January 2020

The mythology of the Seahorses

Great Britain

KGV

The George V Seahorse is one of the most famous British stamps ever made. Issued at a high value, the stamps were in circulation for 26 years; longer than any other definitive of its kind.

The stamp owes its place as an icon to collectors because of its complicated production process— printed by four different printers, on three different types of paper and with two different printing methods.

Even its design invites intrigue. Seahorses have been known in art history to be ridden by sea-nymphs and sea-gods. Greek god of the seas Poseidon is often depicted in the chariot drawn by hippocamps. They also appear in Etruscan, Pictish and Roman art, medieval heraldry, all through to the modern times.

Some have suggested that the stamp might have been a response to German threat posed to Britain at sea, with the Seahorses testifying to Britain’s naval domination. During this turbulent era of war and economic turmoil, the stamps were issued as a symbol of patriotism and camaraderie; they depicted Britain as a powerful country ‘and a ruler of the seas.’

Its intricate engraving also communicates an air of opulence and grandeur of the early reign of George V.

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Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal was selected to design the stamp. Mackennal used the 1892 Barbados 3d, John Flaxman’s illustrations of the Iliad, the coinage of Charles II (onwards), and numerous depictions of Britannia in sculpture and painting as inspiration. The process resulted in the first instance of a pictorial, artistic illustration appearing on a British stamp.

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To this day, King George V’s Seahorses are praised as some of the most beautiful and collectable stamps on the market owing to its large circulation, colour variations and numerous printers. Its design, however, can be appreciated by all.

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