Collecting British Stamps: The Wilding Definitives


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imports_CCGB_williamhustlerandge_61612.gif © William Hustler and Georgina Hustler/ National Portrait Gallery, London
The 'Wilding' definitives, named after the fashionable photographer Dorothy Wilding, have long since been overshadowed by the ubiquitous Machin portrait, but they are still eagerly collected, as our guide to 'Wildings' stamps reveals.

Only three weeks after the death of her father King George VI, the soon-to-be-crowned Queen Elizabeth II welcomed fashionable photographer Dorothy Wilding to Clarence House before she posed for photographs to be used on a new set of definitive stamps.

The stamps were the first definitives to use photography and set the standard for Elizabethan stamp design.

Today the many varieties available mean collecting the stamp issue is a challenge, but thanks to the large number of stamps issued, it will not be overly expensive.

Discover much more about the Wildings definitive stamps, named after the photographer Dorothy Wilding, in this exclusive virtual exhibit from the late Frank Walton RDP FRPSL, originally broadcast as a meeting of the Royal Philatelic Society London.

Capturing the image of HM The Queen

The image of the new monarch used on the stamps was taken at a subsequent photo session in April 1952.

Dressed in a formal gown and with the sash of the Order of the Garter and a diamond studded diadem, that had been produced for King George IV in the 1820s and can be seen being worn by Queen Victoria on early stamps such as the Penny Black.

Six prominent graphic designers were commissioned to submit essays for the stamp designs, and during the months leading up to the Queen’s Coronation, more than seventy different designs were submitted.

Eventually the many variations were whittled down to just five designs, which would ultimately be used across eighteen denominations.

The designers invovled with the stamp issue were:

  • Mary Adshead (8d magenta, 9d bronze-green, 10d blue, 11d plum)
  • Michael Farrar-Bell (2½d red, 3d lilac, 4d blue), Edmund Dulac (1s3d green, 1s6d indigo)
  • Enid Marx (½d orange, 1d blue, 1½d green, 2d brown)
  • George Knipe (5d brown, 6d purple, 7d green)

While many of the designers had experience of stamp design, Enid Marx was a newcomer, and the somewhat cluttered heraldic flowers she used to surround the portrait were met with some criticism from collectors, who referred to these stamps as the ‘herbaceous border’ designs.

On the remaining stamps, an oval frame was used for the portrait, but the floral designs of each stamp varied, with the four floral symbols of the United Kingdom used on the Adshead and Knipe artwork, arabesque flowers appearing on the Dulac designs.

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Varieties of the Wilding stamps

During the fifteen-year life of the Wildings, the stamps were printed on three different watermarks:

  • Tudor crown
  • Edward Crown
  • Multiple Crown

…and with inverted (from booklets) and sideways (from coils) varieties it is this element of the stamps that produces most interest for the collector.

Changes in the colour of the designs also adds to the appeal of the stamp.

The original deep red-brown colour of the 2d – the value was often used as revenue stamps – was lightened in October 1956, so that pen cancellation would be more visible; and the 6d was changed from its original reddish purple to a deep claret in May 1958.

Examples of the 6d in this second shade printed on Crown E2R watermarked paper are scarce in fine, used condition, since it was only on sale for seven months. The 4½d colour was darkened in 1965 following a rise in the letter rate.

Graphic lines were printed on the backs of the stamps used in the Southampton area, due to experiments with mail handling machinery, before phosphor bands were introduced to values in November 1959.

The application of the phosphor bands led to the printing of se-tenant pairs, with the 3d and 1d being printed side by side.

Errors of the stamps include a ‘phantom R’ appearing in the ‘jubilee line’ of the last stamp in the row; imperforate panes of stamps found in bookklets; and various misplaced perforations. The stamps were also used in British post offices abroad with various overprints.

Replacing the Wildings

In 1967, as stamp design became more adventurous, the definitive design was reassessed and a more simple portrait, that could be incorporated into pictorial commemorative designs, was sought.

The now famous sculpture of the Queen’s head by Arnold Machin was adopted, and a new definitive was issued.

Many decades later this iconic design is still in use and attracts much philatelic study, but for many collectors the simple layout of the Machins just doesn’t compete with the more decorative designs that heralded the arrival of our Queen.

Image at top of article: Queen Elizabeth II, Dorothy Wilding (Hand-coloured by Beatrice Johnson), 1952.