11 November 2017
Find out more about the King George VI brown 2s 6d stamp issued in 1939 as Britain went to war
The King George VI brown 2s 6d stamp issued in 1939 was one of three higher values (2s 6d; 5s 0d; 10s 0d) engraved for recess and printed during the early months of the Second World War by Waterlow & Sons. A colour change to yellow-green for this value was made in March 1942, perhaps necessitated by wartime difficulties with ink supplies.
What’s so special about this stamp?
The 2s 6d went on sale on 3 September, 1939, the day after Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went on BBC radio to tell the British people that we had declared war on Germany.
For almost six months prior to the issue date letters had arrived in the post from Germany carrying a stamp that celebrated the Fuhrer’s fiftieth birthday (April 13, 1939) and depicted him in an army greatcoat and peaked cap, with a Nazi flag fluttering from a building in the background.
Fortuitously Edward Dulac’s magnificent patriotic design for the GB 2s 6d and 5s 0d provided a bold response to Germany’s belligerence.
Britain’s stamp displayed our King’s head above the royal arms with lion and unicorn to left and right, and value figures in the top corners. Philatelic commentators regarded it as probably the finest stamp issued by our country since 1840.
A sole and slight disappointment lay in the cost of buying one from a local post office.
Few average citizens posting their two ounce letters for the cost of a three-halfpenny stamp would have come face-to-face with Dulac’s stirring halfcrown emblems; the majority of these higher values were probably used on parcels, telegrams, special deliveries, or obscure official correspondence.
Thankfully newspapers printed enlarged images of the stamps so that even odd folk who did not collect stamps knew what the new issues looked like, and felt proud that mail carrying the stamps criss-crossed the country at the height of the Blitz.
Why was this set issued in 1939?
These were the first higher values of the reign; and nothing higher than a 2½d had appeared during Edward VIII’s short occupation of the throne. In fact we have to go back to George V and the final year of the First World War for higher value issues. Supplies must have been running low by 1939.
How many varieties are there?
Advanced collectors take a keen interest in minor varieties such as re-entries (additional printing marks on a stamp due to a second pass through the printing process); and tiny flaws, or signs of retouching.
Beginners can conveniently leave them all for another day and concentrate on acquiring the best used or mint 2s 6d within their price range.
An example of the 1942 yellow-green stamp always looks attractive alongside the 1939 brown.
Funds permitting, a set of all six colour and value varieties as seen in one of our illustrations would make a superb display, whether used or mint.
Issue date: 4 September 1939 for the 2s 6d.
Reign: King George VI
It is clear from contemporary newspaper columns that readers took a keen interest in the postage stamps on sale at their local post offices. Here for example, is what the
Birmingham Mail had to say on 18 August 1939: The Postmaster-General announces that 5s postage stamps of a new design, bearing the head of His Majesty will go on sale at provincial post offices on Monday next. The new stamp, which differs in shape from the 5s of George V, is of an heraldic design which stands out in light tones against a uniform dark red background. The lower portion of the stamp is occupied by the Royal Arms, supported by the Lion and Unicorn. The King’s head appears above the Royal Arms, and the denomination is repeated in large figures on either side. The design is the work of well-known artist Mr Edward Dulac, who also designed the Coronation stamp issued in May, 1937; and the present range of 7d to 1s King George VI stamps.
The Mail included a large photograph alongside the report. Few provincial newspapers would go to such lengths nowadays. You would have to be a Stamp & Coin Mart subscriber to obtain those details.
The full 6-value set was issued between 1939 and 1948.
- 5s 0d RED (21.8.39)
- 2s 6d BROWN (4.9.39)
- 10s 0d DARK BLUE (30.10.39)
- 2s 6d YELLOW-GREEN (9.3.42)
- 10s 0d ULTRAMARINE (30.11.42)
- £1.0 BROWN (1.10.48)
This 1939-48 GVI Higher Value set of fresh unmounted stamps seen recently on eBayUK at £199.99 the full set.
Fine used examples on eBayUK recently at under £3 per stamp.