1998.
The final stamp features Sir Ernest Shackleton, British geologist and climatologist who died in 2006. He became known for his work on climate change, a subject which looks set to preoccupy scientists well into the current century.