I guess most of us, if not all of us, have at least heard of the monarchs of Great Britain. Some will know more about their reign and the role they played in the History of Great Britain. Some will even be informed about less-known details. But today, it is about their doings and how they were related to philately.
Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901) / The Hanoverians
It’s really hard to describe everything related to stamps and philately that happened during the Victorian age. Before the invention of the first postage stamp, letters were franked with seals equivalent to postmarks. While Royal Mail was established in 1516, the first postage stamp – the Penny Black – and what will become the modern postal system, were introduced only in more than 3 centuries later in 1840.
This resulted from the need to avoid payments being collected from the recipient. Because also the recipient could refuse the mail and hence to pay for it. Moreover when accepted, handling money on the spot had a lot of disadvantages.
The contest was organized to get the best design, but none of the received had been used. Instead, the silhouette of Queen Victoria was used (based on a sketch provided by Henry Corbould, Charles Heath and his son Frederick engraved the portrait).
The Two Pence Blue was planned together with the Penny Black and was used to send letters with the weight of full ounce (Penny Black was used for letters up to half an ounce).
The following year, Penny Red was introduced as a replacement for Penny Black. The most important reason was that the cancellation mark on Penny Black was difficult to see.
Besides that, there were many other innovations in the Victorian age (source: Royal Mail):
- In 1852 the first pillar box was introduced (in green color).
- In September 1868, 3 cats worked on probation at the Money Order Office in London, with an allowance of one shilling a week. For extra snack they were supposed to catch mice.
- In 1870 state-owned post-operated telegraph service was formed.
- In 1874 pillar boxes were painted red and in 1879 their design changed to the one still used today.
King Edward VII (r. 1901-1910) / The House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
King Edward VII ruled Great Britain from 1901 to 1910. His reign was brief from a postal aspect. There were no major post-related events during his reign. Maybe I would mention that starting from 1909 people could collect their pensions at local Post Offices.
King George V (r. 1910-1936) / The House of Windsor
‘Seahorses’ is the name used to refer to the United Kingdom high-value definitive postage stamps issued during the reign of King George V.
The stamps are notable for the quality of the engraving and the dramatic design which depicts Britannia on her chariot behind three writhing horses on a stormy sea. The stamps represent a collecting field in their own right for some philatelists due to the color variations and different printers. (wikipedia.org)
KIng George V ruled Great Britain during the period of World War I and this during this period two important things happened. While the boys were at war, girls were employed in Post Offices in huge numbers, ~20000. Besides surviving and food, letters from home and sent to home were very important for the morale of the troops.
During his reign following important philately/post-related events took place:
- As a part of the celebrations for his Coronation on 9th September 1911, the first scheduled airmail service from Hendon to Windsor began.
- In 1912, the Post Office took over the national telephone service.
- In 1919, the first public overseas airmail service began – flying between London and Paris.
- In 1930, some boxes were painted in bright blue to promote the Air Mail service.
- 1934 was a year for the rocket experiment. It wasn’t successful, so the whole idea had been abandoned.
King Edward VIII (r. 06/1936-12/1936) / The House of Windsor
King Edward VIII spent only a few months on the throne and during that period no major philately-related events happened.
King George VI (r. 1936-1952) / The House of Windsor
King George VI ruled Great Britain during World War II and that caused many problems in general. Postal service was not the exception and during the war, many installations were destroyed with most notably the Central Telegraph Office in St Martin’s-le-Grand.
There was one important innovation during his reign:
- In 1943, Colossus was designed at the Post Office Research Station in Dollis Hill. This was the world’s first electronic, digital and programmable computer.
Queen Elizabeth II (r. 1952-) / The House of Windsor
Queen Elizabeth II succeeded the throne on 6th February 1952, following the death of her father. She is the current monarch of Great Britain and during this (almost 70) years, a lot had happened in the World but also in philately. Some of the important events were:
- A lot had been invested in the automatization of sorting processes. Some improvements were made in the late 1950s and continued in the 1960s.
- “Arnold Machin created the plaster cast of Queen Elizabeth II for a new set of definitive postage stamps.” (Royal Mail); This motif is well-known from many GB stamps and I guess there is almost no stamp collector without at least 1 stamp with this motif.
- In 1968, the Post Office introduced current account banking.
- In 1974, (postal) coding of the whole country was finalized.
- In 1985, the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) had been introduced. This enabled the computer to read addresses and sorting mail went to the whole new level.
- 2003 was the last year when the Mail Rail operated.
- In 2006 Online Postage was introduced. This is a set of online postal services, including downloading and printing stamps.
- 2016 was the 500th birthday of the Royal Mail.
Royal Mail started more than 500 years ago and first stamps were used almost 180 years ago. Of course, everything changed during that period, but the way we communicate changed maybe the most. In 1840 stamps were innovation and sending paper mail was pretty much of a hype. Most of the paper stuff we receive these days are utility bills or advertisement mail and most of the mails don’t have any stamps on them. Stamps are slowly but surely going into history. Still, that will add more value to them as they age (in case more people would be interested in philately).
- Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901): https://www.royal.uk/queen-victoria
- King Edward VII (r. 1901-1910): https://www.royal.uk/edward-vii
- King George V (r. 1910-1936): https://www.royal.uk/george-v
- King Edward VIII (r. 06/1936-12/1936): https://www.royal.uk/edward-viii
- King George VI (r. 1936-1952): https://www.royal.uk/george-vi
- Queen Elizabeth II (r. 1952-): https://www.royal.uk/her-majesty-the-queen