Iconic stamps of Great Britain and the British Empire

Who knew that the first ever adhesive stamp, the Penny Black, would not only instigate a communications revolution but also a much loved global hobby? It is estimated that there are 60 million stamp collectors worldwide. Stamp collections and the passion for stamp collecting have been passed down from generation to generation and they now form part of our history. But what makes a stamp iconic for the collector? Is it the design, the story behind the stamp or simply the value?

We asked you, the collector, about your Iconic British Stamp and our Specialists about their Iconic Commonwealth Stamp. The results are published here and in a brochure available for download here. 

The iconic stamps revealed

Penny Black – Great Britain 1840

The 1d Black was on sale between May 1840 and February 1841. It was not only the world’s first postage stamp, it also changed the world and the way we communicate. It caused global change and incentivised many to read and to write as it made sending letters affordable for all.

£5 Orange – Great Britain 1882

There are some remarkable stamps out there, but there is one special stamp that many GB collectors aspire to have – the £5 Orange.

“Seahorse” High Values – Great Britain 1913

First issued in June and August 1913, on the cusp of World War 1, the definitive high value “Seahorses” remain one of the most iconic stamps to date.

Postal Union Congress (PUC) £1 – Great Britain 1929

Issued in 1929, the £1 PUC stamp was the second commemorative stamp to be released after the British Empire Exhibition stamps of 1924/25.

“Wilding” Definitives – Great Britain 1952

The “Wildings” were a series of definitive postage stamps most notable for the superb Dorothy Wilding portrait of Queen Elizabeth II from which they get their name, and were in use from 1952 through to 1968.

Iconic stamps

“Machin” Definitives – Great Britain 1967

The Machin series was a definitive stamp series that followed the Wildings. The Stamp Advisory Committee expressed a desire for a designer to focus on the Queen as a person, as opposed to a symbol of the Monarchy. Arnold Machin was commissioned for this work.

Iconic stamps

Four Annas – India 1854

The 1854 4 anna of India is a stamp like no other. With its red octagonal frame (the distinctive shape suggested by the current 6d, 10d and 1s embossed stamps of Great Britain) and blue central head of Queen Victoria, it was the first bicoloured stamp of the British Empire, and of course it had to be printed at two operations. The red frames were printed first, the sheets allowed to dry, and then the blue heads were added on the next day.

The ‘Camel Postman’ – Sudan 1898

When General Sir Herbert Kitchener was leading the campaign that would eventually reconquer the Sudan from the brutal Mahdist regime, at the battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898, one might think that providing new postage stamps would not have been a top priority. But that is to underestimate thoroughness of that great soldier and administrator.

Five Shillings Penguin – Falkland Islands 1933

In the 1920s and especially 1930s the British colonies around the globe increasingly moved away from basic functional designs for their postage stamps, and a growing vogue for pictorial stamps developed. The remote Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic were no exception.

Iconic stamp

Royal Silver Wedding – Commonwealth 1948

King George VI had never expected to become King, but acceded to the throne upon the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, in 1936 (the ‘year of the three Kings’). He turned out to be a popular monarch, having been a staunch figurehead during the years of the Second World War, and his Queen Elizabeth was also held in high regard.

Following the success of previous ‘omnibus’ issues, it was natural that another would be forthcoming for the Royal couple’s Silver Wedding. Unlike earlier issues, it was planned that every colony would issue two stamps, a high value (typically £1) and a low value (typically 2½d).

Iconic stamp

Choose your Iconic Stamp

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