Following Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II’s death on 8th September 2022, millions of people throughout Britain, the Commonwealth and wider world are in mourning. Subsequent events in the following days will enable everybody to express grief, pay respects and bid farewell to a major global icon. One popular portrait of the Monarch adopted by Sky News and other major media outlets covering these events has a fascinating philatelic story (Figure 1). Using material from the Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive in the British Library’s Philatelic Collections, this article will recount that narrative in remembrance of our beloved late sovereign.
During Elizabeth II’s 2002 Golden Jubilee Celebrations, Thomas Patrick John Anson, fifth Earl of Lichfield (Figure 2) was commissioned to produce an official royal portrait. Photographing the Monarch and Duke of Edinburgh separately, he digitally combined each picture to form a single image (Figure 3).
Figure 2. Figure 3.
During preparations to release postage stamps commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation for 2 June 2003, the Crown Agents decided to release an issue adopting Lichfield’s image of Elizabeth II as the new royal portrait (Figure 4).
The in-house designers of CASP Studios used Lichfield’s image to develop enhanced black and white profile portraits of the queen facing both right and left to see how it would look reverse (Figure 5).
Using this reversed image, the designers developed thirty preliminary essays on a single sheet of A-4 Hewlett-Packard printing paper. With gold, blue, purple, green, pink and brown background colours, each one carries a ‘£5’ denomination in the top left hand corner and the word ‘COUNTRY’ situated across the bottom of the design. The royal profile varies moving across the page from left to right, with each portrait becoming stronger and more detailed (Figure 6)
This was followed by a further ten essays, each bearing a right-facing portrait with different background colours for each postal authority. These are Ascension Island, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, St Helena, South George & The South Sandwich Islands and Tristan da Cunha. Aside from differences in denominations, colours and country titles, Bermuda’s essay includes ‘Express Postage,’ whilst the Cayman Islands has the imprint ‘2003’ at the centre of the bottom margin (Figure 7).
The next set of ten essays is almost identical to the preceding ones except for the removal of ‘Express Postage’ and ‘2003.’ Furthermore, the denomination has changed to ‘00p’ alongside the addition of illustrated perforations (Figure 8).
Experimenting with Lichfield’s portrait in colour these five essays, all for the British Antarctic Territory include a ‘£5’ denomination (Figure 9).
CASP Studios also produced variant essays of the blue and yellow British Antarctic Territory designs incorporating greyscale as well as colour versions of the royal portrait for comparative purposes (Figure 10).
Cameo portraits based on Lichfield’s photograph were likewise required for use on future Commonwealth stamp issues leading to the creation of left and right-facing silhouette essays of the royal portrait (Figure 11).
Reduced to see how they would look, a right-facing cameo portrait was then included at the top left hand corner of two blank horizontal stamps, one in black and the other white upon a grey field (Figure 12).
Creating a single essay for the stamp mini-sheet followed finalisation of the portrait, cameo and stamp designs. This comprises ten Ascension Island stamps with ‘00p’ denominations including a black and white version of Litchfield’s portrait upon a green field. The mini-sheet also utilises the new cameo portrait for the cylinder marks in yellow, red, blue and black colours, situated at the top left and bottom-right corner margins. Placed at the bottom-centre of the gutter margin is the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau logo (Figure 13).
An essay exists for the souvenir sheet including a Crown Agents stamp as part of the new portrait’s promotional material. It adopts the right-facing portrait in greyscale without denomination. The stamp itself bears the name ‘Crown Agents.’ Situated at the top of the souvenir sheet is ‘HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN’ then ‘The Crown Agents Stamp Bureau’ at the bottom (Figures 14-15).
Figure 14. Figure 15.
With the designs were fully developed and approved, the task of manufacturing the stamps fell to B.D.T. International Security Printing Firm Ltd in Ireland. Using a lithographic printing technique, they produced mini-sheets in sets of ten stamps for Ascension Island, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, St Helena, South George & The South Sandwich Islands and Tristan da Cunha (Figures 16-24). In contrast, the mini-sheets of the British Virgin Islands total twenty stamps (Figure 25).
Events associated with the United Kingdom’s period of national mourning, the accession of the new monarch and a future coronation take months and years of planning. Amongst other things, King Charles III’s accession to the throne heralds an overhaul of British and Commonwealth postage stamps, banknotes, coinage and passports. Consequently, in addition to being an act of remembrance to the Queen this particular article also briefly recounts some of the processes this security printing work entails. Culturally it also provides fascinating insights into the creation of images and other content for consumption and recycling across multiple contexts with the express intention of drawing different communities and nations together under the image of a single figurehead. It is merely one amongst thousands of examples chronicled in British and Commonwealth postage stamps of the second Elizabethan era.