The 11th Maynard Sundman Lecture

October 25, 2013

Chris West: A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps

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00:11

Hi everybody. Good afternoon. No, one minute after 12:00. Good afternoon.

00:18

We just about made it. Pretty good. Anyway, welcome to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

00:24

I'm the director, Allen Kane.

00:28

September was an interesting month for us.

00:30

September was a exciting month. We opened up the new William H. Gross Gallery upstairs.

00:35

And how many have seen it so far? Did you like it? Pretty incredible isn't it?

00:41

Seven years of work. It's amazing. Seven years for Cheryl and Daniel and others

00:48

to put the content together. Four years to do the conservation. Big job.

00:54

Three years to put all the material on the boards and the pullout frames.

01:00

And interestingly enough, if you take the boards and those pull out frames and put them end to end,

01:04

3 1/2 times the size of the Washington Monument. A lot of stuff up there.

01:10

A lot of stuff. So anyway. So, we opened up the Gross Gallery and we had four big

01:16

events celebrating the opening. And all of a sudden, the government shut down.

01:21

What a downer after we got done. What a downer. But the government's back open now.

01:26

I'm not sure that's good or bad. But it's open and we're now in October and

01:32

October now starts with us, with the Sundman lecture series.

01:38

And it's the 11th one. I can't believe 11 already. Isn't it unbelievable?

01:42

And I'd like to thank Daniel Piazza for coordinating all this and setting this all up

01:47

for us and we have a real treat today in Chris West being here

01:51

all the way from across the pond, making his rounds in the States.

01:57

So we have a real treat for you.

02:00

But I have to thank Don and David. David raise your hand, and Don's over here.

02:08

They're phenomenal. They give amazing support to the museum and

02:12

the lecture that they set up was in honor of their father and he'd be proud

02:19

of their sons right now quite frankly and what they've accomplished.

02:23

So it's my pleasure at this point to introduce Don Sundman.

02:27

[applause]

02:33

Alan Kane is my favorite museum director.

02:35

He's just amazing that he came into the Postal Museum and just made at

02:41

this vibrant exciting place for our hobby and then spearheaded this

02:45

Gross Gallery opening which is unbelievable for collectors, I think. And actually my

02:50

brother and I were approached by a previous director about starting this

02:54

lecture series and it didn't happen until Alan came because he knows how to

02:59

get things done. So he's added so much to our hobby. So welcome. I'm happy that

03:04

you'd be here today. I want to tell you a little bit about my father Maynard Sunman.

03:08

He loved stamps and collecting and also business. And he really lived

03:12

the American dream. And millions of collectors over many decades have

03:16

benefited from his two businesses. My father also loved books. And he was a

03:21

good customer at his local bookstore and really was involved in lifelong

03:26

learning, always trying to improve himself. And he would, I know, be very

03:30

excited about this new book and would enjoy this lecture very much. He was a

03:36

nice man he had a nice warm smile and he liked people. So as a child he sold

03:41

stamps to his classmates and after high school became a stamp dealer but that

03:46

business failed. He closed it when he entered the Army for World War II.

03:50

During the war he saved his money and supplemented it with winnings from

03:54

gambling he played craps over in Europe and then send that money home to my

03:59

mother who would save it for when the war ended.

04:02

And he really wanted to start another stamp company which he did.

04:07

So he analyzed his mistakes in business and developed a new business model.

04:12

He and my mother moved to Littleton, New Hampshire from Connecticut and started the

04:16

Littleton Stamp Company in 1945. So his dream was to bring the fun of collecting

04:22

to a wide audience and it worked. His company is now called Littleton Coin Company.

04:26

And it has introduced millions of people to the world of collecting

04:30

over the past 68 years. My brother David expanded my father's business

04:35

and now they have like 350 employees and it's called Littleton Coin Company.

04:40

In 1974 my father bought Mystic Stamp Company and changed that business model

04:45

to match Littleton's. And so I run Mystic. I moved there in 1974 and we've served

04:50

customers for 90 years and again millions and millions of collectors.

04:55

So it's really exciting. The hobby's been great to us and we're so thrilled to be

05:00

able to be part of the Postal Museum and be involved in this lecture.

05:04

I also want to thank Pam Gibson who's the Sales Director of Politics and Prose. Pam?

05:10

Ah, right, here, okay. That's the Politics and Prose bookstore,

05:16

for her help and arranging the speaker, Casey Mamoni Publisher, Picador Press,

05:23

also my brother David, President of Littleton Coin Company and his beautiful daughter, Elise,

05:28

for sponsoring the lecture. And I want to introduce Daniel Piazza,

05:34

Curator of Philately here at the Postal Museum. Thank you.

05:39

[applause]

05:43

Well good morning and thank you all for coming out this morning.

05:46

Welcome to the National Postal Museum. All of us, as we came into this gallery this morning

05:51

passed the wall that proclaims every stamp tells a story. It's sort of

05:57

the unofficial motto of the philately division here at the Postal Museum.

06:01

It's certainly the spirit behind all of our exhibits and and publications and it was

06:06

certainly something that Maynard Sundman believed, as Dave and Don tell us on the

06:10

back of the program, that he was fascinated by stamps and the doors they

06:14

opened to history and culture. We often speak of postage stamps as in that

06:20

metaphor as being doors or windows into history in the past. But what does that really mean?

06:26

How does that how does that work mechanically? And that's really what

06:30

we're going to see this morning. This book, A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps

06:35

really is a series of 36 meditations, if you will. Each one of them

06:40

inspired by a particular postage stamp and showing us how it is a lens,

06:45

or a window, or a door into its particular period in time, the ethos of the period

06:51

that produced it. And so when this book was going to be published and and we

06:55

learned that Chris was going to be in the United States on a book tour, and

06:59

that really just seemed to mesh so nicely with our own concept of every

07:03

stamp tells a story, that we couldn't resist the invitation.

07:07

And we're so pleased that he took us up on it. And so now, I'd like you to introduce, or

07:11

I'd like to introduce, I'd like you to welcome Chris West who is going to speak

07:14

to us on a History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. The book was published on

07:19

Tuesday, and after the talk it will be available in the gift shop and Chris

07:24

will be willing to sign copies as well. Chris West

07:29

[applause ]

07:34

Well, thank you very much for that lovely introduction. And thank you two,

07:40

for Don for sponsoring and his brother. That's fantastic, thank you very much.

07:44

I'm very grateful. And thank you for turning up. I hope you're going to have a good time.

07:50

I hope you, it's a corny thing to say, but I hope you enjoy the

07:54

lecture as much as I enjoyed writing this book which has been a labor of love for many many years.

07:59

I collected stamps. Normally when I give a reading in the

08:02

book shop I say, who collected stamps? I don't think I get to bother here, I think.

08:06

I think I know the answer that. However, again, when I'm in a bookshop very often

08:12

my next question is, who then stopped collecting stamps? And again I'm not even

08:16

going to bother here asking that question. But in the bookshops very

08:19

often a lot of hands go up and I would be one of them. I have to hold my hand up.

08:25

16 years old I had a not-very-good stamp collection and I did rather sort of, have a

08:30

hand in the hobby at that time because other things leapt into consciousness.

08:35

However, many years later I rediscovered this beautiful album in an attic.

08:45

Come have a look at it afterwards there is a lovely story behind this

08:48

I mean I had a really rubbish collection as a boy. It was really bad. But um one day

08:54

I went to have tea with my dear uncle Frank. Lovely old boy. He'd fought in the

08:58

First World War in the trenches. I'd go to have tea with him sometimes and we'd sit and chat

09:02

and as you do when you're sort of 10 or something, I just piped up,

09:06

I'm collecting stamps. And he said, oh that's very interesting. I used to do that when

09:10

I was a boy. I got my album somewhere. And he wandered off and came back with this

09:14

lovely album. And I looked through it. It was full of Victorian and Edwardian stamps.

09:21

And there's nothing from beyond about 1906 in here. The album actually is dedicated

09:26

February the 6th, 1901 when it was given. And I think he probably filled it in for a

09:30

few years then again drifted away from the hobby.

09:36

I gave it back to him and said that's fantastic. And he said, oh, I don't

09:39

really look at it any longer, why don't you have it? So I was blown away,

09:44

and said, well, thank you. That's marvelous. And I still do have it, and it's a real treasure.

09:48

It's a lovely. lovely album. It's slightly less lovely because I took it

09:52

to school when I was still collecting and some, word, I shall not say

09:57

in front for mixed audience, nicked half the stamps from it. That was not good news.

10:05

However, as is often in life, many years later that turned out to be quite

10:10

a good thing because when I, my father died in 2005, and I had to go and

10:15

clear the the attic out at home. So I was going through all this stuff upstairs and

10:20

I found a little canvas bag, opened it, inside was a stamp album. And I started

10:26

looking through it, and oh, this is lovely then I got to the Great Britain bit. Those empty

10:31

spaces there, oh god, yes, I remember somebody pinched them. And then I thought

10:36

well, how about, the best revenge is to have a happy life.

10:40

I shall build a collection up again. And so that's what I did. And I started collecting just the

10:46

Victorian and the Edwardian ones, to start with. And then sort of got hooked

10:52

and collected more, and more, and more. I'm still doing it.

10:59

Excuse me.

11:00

As I started collecting I became fascinated in the kinds of thing Dan was talking about,

11:05

these links between the stamps and history.

11:08

That to me, as I was getting these stamps,

11:11

they just intrigued me about what was Britain like at the time this stamp came out?

11:18

What was happening historically?

11:21

One of the interesting things about stamps is they have a kind of double life.

11:24

They are very public.

11:27

There's usually, especially more recently but even in the old Victorian days,

11:32

there's a kind of political imperative behind them.

11:36

Stamps represent the way a nation would like to see itself or,

11:44

let's say the way in which perhaps an elite within the nation would like to see itself.

11:49

They are public. They are political statements.

11:53

They're also artistic statements because they naturally reflect the design, theories, the popular design ideas of the time.

12:02

And yet of course because they are also wonderfully private because most stamps were on a letter

12:06

and there was a declaration of love inside that letter or,

12:10

a declaration from the front of the First World War about what's been happening or,

12:15

perhaps deeply, deeply personal stories inside the letter,

12:19

inside the envelope on which the stamp was.

12:22

Of course it might have been on a gas bill or something, I didn't know.

12:26

I can't guarantee it's going to be a wonderful personal story.

12:29

But I can always imagine.

12:31

So I started building this. As I started, as I filled the album, I got a new album.

12:37

I left this one as it was.

12:39

In the end, because I thought it's, just leave it, get a new, get a modern one.

12:42

Put the stamps in there.

12:43

And actually there's more space taken up with stuff about history in the album then there are stamps.

12:49

Because I just became so intrigued about the stories that each stamp tells.

12:54

And then it turned into this book. And here we are, History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps.

12:58

Choosing 36 was rather hard going because there's been an awful lot of them.

13:02

But I managed in the end.

13:04

Obviously I had to start with this one.

13:07

Needs no introduction.

13:09

Wonderful penny black.

13:11

And I think still one of the most beautiful stamps ever produced.

13:14

It's amazing how the designers got it absolutely right first time around.

13:19

You know the story of Roland Hill.

13:21

I'm sure I don't need to tell you this story but, just a comment and what an amazing man he was.

13:27

And we've heard from Don about the entrepreneurial traits that your dad had,

13:32

which just sounds as such a lovely man.

13:35

Um, and a great businessman.

13:37

And Roland Hill had these characteristics.

13:39

He was like an entrepreneur. He didn't take no for an answer.

13:43

And he had a vision, and he worked towards it.

13:45

And he had a lot of people standing in his way.

13:49

There was a an old boy who worked at the British Post Office called Colonel W. L. Maberly.

13:55

And his comment when Roland Hill suggested penny post was, this is an utterly preposterous idea!

14:02

And he spent the rest of his life annoying Roland Hill, trying to sort of frustrate his plans for postal reform.

14:08

But of course failed. Glad to say.

14:11

Um, 1840 that the damp actually came out.

14:16

The system beforehand was a complete shambles. As you know.

14:20

You had to, you went to the post office and said, I want to send a letter to Aberystwyth.

14:25

And they looked the great list. So, that'll be 7 pence. Oh, it weighs more than an ounce, so it'll be 11 pence.

14:30

Send it off, and then the recipient paid for it.

14:33

You didn't pay for it, like you do nowadays.

14:35

A recipient paid, which of course was hopelessly inefficient because sometimes there was nobody in and then it never got delivered.

14:40

Sometimes people would have it as a simple code, just to write something that would say they're alive. I'm okay.

14:47

You send the letter just to go through the post and the postman turns up, here's a letter.

14:51

Oh, and I don't want it because it doesn't matter, because they've got the message, I'm still alive.

14:56

And Hill actually started. He got into postal reform because

15:03

one day the postman turned up at his family home with some letters and they were so expensive

15:09

that, the money they wanted, he was sent into Birmingham to sell some clothes to pay for the receipt of the letters.

15:16

It was badly in need of reform and along came Roland Hill,

15:20

great man, made this happen.

15:22

So that's the story the Penny Black. It starts off with an entrepreneur, a social entrepreneur.

15:28

He didn't do it, he wasn't founding a business.

15:30

But he was, he was creating a vibrant social institution which is what I think what entrepreneurs do.

15:37

It's just a subset of it. They do a business side, he did something in government.

15:42

Interestingly, the modern debate about the value of the post office is still carrying on.

15:47

Where in Britain, Royal Mail has been privatized.

15:50

There's a question about what's going to happen to the USPS.

15:52

Roland Hill understood very clearly that there are hidden, non-monetary values to having a good postal system.

15:59

That they bind the community together. They help people. They increase literacy.

16:04

They did in the Victorian days anyway because people were encouraged to learn to read and write so they could communicate.

16:10

It made life more pleasant in lots ways that weren't reflected in the monetary values of the stamps.

16:16

And this is still a live issue today, I think.

16:23

Excuse me, I have a slight sore throat. It keeps me swigging away at this water. My apologies for the interruption in delivery.

16:28

Let's move on to the next stamp.

16:30

I've kind of cheated here because, um, I've got one of these embossed stamps in my collection,

16:36

but it's not the greatest example in the world so I just nicked this Olympian 1970.

16:42

Which is actually quite an interesting stamp. It is the last pre-decimal stamp to come out.

16:47

So it's not without interest but it's here at this point in the talk

16:53

because it's from 1847 which was a very significant year in your philately over here in America.

16:58

The first stamps came out.

17:00

And it's also a link with America and Britain because this is the,

17:04

the shilling embossed was a stamp you'd put on your letter to send to the States.

17:07

That was the rate. It was a shilling and the stamp was especially made in order to put on letters going to the USA.

17:15

And for me, this stamp always makes me think about entrepreneurship again

17:19

with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great engineer, with his steamships.

17:24

And he had this vision of an iron road from London to New York.

17:31

He gave you train, you'd get the train from Paddington Station. Take his wonderful Great Western Railway to Avonmouth.

17:37

You get on an ocean liner which he'd built, and you go to New York. What a vision, amazing man, quite fantastic.

17:44

And this is the stamp of that vision.

17:45

It's also connected with Henry Bessemer, the man who invented the steel converter which really was something

17:52

which do you then took on in America and really got the best out of.

17:55

Andrew Carnegie did much more with it than we did in Britain.

17:58

Afraid we were too busy empire building by that time.

18:01

But, um, Bessemer developed the system of embossing that was used to make this stamp.

18:09

So he's connected with that as well.

18:10

So this shilling embossed has a wonderful resonance connecting in with the

18:14

entrepreneurial history of the Victorian era.

18:17

And boy, was it entrepreneurial.

18:19

I mean, it was a time of great, great economic advance.

18:27

Okay, let's let's move on.

18:29

Here's the, um,

18:36

lovely, the penny lilac. Thank you.

18:38

The penny lilac. This is, I think, this is a very pleasant stamp.

18:42

One of its joys is its ordinariness.

18:45

Because it's a symbol of how successful Roland Hill's idea was.

18:51

The colonel said this would be a failure.

18:53

All that could happen is the post office will lose money because the latter rates are lower.

18:57

Of course it was a massive success because more, and more, and more people wrote

19:01

and it changed the way people think.

19:04

People became more reflective.

19:06

They became, they got into the habit of putting their thoughts down on paper.

19:11

Much more ordinary people did.

19:13

And this stamp is a symbol of that success.

19:16

33 billion of these stamps were produced.

19:19

It's an extraordinary number.

19:21

I don't know if you pile them on top of each other,

19:23

I don't how many Washington Monuments, you get loads of them actually.

19:26

I mean it's, 33 billion is an enormous number.

19:30

And this is a wonderful symbol of the success of the post office. What a fabulous idea it was.

19:36

The post office did a lot of all things. It introduced a telegram. It introduced the post office savings bank.

19:42

It was a marvelous, progressive institution that really cared about the quality of life of ordinary people

19:51

and did its best to bring about communication.

19:55

Um, very wonderful, wonderful images of success.

20:01

Next stamp please. Thank you.

20:04

Now here we are. this is the Jubilee issue.

20:07

Now this isn't actually the Queen's Jubilee at all.

20:10

The stamp just happened to come out the same year.

20:13

We didn't do commemorative stamps in Britain until 1924.

20:16

They were considered to be un-English.

20:19

It's alright for Americans. You can do that with a Columbus issue and your Trans-Mississippi and things.

20:24

But no, no, no. In Britain we don't do that sort of thing.

20:26

We have definitive stamps with monochrome. Nothing else.

20:31

However, this actually came out in the Jubilee year and so became known as the Jubilees.

20:35

And I must say, if I have my sort of one stamp issue, I had to take with me to a deserted island, it'll be this one.

20:41

It's such fun. It's colorful. It's bright.

20:45

All the stamps are different and absolutely marvelous.

20:48

And it's so redolent of Victorian society, late Victorian society.

20:52

They replaced an issue which is called the Lailoken green issue,

20:56

which came out in 1883, which was trumpeted as being a wonderful unified issue.

21:02

It's got a very simple, with nice clear lines, and elegant, and all that sort of stuff.

21:07

And out they came and everybody hated them. They were boring.

21:12

The postal staff couldn't tell which stamp was which.

21:16

If you tried to soak them off an envelope the ink ran.

21:18

Everybody hated them and so they got rid of them.

21:21

And they went back to these ones, which all the critics and the experts, and they said, oh it's terribly cluttered.

21:25

We don't like it.

21:27

But the Victorians loved clutter.

21:29

Go to a Victorian house, you know, go to Osborne House or something.

21:33

It's full of clutter. They love it.

21:35

If this was Victorian, there'd be a potted plant here, there'd be a dead stag up there,

21:40

there'd be an elephant's foot there with umbrellas.

21:42

There'd be a great big sort of velour thing over this and there'd be a plate, there'd be stuff everywhere.

21:48

The Victorians loved stuff and they'd cram their houses full of stuff.

21:52

And here they are. They've crammed their stamp full of stuff as well.

21:55

And they've got these wonderful curtains that are also very Victorian

21:59

because the Victorians, although they were in many ways terribly, terribly stiff upper lip,

22:05

they secretly loved a bit of melodrama.

22:07

And they'd all go to the theater and they'd see things like East Lynne

22:12

where the heroine said, dead but never called me mother.

22:16

And this sort of thing.

22:17

You know, they love this sort of stuff.

22:19

And there was a wonderful man, Francis Leveson, twirling his moustache

22:22

as he's trying to seduce the ladies.

22:24

They love this thing, the Victorians.

22:26

And here are the curtains which would peel back to reveal wonderful soap operas which they all enjoyed, hugely.

22:33

There was more to the Victorians than meets the eye.

22:36

I think it's all part of the fun of the Victorians.

22:38

And it is in this stamp so, but in, in a quiet sort of way. We have to kind of dig in there and find it and it's all there.

22:45

Wonderful. Love the Victorians.

22:47

However it came to the end. Dear Lady passed away in 1901.

22:51

I haven't got an Edward VII stamp.

22:53

I've talked about it in the book. But I think probably need to whiz on to our next stamp please, Adam.

22:58

The Seahorse.

22:59

What a beautiful stamp. I think again, artistically, this is absolutely gorgeous.

23:03

Politically, it's a shameless piece of propaganda for Britannia ruling the waves.

23:10

Which of course we did do. I mean it's no doubt about it.

23:12

The British Navy, in 1913 when the stamp came out, was not only the biggest in the world,

23:17

it was bigger than the next two navies put together.

23:20

That was Germany and the USA.

23:24

So, this beautiful, marvelous stamp is shameless, shameless political propaganda, really.

23:31

Interestingly enough, the naval superiority that Britain had with all these battleships we built

23:38

was virtually useless and we nearly lost the First World War because of the submarines.

23:44

Because that's that they became the most important naval vessel in the First World War.

23:48

Not these battleships at all.

23:49

Certainly not horses, never worked. They experimented, the horses kept sinking. Don't know why.

23:56

There is, there is something, I mean there's something, right,

23:58

you can imagine a little periscope emerging in the corner then firing a torpedo

24:02

and sinking this thing, that's, in Britain we say that's not cricket.

24:07

But it's war and we nearly lost. In 1917 Britain nearly starved which would have made all the sacrifice

24:15

but worthless because nobody had any food back home because of the submarine.

24:21

So I'm afraid the glory of the British battleship was not a huge amount of use.

24:27

We did, we did sort of half won the Battle of Jutland.

24:30

and which was a battleship encounter but that wasn't, it wasn't crucial.

24:34

It was the war at sea with the u-boats that was the thing in the First World War.

24:39

But of course also it was fought on land.

24:41

One more please. And this stamp has a very tragic side to it. It's a King George V definitive.

24:48

It's an ordinary stamp, pennies down letter rate.

24:51

If you are an officer, or, if your son or your husband was an officer, and they got killed in the war, you'd get a telegram.

25:00

If your son or husband was an ordinary soldier we just got a letter, with one of these stamps on.

25:08

So one of these comes puffing through your letterbox with War Office written on it, not over printed.

25:14

They'd stop doing over prints by then.

25:16

And inside you get one of these.

25:18

Can you just click it on please for a second?

25:20

You got this. And I've got copies of this here.

25:22

This was a form, Army form B104-82.

25:27

And in line, Madam it is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office

25:33

notifying the death of number, rank, and then finally, neither less important, name,

25:39

regiment with which occurred, on the, report is the effect that he was, and then even, killed in action.

25:46

And they just a stamp for it.

25:48

What a terrible thing, when you think about it. That's how people got the news of a loved one's death.

25:55

And maybe it had to be that way.

25:57

I mean after the first Battle of the Somme, 1st of July in 1916, umm, 20,000 people killed in one day.

26:05

Well you couldn't write letter to everybody. Suppose they had to use these things.

26:09

But it's something, sort of terrifyingly evocative about this.

26:13

And if, let's just take the thing back please, and back, this stamp,

26:18

because that was the stamp that would be on the envelope that would have brought that terrible news.

26:23

I've got these, so everyone have a look at afterwards please, please do so.

26:28

Okay let's march on to a couple of ones. Lovely. Thank you very much.

26:31

Now we're getting into the 1920s and this

26:34

fine stamp, Harold Nelson's British Empire Exhibition from 1924.

26:39

Before I started collecting I didn't even know this exhibition had ever happened.

26:43

It was something I knew nothing about at all. But it was an amazing event.

26:47

It had 25 million visitors which doesn't mean 25 million people went to it.

26:52

But, 25 million visits should I say, because lots of people went a number of times.

26:56

It was held in Wembley on what was then sort of empty ground.

27:01

There's a rather bizarre story behind this ground.

27:03

Some people had decided, and it's very reasonable thing to want to do,

27:06

is try and beat the French and build an Eiffel Tower in London. It was bigger of course.

27:11

And they got about a hundred feet and then ran out of money.

27:14

And the ground, it just sat there for about 30 years.

27:17

And the Empire Arts business was actually built on the ground where this failed Eiffel Tower was.

27:24

The stamp says an awful lot about the era, some of it very ironic.

27:30

There was a competition launched to have a stamp for this.

27:34

The King finally, he was a great philatelist.

27:37

George V was a great philatelist and built on the Royal Collection which is already quite big

27:42

because Prince Albert had been, not Prince Albert, oh Prince Alfred,

27:46

one of the Queen Victoria's sons had been a great collector.

27:49

But George really built the collection up to massive proportions and was very keen on the nation stamps

27:55

and it was he who really frowned on these commemorative stamps.

28:00

But he was a rich, shrewd man, not hugely likeable man.

28:04

But he was very sharp and he understood the value of stamps as propaganda.

28:09

And he was very much like Roosevelt here in the states who both loved stamps and understood that they do speak to people.

28:17

And I think when the Empire Exhibition stamp was mooted he saw the point

28:21

and though they, although it was a little bit, a little bit un-British to have commemorative stamps, um,

28:28

just in this case you'd make an exception.

28:30

So we had, the competition was launched and he was won by Eric Gill who was a great designer,

28:35

somewhat flawed human being but a great designer.

28:38

Very modernist.

28:41

The King looked at this and said, ah, not having this. Get somebody else.

28:45

And they got Harold Nelson's bid. And this is good old-fashioned Emperor, tub-thumping, chest-beating, lion-roaring stuff.

28:54

And it's very beautiful it's a lovely stamp.

28:57

Family stamp. And again, a bit like the seahorse, it's a shameless propaganda.

29:02

But of course there's the Sun in the background by the postage, by the lion.

29:06

Now what's that Sun doing? Is it rising on a glorious empire?

29:10

Mm-mmm. It's setting on an empire that was, days were numbered.

29:15

It was numbered after the First World War.

29:17

Britain's debt-to-gdp ratios went through the roof.

29:23

We couldn't afford to run the empire any longer after the First World War.

29:26

And then we had the Massacre of Amritsar in 1919 when General Dyer

29:32

went and shot about a thousand people for, something, standing around, sort of not doing as they were told.

29:39

A terrible, terrible, terrible piece of imperial arrogance.

29:44

What's so fascinating. This is why history is so strange and how things change over time.

29:48

Dyer, who massacred these people, his last words were, did I do the right thing?

29:56

Isn't that extraordinary?

29:58

Anyway. So that didn't help the empire either. So he got people like Gandhi and, saying go quit India.

30:05

And so this stamp was one wonderful ironic story because, while it was coming out and the lion was roaring away,

30:12

what was really happening was the empire was sort of, well beginning to crumble.

30:16

It was beginning to fall apart.

30:18

I think people still had fun at the exhibition.

30:21

The style is very quite old, old school isn't it?

30:24

These are letters and things. It did look, and engraved stamps, old-fashioned piece of technology making it.

30:31

It looks old. If we move on to the next one please.

30:33

Suddenly we're in a new era.

30:36

We're in the 1930s now, mid-30s modernism.

30:40

It's a photogravure technology so it's a different way of producing stamps.

30:43

All the Imperial flag-waving and things are gone. Okay, there's a crown in it.

30:47

But I mean it's, it's not, it's not the same.

30:49

It's, a new vision is behind this. And this was behind a lot of the public art in Britain in the 1930s.

30:56

A bit like that the New Deal art you had here.

30:58

It's the same idea that it is a job of public bodies to make life beautiful,

31:04

and attractive, and pleasant, and to produce beautiful objects.

31:08

And there were a lot of the post boxes and phone boxes designed by George Gilbert Scott.

31:15

The tube stations, the tube map, all sorts of things were suddenly done beautifully by the powers that be.

31:22

A new idea really, and this stamp is a lovely example of it, I think.

31:26

It's a very beautiful stamp and a very powerful image because

31:29

it's a very, very sinister stamp coming up next which is not a real one.

31:33

This is a parody of it done by the Nazis. And there's another one actually the Nazis did of the Coronation Stamp.

31:45

There were are.

31:47

But, these parodies horrible as they are, do show the power of this postage stamp.

31:52

No, this isn't just a silly little bit of paper you stick on a letter and forget about.

31:56

This is a very important statement.

31:58

It is a historical object.

32:01

[unintelligible question from the audience]

32:06

I assume it must have been.Yes, I assume it was. It was a sort of a comment on the conference.

32:11

Yeah, and which of course itself, was a sad event.

32:15

These conferences during the war were very sad events for Britain because it was a time when,

32:20

you got the impression that Roosevelt and Stalin was sort of basically dividing the world that between themselves

32:25

and Britain was being left out because we weren't big enough any longer.

32:29

That's the way it was.

32:32

Anyway, the war came along when these conferences happening. If you could us along please.

32:37

Thank you very much.

32:38

There we all know we had him first of all, sort of going back in time suddenly.

32:41

It's Edward VIII.

32:43

There's a great story about this stamp. I find it slightly irrelevant to history but this was designed by 17 year old.

32:49

Designed by young Michael Hubert Brown.

32:51

And as you do when you're 17, you just think, oh I'll do this.

32:55

I'll design it. I'll send it off to the post office. They send it off to Harrisons, the stamp printers actually. And then forgot about.

33:00

He's a 17 year old with too many other things to think about.

33:02

And then the stamp appeared.

33:04

And he said to his dad, that is my stamp.

33:06

And his dad said, was it? Yeah, I sent the design off.

33:10

So his dad contacted the post office and said, you know, can you give us some credit for this please?

33:15

And the post office said, no, we designed it.

33:20

It says quite a lot about the arrogance of power that was still around in those days.

33:24

And bless his dad who fought a really long battle to get Hubert Brown

33:29

credited as a designer which has been won and he is now,

33:33

if you get the Stanley Gibbons catalogue it says designer H. Brown.

33:36

I think it says something like, adapted by Harrisons and Co.

33:39

So, so he hasn't completely got the credit.

33:41

But people who know, know that he designed it, 17 years old.

33:45

And this was going to be a new era with a new monarch and a beautiful modern stamp.

33:51

What a lovely, clear modern design. Fabulous piece of design.

33:54

Absolute disastrous King.

33:59

Not the right man for the job, had a big, big ego.

34:04

Monarchs, monarchs are much better at being rather quiet, just listening, getting the other point of view.

34:10

George V was good that as well.

34:11

He was an odd man and objectionable in lots of ways but, he listened and thought about things.

34:17

And Stanley Baldwin once said, we ought to go out and shoot these people for going on strike.

34:22

And the king said, try living on their wages for a week, Mr. Baldwin.

34:25

But that was his dad. He was a difficult man.

34:29

So he abdicated.

34:31

Interestingly, it's still, people people are very divided about Edward VIII, you know.

34:35

Was he this rather dodgy sort of egotistical narcissistic man who flirted with fascism.

34:40

Or was he somebody who gave it all up for love, rejecting the frippery of public office for love? Which one?

34:49

And people still debate about that.

34:51

Maybe he was both.

34:53

That's interesting.

34:54

On we move,

34:55

to the war. It started.

34:57

And George, lovely stamps, the George VI definitives.

35:03

Bright colors, lovely bright colors, a lot of the low values were.

35:07

However the war soon started eating away at Britain's resources and we ended up,

35:12

come back one please,

35:13

with that. They took all the color out because they were short of ink.

35:16

And we were short of everything else as well, including money.

35:19

And I think by about mid-nineteen forty-one basically Britain was bankrupt.

35:24

Fortunately you guys came and helped us out with lend-lease which is very fortunate,

35:28

otherwise, I don't know what would have happened.

35:31

We'd have lost war, basically. That's what would've happened.

35:34

Umm. So thank you, very much.

35:37

And, let's let's move on to the Victory stamp from 1946.

35:43

And this is a very interesting stamp.

35:45

This tells, it has a lot of history bundled up in this one because this is a stamp celebrating victory.

35:51

We'd beaten the, whatever, you know, we won!

35:55

But it's not very exciting is it?

35:58

It's not very triumphal because this is, it isn't even a victory stamp. It's a first anniversary of victory stamp.

36:04

It came out in 1946.

36:06

It's all about reconstruction. It's rather sort of earnest and worthy.

36:10

And that's partially because, in 1945 we had the big general election when Winston Churchill was booted out of office.

36:18

He'd saved the nation, everybody liked him, but they didn't think much of his party, the Conservatives.

36:24

They wanted political change. They wanted the Labour Party, the Socialist Party, Clement Attlee, a man Churchill once said,

36:32

an empty cab drew outside number ten Downing Street and Clement Attlee got out.

36:38

[laughter]

36:42

I don't know. That's politics.

36:46

So it was a very different, very different mindsets, more egalitarian, quite worthy, striving,

36:51

but this need to reconstruct the country and whatever one's politics,

36:55

what comes out of this stamp is reconstruction.

36:59

We've got to get the agriculture sorted out.

37:01

We've got to build more houses for people, get our industry back, which has been damaged by the war,

37:06

get our trade going again.

37:07

We had virtually no cargo ships. They'd all been sunk.

37:10

So we had to, had to resurrect.

37:13

We also had the National Health Service which is of course something of a hot issue here in the States these days.

37:19

You've got Obamacare, we had Attleecare. And Attleecare, in truth is, I think it's been very successful.

37:25

But it's not been what they thought it was going to be

37:28

because when Attleecare was introduced, people were told, it's going to be a bit expensive to start with,

37:34

but as people get healthier, the costs are going to come down.

37:39

This has not happened.

37:41

They have gone up, and up, and up, and up, and up. But you know, it's still, it's a model copied in most of Western Europe, so.

37:51

It's not a uniquely eccentric idea.

37:52

But it's kind of in this, I'd have taken the liner off and put the stethoscope on but they can't even get around to that.

37:58

But that's a victory stamp, anyway. It's, it's very, of its era, as they all are.

38:05

Let's move on. Anyway. This is, I think, my desert island postage stamp.

38:10

If I had to take one stamp with me to a desert island, it would be this

38:13

beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Edmund Dulac Coronation from 1953.

38:18

Dulac, one of our best stamp designers, has never lived to see the stamp produced.

38:23

He died before it actually appeared in post offices.

38:25

Terribly sad.

38:27

Very interesting, the Queen is looking at us straight in the eye.

38:31

That didn't happen before. If you get so, can you just click it back for a second, back to oh,

38:35

King George, the profile side. They experimented in 1913 when King George V came to the throne.

38:43

The King turned a little bit about three-quarter profile to the audience on the stamp and nobody liked it.

38:51

And there were so many complaints that they got rid of it.

38:53

And he went back to sort of, being, and sort of side on.

38:57

And then this said, oh no, can we go back to, thank you,

39:00

back to Her Majesty looking at us straight in the eye.

39:03

So that's that's a very radical gesture. That's very radical. That's a big change.

39:09

So it says, you know, they're going to be new things happening in this reign.

39:12

And what a beautiful stamp and she looks lovely on it. It's just fantastic. It's an absolute masterpiece.

39:18

But it is a stamp of changes afoot.

39:23

Can we move on please?

39:24

The, um, this is a funny one.

39:27

The nice definitive stamps came out at the same time.

39:30

This one is Michael Pharaoh Bells, a fourpence with the Dorothy Wilding portrait of the Queen.

39:36

Most people, and it's got this writing, if you just ignore the writing for a minute,

39:39

the parliamentary conference, there's a good story behind that.

39:42

The stamp, it looks a little bit, it's fussier than the King George.

39:46

If you compare that with the Edward VIII, for example. It's become much fussier and frillier, and things like that.

39:52

And again critics tend to say, oh we didn't like this. It's fussy and stamps ought to be simple.

39:55

But actually people liked it. People wanted a bit of fuss and frills.

39:58

After the austerity of the war, and the cruelty the war.

40:02

So many people came back from the war with horrible memories of things they'd seen and done,

40:07

they wanted the cottage with the roses round the door and this is a kind of philatelic equivalent of that.

40:13

This actual stamp itself is a wonderfully botched up job.

40:18

To me, this stamp is the Suez Fiasco in a stamp. It's a complete mess and it happened.

40:27

I mean, like Suez, it happened because of official incompetence.

40:32

Quite extraordinary.

40:34

There was a thing called the Parliamentary Conference. It's a kind of roving conference.

40:39

It takes place every year, and supposedly in democracies

40:42

though it has taken place in Pyongyang before, now, so they don't always choose very good places.

40:48

But, um, it was in London in 1957.

40:50

And there it happened that the man in charge of it was a chap named Malcolm Sherlock Scott.

40:56

And he knew that the Postmaster General said, look, yah we need a stamp designed for this thing.

40:59

And Donaldson said, um now we don't, nobody's ever heard of this thing.

41:02

Oh yes, we do. No we don't. Yes, we do. No, we don't. Yes, we do. No we...

41:05

Finally, very shortly before the conference is due to start, it was agreed.

41:09

Okay, we'll do a stamp. But it was too late to get a designer in.

41:13

And the head of design at the post office had to go home one evening with his letraset and put parliamentary conference down the side.

41:21

That's how much of a hurry it was done in.

41:24

It was sent off to the printers. And the printers phoned him up and said, you've left out the 46.

41:29

And he said, oh, "dot", "dot", "dot", and, well put it in somewhere. And so they did.

41:35

[laughter]

41:37

And that's stamp design, the Suez version of stamp design.

41:41

It is actually very interesting.

41:43

Talking about Suez, Eisenhower and Eden, they communicated by post

41:50

through most of the build-up to the Suez crisis.

41:52

It was all done by post.

41:54

They didn't even phone each other until the whole thing had started.

41:58

Extraordinary. Amazing how things were done in those days.

42:00

Forget emails and things, they actually wrote each other letters and even still didn't understand.

42:05

Now it was very clear, we are not going to support you if you do this.

42:09

He didn't. He just sort of didn't take any notice.

42:13

It's all goes to show how the written word can be ignored if you that's what you want to do. Next slide please.

42:19

Anyway, we're getting on into the 1960s now.

42:22

And in 1964 another big political change. Labour government again.

42:28

Harold Wilson, Prime Minister, with his pipe and his raincoat.

42:30

And he once stuffed his pipe in his pocket and left it there, and his raincoat caught fire.

42:35

All this stuff, but fundamentally a decent man, I think.

42:38

And his um, his, um, Postmaster General was a guy called the Viscount Stansgate.

42:45

Although, actually his name is Antony Wedgwood Benn. He doesn't like that either.

42:50

Tony Benn, we gotta call him.

42:51

Cause that's sort of that working class sort of thing. Though he was posh as anybody in fact.

42:55

Anyway Tony Benn wanted to get the Queen's head off the stamps.

42:59

This was the new Labor Britain, get rid of the Queen's head.

43:03

And he got in touch with David Gentleman who's a very fine British stamp designer.

43:08

And David Gentleman produced a little portfolio of stamps with no Queen's heads on them.

43:13

And took them to the Queen, and Benn took them to the Queen.

43:16

And he thought I'll do set with racehorses on because the Queen's nuts about horse racing.

43:22

Went to Buckingham Palace and started, he had to put them on the floor. It's quite comical scene.

43:25

And the Queen stood there with a certain amount of froideur on her face, I imagine.

43:29

To see sort of, put out all these stands without her face on them.

43:32

And said, what do you think of that? And Her Majesty said, um, interesting.

43:36

And then communicated her displeasure to Harold Wilson the next day.

43:40

However, they did take off the... Sorry, can you just run it back just one stamp?

43:45

You see the Dorothy Wilding portrait of the Queen?

43:47

That was also on all the commemorative stamps.

43:51

And aesthetically it was a bit of, a sort of, kind of overwhelmed the stamp a bit.

43:55

From an artistic point of view, I can see the reason why they changed it.

43:59

And there was a compromise whereby the Queen's head was replaced by a cameo

44:04

which I think is rather nice. Artistically that worked well.

44:07

This is the first set of stamps to come out with the cameo on, a lovely landscape set.

44:13

And then shortly after that, the next one, please.

44:16

The cameo got even smaller and we won the World Cup! Yes, yeah, wonderful!

44:22

And we haven't won it since. Never mind.

44:24

What a great time that was 1966.

44:26

I said, I was a little bit young for the fun but I mean you know, if there was a summer of love in Britain it was then.

44:32

It wasn't 1967. He was 1966.

44:34

We had very whether, the Beatles produced Revolver, the Kinks produced Sunny Afternoon. What an era. Fantastic

44:42

And everybody was into it. This is not...

44:44

One of the criticisms people say, oh well, swinging London it was just a bunch of metropolitan trendies.

44:49

But it wasn't, because people had radios, they had gramophones.

44:51

I had a little gramophone I used to listen to these records on.

44:55

People had, people could join in. Youngsters could join in.

45:00

He may have been, when you read endless, rather boring biographies of people who were swinging London types,

45:07

you kind of get slightly nauseated by their own kind of self-importance.

45:11

But this was happening for everybody. It wasn't just swinging London, it was everywhere.

45:15

There was a new vibrancy. And a nice colorful stamp. And we won the World Cup.

45:20

I think I was hiding behind the sofa over the last few minutes of the game, it was so exciting.

45:26

If you'd like to move on please.

45:28

'cuz here, in the museum here, though apparently might be out on loan, is John Lennon's stamp collection.

45:34

Because I mean what was the '60s without the Beatles?

45:36

And John Lennon, like every young lad in the '50s, collected stamps.

45:40

He had a little stamp collection. So did Paul McCartney.

45:43

Paul McCartney didn't deface his stamp collection.

45:46

John Lennon did, which sort of says a lot about the difference between the two of them.

45:50

And he's provided Queen Victoria with a splendid beard and I think a cigar or something.

45:55

And King George VI has got a beard and the kind of spy outfit as well.

46:01

And I'd love to see the original.

46:03

That's great. So that was a Beatles.

46:04

I mean, what a fantastic band. Never equaled in my view. I'm showing my age here.

46:10

On we went.

46:12

Decimal currency, 1971. We've got rid of the old pounds shillings and pence

46:17

and had these beautiful Arnold Machin stamps. Aren't they lovely.

46:20

They're right back to simplicity because it was time to move on.

46:22

We've had, I like the '50s stamps. I like the Wildings and they're very nice but things moved on.

46:27

And designers like David Gentlemen and Arnold Machin who did the picture of the Queen on there

46:34

wanted to simplify things, clear sharp images for the new age, and absolutely right.

46:40

15th of February you could get yourself a first day cover except you couldn't because the post office is on strike.

46:47

Welcome to the 1970s in Britain.

46:50

Strikes. This, that, and the other.

46:53

God knows, we had a, British cars used to be the best cars in Europe.

46:57

In the '70s, they were not the best cars in Europe, they were

47:02

rust buckets.

47:03

I know, I drove around in one.

47:05

British Leyland, it was a kind of a conglomeration of British car companies and it was an absolute disaster.

47:11

Lost money, produced rubbish cars. They wee on strike all the time and ended up going bankrupt.

47:17

The post office lost money. The post office never lost money.

47:19

It lost, I think, in 1975 300 million pounds or something.

47:23

Everything was going completely bonkers.

47:25

And, I think, under the stock market collapse, it was as it was much worse than the British stock market during the Depression age.

47:33

Forget that. It fell about 80% something like that, almost as bad as Wall Street in the 1930s.

47:39

There was a sudden sense, oh my god, we've lost the plot.

47:44

What is happening? Where are we going? Who's in charge of this country round here?

47:48

Oh dear. Things did not look good. In 1976 we had to go to the International Monetary Fund to borrow money.

47:54

So then, and now the real sort of payday lenders with completely screwed up countries

48:00

and we had to go cap in hand to them, can I have some money please?

48:02

We can't run our country properly.

48:06

Bad, very bad. Very bad.

48:08

So, Queen's Jubilee, 1977, oh, who cares.

48:12

Country hasn't got any money anyhow. We got some nice stamps. Richard Guyot.

48:17

There's a nice, nice stamp echoing, intelligently echoing the Jubilee stamp we've seen earlier.

48:22

The Jubilee came along. Nobody really bothered very much.

48:25

The Queen, Prince Philip went around shook a few hands.

48:29

And then they had these street parties. And people thought, well okay, we'll go to the street party. Why not?

48:34

They had rather a good time and people started enjoying themselves.

48:39

And they got the Union Jacks out and hung them on the streets. And the Queen was on the television.

48:45

Suddenly, I remember this. It was extraordinary.

48:47

The nation suddenly thought, yeah, okay.

48:49

We're all right. We're okay. We haven't got an empire any longer. So what. We're, we're not as big as America.

48:54

Well you know, tough. We're okay. We can do things. We're all right.

48:58

We're good people. We've got something. We got a history. We've got energy.

49:02

We're not going to give up. It was amazing. The Jubilee was an extraordinary event.

49:07

Extraordinary event. It kind of saved the nation in a way. It really was very, very strange.

49:11

I remember it. Very strange.

49:14

So, kind of, the birth of modern Britain just got a couple of stamps on modern Britain.

49:17

Here's this nice Brian Sanders stamp. Good friend of mine. Lives in a village next to where I live.

49:24

And here's the first black British person to feature on a stamp, no, to headline on a stamp

49:30

because he had actually done one before with a little guy in the background.

49:34

But here this young lad is right at the foreground, Boy Scout Celebration Youth Organizations 1981.

49:40

Britain's becoming diverse.

49:42

This guy's dad probably came over on a boat called 'Windrush' in 1948 or maybe his granddad even.

49:48

And so, we've got, and there have been, I kinda don't want to present a kind of an over glorified picture.

49:55

There been problems.

49:57

The original arrivals on the 'Windrush' met considerable prejudice which I feel very embarrassed.

50:04

But unfortunately that happened.

50:05

But things are moving on and there's a nice symbol of it. The next stamp, please.

50:11

Europe, Britain is supposed to be part of Europe but we can't make up our mind whether we want to be or not.

50:15

The post office insists that Europe is a wonderful thing.

50:19

We turned out endless stamps about any European event.

50:22

The second election for the European Parliament. Got this stamp.

50:25

We don't have a stamp for our own election. Just the Europe one.

50:28

And you get turnouts about some free presenters. Now I'm being facetious.

50:32

But it's Lowes 20% or something, people are not interested.

50:35

I love this stamp because it sums up the British attitude to Europe absolutely perfectly.

50:39

There's a bull charging in one direction and the rider is looking in the completely opposite direction.

50:45

So we really don't know what we're doing.

50:48

In the long run of course, we've got to be part of Europe. That's the way things are.

50:52

But it's kind of, we're slightly being dragged, screaming and kicking into it.

50:55

And I think this stamp sums it up very nicely.

50:59

And then of course here's poor Diana.

51:01

What a sad stamp, we see her face on there. She does not look happy,

51:05

She's glamorous, she's incredibly beautiful.

51:09

They bought out after she died.

51:10

They had a set five stamps of very beautiful pictures of her and she's alone on every one of them.

51:18

There's nobody else on them.

51:20

And this is another issue. A bit like Edward VIII, divides everybody in Britain.

51:25

Well, who was Diana?

51:26

Was she a simple girl who was sucked up into this corrupt system and chewed up and spat out by it?

51:35

Or will she of publicity-seeking, narcissistic, manipulative whatever?

51:40

You know and there's this big argument still in Britain.

51:43

The people will get quite hot under the collar about Diana, whether she was good or bad.

51:49

Either way, her death was an extraordinary event which again changed British life in a very profound way.

51:59

I remember going to Hyde Park and seeing all these flowers thousands, millions of them.

52:05

Bunches of flowers left in the park outside the palace, outside Kensington Gardens.

52:11

Everywhere, flowers, and notes, a lot of them saying, you were too good for them.

52:18

Whoa!

52:19

So, but it's the British suddenly got emotional at that time.

52:25

Because normally it's a stiff upper lip, Old Chatham, natives just stuck a spear in your leg,

52:31

well think of England! Stop complaining! You've got one leg.

52:37

Well there is a wonderful story about some general at the Battle of Waterloo.

52:41

Um, General Picton and he was standing next to Duke of Wellington sitting on a horse,

52:45

next to Duke of Wellington and a cannon blew his leg off.

52:49

And he said to Wellington,

52:52

oh my god, my leg's been blown off!

52:55

And Wellington said, oh gosh, so it has.

52:58

That was the end of the conversation.

53:00

So that was, kind of, the old British way of doing things.

53:04

And that all changed. That all change.

53:07

With 1997 there was a much more emotionally literate country emerged from it.

53:12

Also at the same time there was the Labor government. The New Labor with Tony Blair came into power.

53:19

And that changed things a lot as well.

53:21

The old conservative government had been very good in a lot of ways

53:23

but it's sort of, it was rather sort of, rather cold.

53:26

And I think Blair introduced a more sort of touchy-feely emotionally literate,

53:31

to come back to that term, kind of government.

53:33

A lot of things wrong but that was a good change.

53:36

He understood the Diana thing immediately.

53:38

He penned his very famous speech about the People's Princess

53:41

on the back of an envelope on the train on the way down to London.

53:44

And whereas Hague who's British, um, Conservative Party leader

53:49

just sort of harrumphed and fluffed around and didn't know what to make of it.

53:53

Blair understood. Got it absolutely right.

53:56

So we're nearing the end of our journey through Britain.

53:58

Here's, um, we're now part of the World Wide Web, it's a nice stamp by Peter Till.

54:02

And showing the Web being weaved.

54:05

And of course it also sort of reflects Britain's globalized position.

54:10

Now we're all part of the global economy.

54:12

We can't just, sort of, be in our little enclave any longer.

54:17

It's nicely celebrated on this stamp.

54:20

I just put that in because I think that's kind of fun.

54:22

It's a nicely designed stamp from 2006.

54:26

Sounds of Britain. It's some diverse society that knows how to enjoy itself a bit which I think is attractive.

54:34

And finally, last but not least, that one.

54:38

Very nice. It was splendid, splendid. A nice stamp. Mario Testino.

54:43

Good photographs, great event. We're terribly British about this.

54:47

Before it happened people weren't that, well, that enthusiastic.

54:53

And some people were saying, the left wingers were saying, oh monarchy, all this money spent on it.

54:57

Even the right wing people were saying the same, taxpayer's money being spent on this event.

55:01

And, and there was a general lack of interest until about three days beforehand

55:05

and everybody suddenly got incredibly excited, and we all watched it on television.

55:09

And it was wonderful, absolutely brilliant, fantastic event and just magical.

55:15

And of course, I mean it is very nice.

55:18

They do actually love each other which is unfortunately not the case with Charles and Diana.

55:22

So you know it's a lovely and ugly way to conclude the story.

55:26

I think that, um, it is Britain carrying on with its traditions.

55:31

But actually, if you flick back please, just to the sounds Britain.

55:33

There's also a new start, a new aspect to the country as well.

55:35

So it does kind of have, there's a continuity and change which is what history is all about anyway.

55:40

And it's been, I think very well reflected in our stamps.

55:44

First to make a concluding comment, if you could just go to the Royal Cup again.

55:47

A wonderful book. Go out and buy it.

55:49

Can you just go back to, back one more? There we go, back to the Royal Couple.

55:55

This subject does get touched on. What is the future of stamps themselves?

56:00

Because you couldn't go into a post office, buy one of these and stick it on a letter.

56:04

You had to buy a special commemorative sheet to collect and there's something slightly strange about that.

56:11

There's a kind of postmodern artificiality to it.

56:15

Because all the other stamps we've seen in this show and all the stamps in this book,

56:19

they were all designed to be used.

56:23

You'd buy them. You'd put them on a letter. You'd send them through the post.

56:26

This issue, okay, they're stamps and you could use them.

56:30

They would be honored by the post office but

56:33

there was a sense in which they were being issued to be collected.

56:37

And I think that happens more and more with stamps.

56:40

And has been happening for a while which is okay, for a while but it,

56:44

it's a bit like watering down a brand or something.

56:46

You can only do it once. You can take a brand downmarket but it's really difficult to take it back up again.

56:51

And there's a sense in which and I don't, haven't got a clever answer for this,

56:54

but I worry about the future of stamps because

56:59

if they stop being things that people actually use and part of the fabric of everyday life,

57:04

and just become things that people collect, that's not so interesting.

57:09

The fun of collecting them, is that they weren't made to be collected,

57:13

they were made to be used.

57:15

So I leave you with that conundrum.

57:17

I suppose I'd also like to leave you with the thought of when you go back to your

57:21

collections, just think about the history and think about the people on these stamps

57:26

and what they did and the stories the stamps tell.

57:28

But I mean here's a wonderful thing stamps tell stories.

57:31

Look at your stamp collection and enjoy the stories because they are wonderful, they are wonderful little time machines.

57:38

So enjoy your journeys back in time.

57:40

Thank you, very much ladies and gentlemen it's been a huge pleasure.

57:44

[applause]

57:52

So we can spend about five to seven minutes on questions and answers.

57:56

And then at the end of that time we'll invite you to continue the conversation out in the reception.

58:02

Lovely. Can you click it forward? Oh no, respect for the King. That is fine. A future King anyway.

58:10

Question? Sir?

58:14

Thank you.

58:15

I wondered of what you thought is one of the rarest British stamps?

58:19

You follow your nation stamps. Is it the five-pound orange under Victoria?

58:25

Well I, I think it's pretty rare. It's pretty rare.

58:28

I mean there was an Edwardian stamp, they did a two-penny tyrian plum

58:35

which is incredibly rare because they hardly made any of them.

58:38

Well they made quite a few but they destroyed them all because the King died.

58:41

It's a lovely stamp, beautiful stamp, the two-pence tyrian plum.

58:46

That's pretty rare.

58:47

All right, I have one other question.

58:49

I watched the Titanic film we have here,

58:52

and they indicated there are six million packages and letters on that ship

58:56

and the bags are still down there and there's sea life growing on it.

58:59

They show in the Registered room is a grate and it looks partly open.

59:04

I wondered, is there any interest in the British government in recovering the registered mail?

59:09

It's clearly much more critical than the rest of it and today's technology might permit such an operation.

59:14

They should honor their obligation to the people who sent those letters. I quite agree.

59:19

I agree, absolutely. But I mean I don't know whether there is or not, I'm afraid.

59:24

But there certainly should be.

59:25

I mean, traditionally the post office been very good at fulfilling its obligations and getting the post through.

59:31

There's that lovely quote you have on your post office in New York about getting through.

59:35

It says, through the snow, in the night and then... the post office has been very good at that sort of thing.

59:41

So maybe they will. That be nice. Thank you.

59:44

Wonderful presentation.

59:47

I'm a collector of Great Britain and I kind of expected as you got towards the end,

59:52

I'd see one of the country issues that's become a big issue in Great Britain right now,

59:58

to the point where Scotland is holding a referendum in a year.

60:01

Well we, what I did have...

60:03

Can you just ping it back a few to the... I'll tell you when to stop.

60:06

Keep going.

60:10

There.

60:11

Oh, yeah, there we are.

60:12

This was a kind of country issue because it was British landscapes.

60:16

It's got Sussex, Atrim which is in Northern Ireland,

60:18

Harlech Castle in Wales, wonderful place I've been there, and the Cairngorms in Scotland.

60:23

So, and that was the start of, well, it wasn't the start.

60:26

We did have regional issues before.

60:28

They had them when the new Queen came to the throne.

60:32

We started having regional issues quite early on.

60:34

But I think that's a nice, a nice little set

60:37

which shows people thinking in terms of the regions.

60:40

And of course now we've got this question of Scottish independence. Are the Scots going to go vote for independence?

60:45

Who knows. I have no idea.

60:47

So yes that's another aspect of British life which you kind of get out of those ones, I think.

60:51

But yes, thank you for mentioning that.

60:53

This gentleman here?

61:01

On the last stamp that you showed, the Prince. Can you show that again?

61:07

Can we run back to, run forward, there.

61:11

The stamp on the left has no denomination. Is that right?

61:15

We've got "first" on it which is the first class letter.

61:18

So we had, we introduced this quite a long time ago with some first class and second class mail

61:25

and that's a first class stamp which is kind of better than having a figure on it

61:29

because the stamps keep going up in price. You can keep using them.

61:33

It's like the Forever ones in the USA. It's the same idea.

61:36

Thank you.

61:38

Madam?

61:42

Again on the last stamp you've got there it is, I don't know whether you planned it this way,

61:47

but it's a very nice illustration of the point you made earlier about the British public's reaction to the death of Diana.

61:57

The emergence of an emotional literacy which is beautifully illustrated by this stamp.

62:02

It is. It is lovely, isn't it?

62:04

Thank you.

62:04

It's beautifully done, especially the one on the left, I think.

62:08

And they love each other which is good, it's good.

62:11

[unintelligible comment]

62:14

Absolutely, good as me. What next?

62:17

[laughter]

62:18

We didn't build an empire by being emotional.

62:21

[laughter]

62:24

Sir?

62:25

The number 36, was that a fallout of when you started assembling these or was that a pre-planned target?

62:34

It was a pre-planned target.

62:36

I mean, I kind of hovered around that sort of number, and it just seems to be a nice number.

62:41

It's, it's, a it's a square. It's multiple. It's divisible by lots of numbers.

62:47

And actually the whole thing, "A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps"

62:52

it's a roll of the tongue, nicely.

62:53

So it was a sort of vaguely artistic decision to choose 36.

62:58

Thank you.

63:00

Any more questions?

63:02

It's all yours sir?

63:04

Hi, yeah thanks.

63:06

Just the fact of the monarch's head on all the stamps through time in British history.

63:10

What do you think it reflects?

63:12

You know, a monarchist's view on Britain's history as opposed to more political view?

63:17

You mentioned how it swings back to conservatism, to the socialism,

63:22

through a parliament but you keep getting its remind you of the Queen.

63:25

So it does give you kind of one view, side view of it.

63:29

What was your comment on that?

63:30

When it does, yes. I mean that's a fair point.

63:32

But I think it's a point that most people in Britain share.

63:35

And it's not the case that the modern Labour Party, for example, wants to get rid of the Queen.

63:40

It's a very much a minority view in Britain.

63:43

The monarchy was very unpopular around the time of Diane's death,

63:46

and that was probably one of its low points.

63:49

It was unpopular in the '60s when sort of Britain was becoming very modern and swinging

63:55

and groovy and they thought the Monarchs were a bit fuddy-duddy.

63:58

But it's never been, monarchies by and large, it's popular.

64:04

The thing is with the Monarchy, we take and make out of the monarchs, quite a lot.

64:09

It's a very British thing. We make fun of them.

64:11

We have satirical programs that laugh at them. But we don't to get rid of them because we like them really.

64:16

We're fond of them.

64:17

And I think there's a kind of affectionate teasing about the monarchs that's part of British life.

64:22

And if you look back in history, well actually, if you look at, go back to the 18th century

64:29

and see cartoons by Rowlandson and things, now they're vicious.

64:32

That's vicious satire that nowadays you don't get.

64:36

So now I think it's an appropriate to have the monarch on stamps because people like it.

64:43

And also the monarchy is a symbol of the nation as a whole.

64:46

And I think that's where Edward VIII got it wrong.

64:48

He kind of got involved in politics and that's a mistake because the monarch is above politics.

64:54

They are symbol of the nation.

64:56

And I know in America you have a president who's elected but there are symbols like the White House,

65:01

like Air Force One, there are things which and the flag would symbolize the nation

65:05

and the monarch is all part of that.

65:07

So I think the monarch is a symbol of the fact that...

65:11

There's a phrase that politicians are bemusing and everybody laughs at them quite rightly when they do use it.

65:17

But it is true. When you think of it in a bigger spectrum, that we're all in it together,

65:21

and the monarch is a symbol of that.

65:23

And that's what, you know, that's what we're reminded of at these royal events.

65:27

It is an event for everybody.

65:28

And so I think it's right and proper than the monarch should be on the stamp.

65:33

And I think most people in Britain would agree that this isn't just my view, or a man in middle age.

65:38

It's, I think, it's a genuine generally held view that people have a lot of respect from the monarchy.

65:43

And I think it's good. No one makes you say that.

65:47

Well I think she ought to abdicate and give Charles a go.

65:50

But I mean that's, that's just a personal feeling.

65:54

Well, let's continue this out in the reception and book signing. One more round...

65:56

Absolutely.

65:57

Thank you.

65:59

[applause]

66:01

Thank you very much. Thank you.

66:03

[applause]

Chris West, the author of A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps explored his country’s recent history through its most fascinating, beautiful, and eccentric postage stamps. From Queen Victoria’s Penny Black to the struggles of post-World War II reconstruction, West showed that stamps mirror the events, attitudes, and styles of their time. The lecture was followed by a light reception and book signing.