05 April 2018
We look at the inspiration behind the King Edward VIII definitives of 1936 and reveal the identity of a young designer who received little credit or remuneration when the stamps were issued
It was the day after the death of King George V on 20 January, 1936 that the Post Office received its first enquiry about stamps for the reign of King Edward VIII – it came from the Australian Post Office, wishing to put into motion its new designs.
From the British Post Office perspective, some decisions were quickly reached.
A priority should be to provide new stamps in values up to one shilling, and these would be regarded as an ‘Accession’ issue.
Subsequently work would begin on designing a Coronation set (on which the King was keen), to be followed by a ‘permanent’ issue. It was also agreed the stamps would be printed by photogravure: for this it was felt best that a photographic portrait of the King be used.
Finally, it was decided not to invite several artists to submit ideas as hitherto this had only created its own problems. Instead the stamp printers, Harrison and Sons, were invited to produce ideas, as was the Chief of the Engineering Department GPO Drawing Office, Mr AS Willmot.
Designs were also submitted by the public.
Particularly significant was the approach made by Hubert J Brown, a seventeen-year-old schoolboy from Torquay, who wrote to the Postmaster General on 13 February asking if he could submit a design.
Receiving agreement he sent a pencil drawing, ten times stamp size, and a stamp-size photographic reproduction, on 1 April, following it up with an improved submission on 4 April.
His design used a simple approach, with a central portrait of the King, the denomination in figures in the top left, the Crown in the top right, the value in words along the bottom, and ‘POSTAGE’ and ‘REVENUE’ at the left and right respectively: it was admired within the Post Office and forwarded to Harrisons.
The printers slightly modified Brown’s design, adding a photograph of the King by Hugh Cecil that had been selected for use on the new stamps, producing a bromide of the result which was shown, along with others, to the King. The King favoured the Brown-inspired approach.
However, the Post Office was clearly reluctant to acknowledge the inspiration behind the issued stamps. Indeed a note was produced: ‘We are quite entitled to say that we have not adopted Mr Brown’s design, and there is no difficulty in demonstrating that the main feature which had been adopted, namely the crown balancing the figure of value, is by no means new.
At the same time, Mr Brown deserves much credit for his suggestion and I feel it would be only right he should have some expression of appreciation before he sees the new stamps in circulation.’ In fact the Post Office had not appreciated that Mr Brown was a schoolboy: enquiries had determined that ‘He is a retired man, of middle age in comfortable circumstances with a nice car, but no telephone. It seems hardly appropriate in the circumstances to offer monetary recognition.’
A letter was sent to the supposed designer:
‘Stamps of the new reign will appear shortly and you will see that the design which has been selected bears some features in common with that which you suggested.’ The reply dated 1 September read: ‘It is a matter of gratification to me as well as to my son… to find that so many of his suggestions have been embodied in the new stamp which is issued today… My son has made a study of the various processes, and had in mind the production of a stamp by the photogravure process.’
The Post Office gave no recognition to Hubert Brown; the philatelic press disclosed the truth in January 1937, resulting in national press coverage.
Images courtesy of the British Postal Museum & Archive, copyright Royal Mail.