Stamp collecting guide: King George V British Empire Exhibition stamps 1d scarlet and 1½d brown

Find out more about the British Empire Exhibition stamps issued in 1924 and re-issued the following year

King George V British Empire Exhibition Commemoratives 1d scarlet and 1½d brown

The two low denomination British Empire Exhibition stamps of 1924-25 were produced to very high standards employing recess printing methods rather than the much less costly photogravure process by that date commonly used for the nation’s lowly definitives. 

What’s so special about the British Empire Exhibition set?

They were Great Britain’s first commemorative adhesive postage stamps; issued to mark a specific event.

Engraved and printed by Waterlow & Sons in the best intaglio style normally reserved for the highest GB denominations, the quality of workmanship that went into producing these 1d and 1½d values amazed working class stamp users who rarely handled higher values.

Now they could examine a 1d GV photogravure definitive alongside the British Empire Exhibition 1d and appreciate the superiority of Waterlow’s recess printing methods and results.

Why were these stamps issued in 1924 and 1925?

Most pub quiz masters will confidently affirm that Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire during its greatest worldwide expansion. It was immense; but in the reign of King George V, especially during the 1920s when huge swathes of northern and southern Africa became British possessions under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the Empire reached its zenith.

In 1922 plans were put in hand by the Mother Country to host an event that would celebrate the cultures and industries of many of the colonies, dominions and possessions that shared a common language, a King-Emperor, and the colonial postal system that tied them together.

A 200-acre derelict patch of wasteland at Wembley rapidly transformed to become a bustling construction site with the first completed building – Wembley Stadium – hosting its inaugural Cup Final in 1923.

Production of the promised commemorative postage stamps proved, however, a less smooth operation. Last minute alterations to the previously agreed design, which was to have displayed the Lion and a figure of Britannia, meant that 23 April on-sale date was almost missed.

Similar dilly-dallying over whether or not to re-open the Exhibition in 1925 delayed a decision until January of that year. A plan to re-issue the same two stamps with only the date altered to 1925 was not finalised until a few weeks before the second opening ceremony took place on May 9th.

The Exhibition closed on 31 October by which time more than 27,000,000 visitors had passed through its turnstiles. Substantial numbers of them bought these stamps as souvenirs.

How many varieties are there?

With a mere four stamps in the set, the perforations offer the only affordable varieties.

A change had to be made from line to comb perforations to allow coils of stamps to be sold through vending machines at the Exhibition. The line machine produced smaller perforations than those made by the comb machine. 

Essential info

Issue dates: 23 April 1924 and 9 May 1925

Values: 1d and 1½d

Reign: King George V

Interesting facts:

The stamp’s designer, Harold Nelson, who went on to create the superb £1 value in the 1929 Postal Union Congress set, was clearly influenced by the then widespread popularity of poster art, as seen in his bold Wembley Lion, a style perfectly attuned to the Exhibition’s publicity aims.

The Post Office cancelling stamp depicting the Wembley Lion used to advertise the forthcoming Exhibition was used no fewer that 740,000,000 times on letters carrying GV definitives and sent across Britain and the rest of the world during the period from October 1922 to the opening day on 23 April 1924.

Surprisingly the stamps could not initially be bought beyond the Exhibition’s perimeters. After 1 July 1924, however, they were also available by post; and at about the same date stamp vending machines came into operation within the Exhibition. 

Visiting the Exhibition in July 1924, the Prince of Wales ( future King Edward VIII) took up an invitation to buy the five-millionth 1d stamp to be sold at the Wembley post office. After rummaging through his pockets for a coin, he was obliged to admit that he had no cash, whereupon the Wembley postmaster at once made him a present of the stamp.

Timeline:

23 April 1924 ... 1d scarlet and 1½d brown; both with 1924 date; issued at the Exhibition.

9 May 1925 ...  1d scarlet and 1½d brown; both with 1925 date; issued at the Exhibition.

Higher Prices: 

King George V: 1925 Wembley 1d and 1½d used on plain first day cover with Wembley Park handstamps. Sold for £880 at a recent Grosvenor Philatelic Auction.

1d scarlet, mint marginal example from the base of the sheet, imperforate between stamp and margin, with large part original gum. Sold for £2600 at a recent Grosvenor Philatelic Auction.

Starter Prices:

eBay lot comprising the 1924 unmounted mint pair; sold recently for £9.99.