Five Shillings Penguin

Falkland Islands 1933

Five Shillings Penguin


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.

From 1878 to 1929, only the monarch’s head had been used, but in 1929 the charming little ‘Whale and penguins’ design was introduced. The central feature was still the head of King George V, but a Sperm whale and Penguin (with further tiny penguins waddling off into the distance) were placed in a miniature marine landscape below the portrait – just a tentative step in the pictorial direction.

In 1833, the first permanent British settlement of the Islands had been established, and in 1932 plans were afoot to celebrate the forthcoming Centenary, with a proposed set of commemorative postage stamps high on the list. The committee included the acting postmistress, Miss Maude Carey, and the energetic Colonial Engineer, George Roberts, who was also a keen amateur photographer.

Mr Roberts devised a series of pictorial designs, intended to showcase the life and history of the Islands, which in the hands of Bradbury Wilkinson, specialist engravers and printers, became perhaps the most beautiful and immediately recognisable of all the British colonial sets issued in the 1930s.

The previously ubiquitous king’s head is now confined to the top £1 value, but in the form of a
splendid facing portrait. Roberts’ masterpiece is surely the 5s value, with its vignette of a King Penguin, and it is rather extraordinary to learn that this was his very first effort, before he came up with ideas for the other values.

This noble bird, which stands 3ft tall, is the largest of the five species of penguin native to the Falklands, and the photograph used had been taken by Roberts himself a couple of years before.

This lovely stamp, with its striking black and yellow colour combination, partly no doubt inspired by the bird’s plumage, was an immediate favourite with collectors, and it remains so to this day. But things could have been a little different, as Roberts’ first thought for the frame colour was emerald-green.

The rather high face value, the relatively small numbers originally printed – just 110 sheets of 60 (including a small second printing of 22 sheets in a distinctive yellow-orange shade), from which a total of only 5577 were actually sold and the balance destroyed – and continuous demand, have caused it to rise steadily in price over the years, and an unused example of the scarcer shade now commands a catalogue value of £3250.