100 Years of Commemorative Stamps

Royal Mail released a set of 10 on April 16 celebrating 100 Years of Commemorative Stamps.

The stamp-on-stamp designs illustrate a selection of issues from across the century, grouped chronologically into approximate decades.

Britain issued its first commemoratives on April 23, 1924, by way of a matching pair noting the British Empire Exhibition.

After an updated pair for 1925, further special issues followed in 1929 and 1935, but King George V, a keen philatelist, was unexcited about the concept. ‘The whole idea is un-English and is copied from America,’ he is reported to have said.

The reign of King George VI brought seven commemorative sets between 1937 and 1951, but regular special issues began in the 1960s, with a great expansion in the range of events, anniversaries and achievements celebrated.

The advent of pictorial designs, thematic approaches and multicoloured printing opened up the stamp-issuing programme, and by the end of the decade half a dozen sets per year was the norm.

To aid this process, the way the monarch was depicted on commemorative stamps was transformed, with the unwieldy Wilding portrait of Queen Elizabeth II replaced by a smaller cameo version which came to be located in the top corner of each design.

William Shakespeare became the first non-royal historical person to appear on a British stamp in 1964, and annual Christmas issues were inaugurated in 1966.

Among the earliest themes embraced were literature, art, technology, history, transport, architecture and wildlife. In more recent times, music, sport, film and television have become increasingly prominent.

The shape of stamps evolved and diversified to suit different pictorial approaches, as did printing technology. Thermochromic and scented ink was first used in 2001, and lenticular images from 2011. During the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, stamps were issued celebrating British gold medal winners within hours of their triumphs.

Many recent issues have attracted criticism for being inspired by lucrative merchandising deals with film and television franchises, rather than by a desire to commemorate British culture and acheivements.

The 100th anniversary set was designed by Hat-Trick Design and printed in litho by Cartor Security Printers. The 10 stamps are available in two se tenant strips of five.

1st class THE 1920s & 1930s
1924 British Empire Exhibition 1d, 1929 Postal Union Congress £1, and 1935 Silver Jubilee 2½d.

1st class THE 1940s
1940 Centenary of Adhesive Postage Stamps 2d, 1946 Peace & Reconstruction 3d, and 1948 Royal Silver Wedding 2½d.

1st class THE 1950s
1951 Festival of Britain 4d, 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II 1s 3d, and 1960 Tercentenary of the General Letter Office 3d.

1st class THE 1960s
1963 National Nature Week 3d, 1966 Landscapes 6d, and 1969 Investiture of the Prince of Wales 1s.

1st class THE 1970s
1970 Philympia Stamp Exhibition 9d, 1977 British Achievement in Chemistry 11p, and 1977 British Wildlife 9p.

1st class THE 1980s
1986 Halley’s Comet 31p, 1987 Flowers 18p, and 1988 Transport & Communications 26p.

1st class THE 1990s
1996 Robert Burns 25p, 1997 Architects of the Air 20p, and 1999 Inventor’s Tale 20p.

1st class THE 2000s
2001 The Weather 27p, 2006 Sounds of Britain 1st class, and 2007 Lest We Forget 1st class.

1st class THE 2010s
2013 Jane Austen 1st class, 2017 Landmark Buildings 1st class, and 2020 Queen 1st class.

1st class THE 2020s
2020 Brilliant Bugs 1st class, 2022 Platinum Jubilee 1st class, and 2023 Windrush: 75 Years 1st class.

The presentation pack, with text by The Postal Museum, offers an overview of the history of commemorative stamps.

A first day cover and stamp cards are also available.

Set of 10 stamps £13.50
Presentation pack £14.40
First day cover £16.85
Stamp cards £4.50

What could be more philatelic than a commemorative set commemorating a landmark in commemoratives?

A stamp-on-stamp approach was the obvious design solution, although not a challenging one

This is one for the collectors! Inevitably, many will ask ‘why did they choose that stamp?’