08 September 2022
Queen Elizabeth II's remarkable life is reflected on the many British and Commonwealth stamps issued during her long reign. As we mourn her passing, we look back on some of the most notable designs and reflect on the stamps of the Elizabethan era.
Elizabeth II was the constitutional monarch of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Of course, these and many other countries have issued stamps celebrating the Royal Family, whilst thousands of designs on other subjects still feature her profile.
Perhaps the most famous and influential postage stamp design is the 'Machin', Britain's definitive stamp design since 1967, which is thought to be the most reproduced image of all time.
The Queen's first stamps
Within a week of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February, 1952, the Post Office was asked about its plans for new stamps.
The priority was to find a suitable photograph and a sitting took place at the Dorothy Wilding Studio on 26 February and, after consultation at the Post Office, a further shoot was held in April, after which a photograph to be used for stamps was selected.
In all, 75 design ideas were received, with a short-list of nine designs later being cut down to five.
The Wilding definitives provide much of interest, whether from normal counter sheets, booklets or rolls. There is a range of constant varieties and marginal markings. Aside from the technical aspects, the stamps reflect the first years of the Queen’s long reign; a young monarch finding her feet during a dramatic decade of innovation, cultural freedom, and change.
The Machin stamp
Surely nobody involved in the introduction of the Machin stamp design would have predicted that the profile portrait would last for so many years, reflecting the simplicity of the design and the long reign of HM.
The Machin series has been admired since first released and widely collected since that time. Arnold Machin’s sculpture of the Queen was used for both British coins and stamps, and the design has remained the same for most of its long life; one variation being ‘double head’ definitives, coupling the Machin portrait with that of Queen Victoria for the 150th anniversary of the Penny Black.
Stamps to celebrate royal events and the royal family
Her Majesty has featured on over eighty British stamps created to mark Royal events and anniversaries such as birthdays, jubilees and weddings.
In 1972, stamps were issued to mark the Silver Wedding anniversary of the Queen and Prince Philip. More stamps followed towards the end of the 1970s, firstly to mark the Silver Jubilee of the accession to the throne, in 1977, and a year later four stamps were released to mark the 25th anniversary of the Coronation.
The 1980s saw stamps to celebrate the Queen’s 60th birthday, and a set to mark the bicentenary of Australian settlement featured an image of the Queen, with the stamp designs being issued in both Great Britain and Australia.
The stamps issued during the reign of Elizabeth II demonstrate how Britain was, and continues to be, an exciting melting pot of culture, tradition and innovation.