Postal history of the reign of King George VI

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17 March 2017
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king_george_VI_postal_history-32155.png The stamps of King George VI
Exploring the stamps of the reign of King George VI, including meter stamps and slogan postmarks. By Mike Jackson.

Exploring the stamps of the reign of King George VI, including meter stamps and slogan postmarks. By Mike Jackson.

There is a lot of interest in the postal history of King George VI’s reign, especially the collecting of the high values on cover. In fact, a collection of all the stamps of George VI correctly and commercially used on cover would be quite a challenge. 

Registered and Express covers are an attractive subject to collect. Registration of mail in England began in 1841, based on an earlier system of Money Letters which started in 1792 in recognition of the need for sending valuables through the post as safely as possible. The Express Delivery Service was introduced in 1891 as a local service within London. By 1949 the service was nationwide and the fee was sixpence on top of the normal postage. Working out the rates on these covers, which can be Registered as well as Express, can provide the collector with an interesting problem!

SLOGAN POSTMARKS

Another popular subject related to postal history is the collecting of slogan postmarks. There were about 55 different slogans in use during the reign of King George VI. Some of these slogans reflected the austere conditions experienced during World War Two, with messages such ‘Grow more food; dig for victory’, ‘Help to win on the kitchen front’, and ‘Save waste paper, metals, bones, rags’. Slogans that happened to be in use at the end of George V’s reign can be found used during George VI’s; and a similar overlap occurs at the end of the reign.

George VI stamps can be found used with Queen Elizabeth II’s slogans, notably ‘Long live The Queen’, which was in use mainly during June 1953 and which appears rather out of place when seen cancelling a stamp depicting her late father.

METER STAMPS

Meter stamps were first used in Great Britain in 1922. All of the King George VI meter stamps are variations on a design first introduced in 1927, the key features of which are an outer frame of simulated perforations and an oval surrounded by petals. Three makes of machine were used: Pitney Bowes, Universal, and Neopost, and their stamps can easily be identified by various key letters in the design. Firms which used meters to frank their mail were apparently under no obligation to change the dies when there was a change of monarch, and meter stamps bearing the monogram ‘KVIG’ can found used years after the King’s death.

FURTHER READING ON KING GEORGE VI STAMPS

The most comprehensive source of information for the collector is Great Britain Specialised Stamp Catalogue, Volume 2, dealing with the Four Kings, which first appeared in 1967 and is now in its 13th edition (2009). There is a tremendous amount of detailed information in this catalogue. The King George VI listings include shades, watermark varieties, Specimen and Cancelled overprints, cylinder flaws, as well as all known cylinder numbers, booklets and booklet panes.

With the exception of the Specialised, there are very few books on the subject of GB King George VI.

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In 2001, the GBPS used the Martin Willcocks Bequest to finance the publication of Great Britain King George VI Low Value Definitive Stamps by Peter Worsfold; this is a monograph on the development of the design of these stamps. Gerry Bater published an excellent study paper in 1992 entitled Waterlow Procedures: King George VI ‘Arms to Festival’ High Values: Design to Press. Although typewritten and photocopied, the paper includes many clear illustrations, a testament to the fact that Gerry specialised in the close-up photography of stamps.

British Postage Stamp Varieties Illustrated, compiled by RC Alcock & CW Meredith and published by RC Alcock Ltd in 1949, features illustrations of many well-known varieties. The scope of the book is from the surface printed issues of Queen Victoria to King George VI. Of particular note is a fold-out actual-size illustration of a complete sheet of the King George VI ‘Arms’ 10 shilling value, with various varieties indicated and described.

L Birch, who traded in Birmingham as the The Midland Stamp Co., wrote a specialised study called Great Britain: The Coronation Stamp 1937, published by his company probably during the 1940s (the book is undated). The work is now difficult to find, but worthwhile if you are interested in the varieties of the Coronation stamp.

The major work on booklets is British Stamp Booklets by Jean Alexander and Leonard F Newbery. This was published by the GBPS in nine parts between 1987 and 1997, and comprises a detailed listing (including trials) of all booklets issued from their introduction in 1904 up to 1969, which of course includes the reign of King George VI.

Auction catalogues can provide useful reference sources, but there have been very few specialised sales comprising only King George VI material. In October 1990, Stanley Gibbons held the sale of the ‘Mey’ collection of specialised Great Britain King George VI which included ‘outstanding and unique essays and proofs, specimens and rare varieties’.

The sale catalogue illustrated many colour trials of the 1939-48 high values, various photographic essays signed by the artist concerned, and stamps cut from the registration sheets. However, it is believed that many lots in the sale were withheld at the request of the Post Office who claimed that they were part of the public record and should not be on the market; it is not known what happened to these lots, or if they are now in The British Postal Museum & Archive.

As far as slogan postmarks are concerned, the standard reference is Collecting Slogan Postmarks by Cyril Parsons, Colin Peachey and George Pearson, published by the authors in 1986. The book includes a comprehensive illustrated listing of slogans from this period.

For meter stamps, The International Postage Meter Stamp Catalog by Joel Hawkins and Richard Stambaugh, published by the authors in 2005, is the most up-to-date reference, although it covers the whole world, and is organised around the appearance of the stamps, rather than by the machines which used them. A more specialised GB-only reference is Meter Stamps of Great Britain and Ireland (2nd edition) by John Mann, published by the Meter Stamp Study Group in 1972. This book gives descriptions of the various types and makes of machine and, although nearly forty years old, it is a useful reference for King George VI meter stamps.

Read more about classic GB stamps in each issue of Stamp & Coin Mart magazine.

Images from top: 1939 2s 6d brown; two examples of slogan postmarks; 1950 Trustee Savings Bank 'specimen' stamp.