01 March 2017
Thanks to the relatively short time on the throne, the British stamps of King Edward VII present the collector with an eminently-collectable subject, as Mike Jackson reveals in this guide to collecting Edwardian stamps
The King came to the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria, on 22 January, 1901, and he died on 6 May 1910.
This gives a period of nearly a decade on which to base a collection, and even though there are relatively few values (and no commemoratives!) there is plenty of scope for the collector. The aim of this article is to give an idea of the various possibilities.
There were nineteen basic King Edward VII stamps, including both colours of the ½d and 4d values.
The ½d was first issued on 1 January, 1902 in blue-green, but the public complained that the colours of the ½d, 2½d and 6d stamps, which shared the same design, were too similar.
One correspondent wrote: ‘I have just now affixed a 2½d stamp to a halfpenny postcard as I write by gaslight’!
Post Office workers were also having problems distinguishing the stamps when sorting letters. Consequently, the colour of the ½d stamp was changed to a lighter colour, yellow-green, which appeared in November 1904.
The change of colour of the 4d from green and brown to orange was probably to save money: it was cheaper to print in a single colour.
Three different printers were involved in the production of the stamps. De La Rue had been printing Victorian stamps for many years, and the contract awarded to them in 1899 had nearly ten more years to run. When the contract did expire at the end of 1910, De La Rue refused to lower their prices, or even share the work with Harrison & Sons who were duly awarded the new contract from 1 January, 1911.
Although this was now in the new reign, most of the new stamps depicting King George V were not ready, and so Harrison began printing from De La Rue’s plates. They could print only those values which were mono-coloured because they did not have the machines necessary to print bi-coloured stamps, so the task of printing the latter fell to the government department at Somerset House. These King George V-era stamps printed by Harrison and Somerset House are known as the King Edward VII Provisional Printings.
The 1½, 2d, 4d, 5d, 9d, 10d and 1s were bi-coloured; that is, they were printed in two colours, each colour being printed from a different plate.
The fact that the registration of the two plates is usually very good is a testament to the quality of the work of De La Rue. The designs of the 1½d, 2d, 3d, 4d, 5d, 9d, 10d, 1s were taken from the previous Victorian Jubilee issue.
Initially, all the values were printed on ordinary white paper, except for the 3d which was on yellow paper.
In 1905, De La Rue gained approval from the Inland Revenue to use a chalk-surfaced paper in order to improve the quality of the printed impressions, and most of the values can be found printed on this paper.
Chalk-surfaced paper is smoother and gives off a sheen when obliquely held up to the light. It’s a good idea to obtain some examples of both papers so that one can gain experience in differentiating the two types. Except for the 6d, any stamp on chalk-surfaced paper was printed by De La Rue. Different shades are recognised for each value, and again it helps to obtain a range of examples in order to learn how to classify them.
Most of the Edwardian stamps, including all those printed by De La Rue, were perforated with 14-gauge perforating combs. Some late Harrison printings were perforated gauge 15 x 14, the same as adopted for the Georgian series. It is possible that in 1911 Edwardian and Georgian ½d and 1d stamps were being printed by Harrison at the same time.
Various departmental overprints are known, including Britain’s rarest stamp, the 6d I.R. Official.
The first stamp booklets appeared in 1904, and were priced at 2s 0½d, an additional ½d being charged for the booklet itself. Subsequent Edwardian booklets were priced at 2s 0d, but contained only 1s 11½d worth of stamps, accomplished by substituting a cross for one of the stamps.
A range of Edwardian postal stationery can be found, including both Post Office issues and stamped-to-order.
Although perhaps not a particularly interesting period for postal history – which is not to say collecting it is not worthwhile – the Edwardian decade was the ‘golden era’ of the picture postcard, and a collection of postmarks on postcards can be made for a very modest outlay.