Great Britain

The Omnibus Design Issue of King George VI Coronation Commemorative Stamps

On 11 December 1936, just one day after the abdication of King Edward VIII, the four stamp printing firms (Harrison and Sons, Waterlow and Sons, Bradbury, Wilkinson and De La Rue), together with the Crown Agents, attended a meeting at the Colonial Office in order to discuss designs for a Colonial Omnibus issue marking the coronation of the new monarch, King George VI. With only five months before the Coronation, and because of shipping times to some of the most remote colonies, the firms had just one week to prepare initial essays for the new issue. We describe the frantic race to produce this omnibus issue: from the initial essays and die proofs to the final issued stamps.

The GB commemorative stamp for the Coronation of George VI was based on a photograph of the new King and Queen commissioned from Dorothy Wilding and chosen personally by the King. By contrast, the omnibus design for Coronation commemorative stamps in the Colonial Empire was put together using old photographs obtained in a great hurry by the stamp printing companies. In the case of the King, the portrait on the omnibus was melded with a naval uniform copied from a photograph of Edward VIII. This had some consequences for the Coronation and definitive issues of other Commonwealth territories that have not been widely recognised.

Rumours of the Abdication

Until early in December 1936, King Edward VIII’s plan to marry Mrs Simpson and his possible abdication from the throne was not discussed in the British press, but well-connected people like the directors of De La Rue must have got wind of it. Indeed, even if they had not seen the American or French newspapers, they would have been forewarned when, in November 1936, they received an unexplained instruction from the Crown Agents to suspend any further work on Edward VIII stamps of Ceylon. De La Rue would have been particularly anxious because they had been given the large contract to print sets of three definitive stamps in a uniform design for every colony, to be issued on the day of King Edward’s coronation in May 1937 (Fig 2). Many colonies had been running down their stocks of George V stamps in anticipation of receiving these.

To find out more, see the latest GSM.

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