06 March 2013
The first high value stamps of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign have been popular with GB stamp collectors for years, as the latest in our Classic British Stamps articles reveals
When King George VI died on 6 February, 1952, the existing set of high value stamps had been in circulation for less than a year. The Postmaster General, therefore, felt that there was no great urgency to issue a set for the new monarch, and he preferred ‘to take as much time as was necessary rather than issue stamps which were less than first-class’.
Thus, the first high value stamps of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign - popularly known as the ‘Castles’ - were first issued in September 1955: the 10s and £1 values on 1 September, and the 2s 6d and 5s three weeks later on the 23rd.
More than a dozen artists had been invited to submit ideas for the new stamps and around 64 designs were received.
However, the Council of Industrial Design’s stamp advisory panel was generally disappointed with them, so it was decided to focus on the Castle theme and commence a fresh competition which was limited to a few artists who were known for their ability in small landscape drawing.
Instructions and invitations for the new competition were sent out on 31 July 1953.
Eventually, Lynton Lamb’s ‘broken grotto’ frame was selected, and the four castles, derived from specially-taken photographs, were incorporated.
The castles chosen were:
• 2s 6d Carrickfergus;
• 5s Caernarvon
• 10s Edinburgh
• £1 Windsor.
While the overall designs were being developed, Waterlow had been working on the engraved head of The Queen, based on the Wilding portrait on the recently-issued 2½d definitive.
After a long process of fine-tuning and revision, colour proofs of the complete stamps were sent to The Queen on 27 June 1955 and approved soon after.
The stamps were initially printed by Waterlow by the intaglio process (also known as recess printing and line-engraving). Later, both De La Rue and Bradbury Wilkinson printed the stamps, thus producing a very interesting issue for the specialist collector.
The original intention was to print each stamp in two colours, one for the frame and portrait and another for the castle vignette, but in the event they were each printed in a single colour: brown, red, blue and black for the respective values 2s 6d to £1.