The stamps of St Helena, an island located in the south Atlantic Ocean, had been printed by letterpress by the De La Rue printers, located in London since 1890. Most of their stamps featured the standard colonial keyplates, interspersed with some issues in a larger format, featuring Government House or The Wharf in a vignette below the reigning monarch's head.
Against the grain, but reflecting the remote island's individuality, it was decided that this format should be retained for an entirely new definitive series issued in June 1922. It was a late flowering of De La Rue typography, at a time when intaglio pictorials were in fashion seemingly everywhere else.
The design was the work of Thomas Bruce, a staff artist at De La Rue. The King’s profile appeared in a medallion at the top, flanked by the inscriptions 'Postage' and 'Revenue', with the denomination in shields in the top corners and the island’s name across the bottom of the stamp.
The medallion surmounted a horizontal vignette, rounded at the sides, depicting the badge of St Helena: a frigate lying at anchor in the lee of two vertiginous rocks, known as the King and Queen, on the approach to Jamestown harbor.
The borders were filled by a bunch of Easter lilies on the left and stalks of New Zealand flax on the right, an allusion to the island’s chief industry at that time. At the height of production there were eight mills on the island producing hemp, rope and twine.
Whilst the vignette was invariably grey, different colours were used for the frames of the eighteen denominations released over the next few years. Colored papers were also employed for certain denominations, notably the top values. The £1 was printed on red paper and the 15-shilling on blue.
This brightly colored typographed definitive set remained in use until the advent of the George VI series in May 1938. The island's main industry lasted a little longer, but was soon suffering from a global decline in demand. Its death knell was sounded in the 1970s, ironically, when the British Post Office abandoned coarse twine and adopted plastic string and rubber bands for securing bundles of mail.