Great Britain's First Commemorative Postage Stamps
IntroductionThis Exhibit includes: a brief background to the British Empire Exhibition 1924/1925; the procurement of designs for the stamps and their re-issue in 1925, with examples of the die proofs; line perforation types and errors; the reasons for the change from line perforation to comb perforation; paper folds; Specimen and Cancelled overprints; coil joins; Sheet Serial Numbers and, to conclude, some unusual items.
The idea of an exhibition to showcase the British Empire was first suggested in 1913 by Lord Strathcona, who had been a vice-President of the of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition held at the White City in London, but plans came to a halt with the outbreak of war in 1914. After the war British Empire Exhibition Incorporated was formed and, in 1921, with financial assistance from the Government, bought a 216 acre site at Wembley Park from the Wembley Park Estate Company, which was owned by the Metropolitan Railway Company. Construction work began on 22 January 1922. At that time it was hoped that the Exhibition would open in 1923, but it was soon realised that this was too optimistic and the opening was postponed to 23 April 1924. The Exhibition dosed on 1 November 1924.
Originally planned to last one season, the Exhibition re-opened on 9 May 1925, largely as a result of the enthusiasm of the overseas exhibitors. It closed on 31 October 1925. Average daily attendance in 1925 was 65,095 compared with 104,211 in 1924.
The Post Office first started to look into the question of how to mark the Exhibition early in 1923. A special Committee was set up, under the Chairmanship of Sir Evelyn Murray, to advise on the instructions for the design of special stamps and the selection of the designs. At the first meeting on 16 January 1924 the Committee agreed the instructions to the artists and that an honorarium of 10 guineas would be paid to each artist who submitted designs, plus 90 guineas for any accepted design. The instructions were sent to the following artists on 16 January:
Harold Nelson, Noel Rooke ARE, JD Batten, EW Tristam, Eric Gill, George Kruger Gray, FC Herrick, F Richards RE
The first five of the above artists submitted designs. At its second meeting on 19 February 1924 the Committee decided to recommend the British Lion design by Harold Nelson for the 1d stamp (subject to a few slight alterations) and the mechanical implements/sheaf of corn design by Eric Gill for the 1½d stamp (provided that the artist was prepared to carry out certain adjustments to his design). Gill agreed to make some alterations but the King did not like his design at all, so the design by Harold Nelson was selected for both values.
On 7 March the printers, Waterlow & Sons Limited, were instructed to proceed with the engraving of the die, which was carried out by Mr JAC Harrison, of Waterlow. On 27 March proofs were submitted for approval by the King. Both proofs were of the 1½d value, in the proposed colours. Sir Evelyn explained that the red stamp would "ultimately be a penny, the figures and lettering being altered accordingly. The present proof is merely printed from the 1½d die". The proofs were approved by the King and returned to Sir Evelyn on 31 March 1924.