Duke of edinburgh memorial stamps

HRH Duke of Edinburgh Memorial Stamps

The Royal Mail are commemorating the passing of HRH Duke of Edinburgh with an attractive set of 4 stamps issued together in a miniature sheet. The stamps will be issued on June 24th, 2021, and will depict four black and white photographs of the Prince that were taken at different stages of his long life. The 2nd class stamp shows the Duke as a young man captured by Stirling Henry Nahum (also known as Baron), The 1st class stamp shows the Duke in Royal Navy uniform whilst attending Prince Andrew’s passing out parade at Dartmouth Naval college, Devon. The £1.70 stamp shows the Duke seemingly enjoying himself at the Royal Horse Show, Windsor and finally the £2.55 stamp shows the most recent formal image taken by Terry O’Neill. All the stamps are inscribed “1921-2021” but sadly the Duke passed away just before his 100th birthday. No doubt the Royal Mail would have produced a set of stamps for that special milestone before their plans had to change. 

HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was the Queen’s loyal consort for over 70 years and during that time he accompanied her on over 250 tours abroad and carried out over 20,000 official engagements. He was well-loved and respected all over the globe and especially amongst the Commonwealth countries that held him in such high esteem.

He was a patron or President of over 800 organisations covering a wide variety of fields especially conservation, the environment, and science and technology. Among his most notable achievements was being co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961 and which is now the world’s largest conservation organisation and the formation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme in 1956. The scheme was set up to reward mainly young adults who took part in special programmes to learn and improve new skills which included volunteering to help individuals or the local community, physical well-being through sport, dance or fitness, practical and social skills, and finally to plan, train and complete an expedition either abroad or within the UK. The award scheme has been a phenomenal success and has been replicated in 144 different countries all affiliated to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Association. To commemorate the 25th anniversary in 1981, various countries, including Great Britain, produced special stamps. He has also appeared on many other UK stamps mainly commemorating the various Wedding Anniversary issues, a selection of which are shown below.

Duke of edinburgh stamps

British guiana once cent magenta stamp

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta to be Sold

Stamp collectors from all over the world will again be treated to the next instalment of the story of the rarest stamp in the world. The long and fascinating history of the most valuable object on the planet for its size, weight and mass will continue in June 2021 when the British Guiana 1856 1c black on magenta goes under the hammer in New York. The stamp is currently owned by Stuart Weitzmann, the famous American shoe designer to the stars, and will have a pre-sale estimate of $10-$15 million. Mr Weitzmann purchased the stamp in 2014 for $9.5 million and in doing so fulfilled his lifetime dream of owning this unique stamp. The stamp has only previously been up for sale 4 times in the last 80 years and so to have this exciting sale taking place twice in 7 years is quite unusual.

British Guiana, which today is currently known as Guyana, is an ex. British colony based on the Northern coast of South America. Over its long history it has mainly been known for sugar production, hence the name Demerara which was the name of a local region in Guyana.

Stamps were initially issued in the territory in 1850 and soon after production was handed over to Waterlow and Sons of London. Everything was going smoothly when suddenly supplies ran out in 1856 before the fresh shipment from England had arrived. The local postmaster concerned that a crisis may ensue disrupting communications and trade with the wider world, enlisted the help of a local printer in the capital Georgetown, to print some stamps to tide them over. There were 3 values that were needed, the 1c on magenta, 4c on magenta and 4c on blue – all printed in sheets of 4. It is unknown exactly how many sheets were printed in total but what is known is that there is only one example remaining of the 1c black on magenta – thereby becoming the most famous and rarest stamp in the world.

As it was locally produced rather than being printed at the famous Waterlow printing works, it has a rather crude appearance heightened by a scribbled signature “E.D.W.”, which was in fact the mark of E.D.Wight, one of the postmasters. The postmasters were instructed to initial the stamps before sale because the Chief postmaster in charge of the whole country was concerned that the stamps could be easily forged due to their primitive production.

Since then, the stamp has gone through many hands starting with a 12 year-old schoolboy, who was based in British Guiana, who found it amongst his Uncle’s belongings. He sold it shortly afterwards to a local dealer and despite the lack of global communication that we have today, it became widely known and talked about in the philatelic world. Over the next century it changed hands half a dozen times and, on each occasion set new records. Of course, the story would not be complete without  scandals and rumours. In 1878 the stamp was purchased by Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary, perhaps the greatest ever collector of stamps. He was a recluse who never sold a stamp and never showed his collection to anyone. He died in 1917 and left his collection to the Postal Museum in Berlin. After WWI France confiscated the whole of the Museum’s possessions as war reparations.

The stamp then turned up in an auction in 1922 and was bought by American Arthur Hind – who is rumoured later, to have been offered a second example which he bought, and then after the deal was completed, casually lit his cigar with it. Personally, I do not believe this story as I think that a true collector and lover of stamps would never destroy a rarity even if it did make the other example unique – but who really knows?

After another couple of record-breaking auctions the stamp was then bought in 1980 by John duPont, a member of the famous and wealthy DuPont Chemical company family. What was interesting about this purchase was that Mr. duPont was not necessarily buying it just solely for an investment, but he actively collected British Guiana stamps and needed this stamp to complete his collection – a collection that only one person could ever put together. In 1996 Mr. duPont was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of an Olympic Wrestler on his Foxcatcher estate. This grim episode was depicted in Hollywood by the film “Foxcatcher” starring Steve Carell playing duPont. Whilst in prison the stamp was locked away in a high security bank vault and only saw the light again after Mr duPont died in 2010. Eventually after all the wrangling over the will and estate the stamp came up for sale again in 2014 when it was purchased by Mr Weitzmann. He generously gave permission for the stamp to be made available for public display, giving the opportunity for thousands of collectors to view this unique stamp before it is possibly locked away again for years or even decades. All the proceeds from the sale, along with two other great rarities to be sold by Mr Weitzmann, will go to charity.

Strike mail

1971 Postal Strike

Thankfully, these days, we do not see or hear of many workers’ strikes in the UK but back in the 1970s and 1980s they were certainly more commonplace, and one of the more “infamous” disputes was when 200,000 postal workers walked out exactly 50 years ago in 1971. 

Late in 1970 the Unions had asked management for a minimum rise of £3 per week which represented a 15-20% increase. Today, that sounds like an astronomical request, but in context, at the time inflation was running at 10% and so in the circumstances was not too unreasonable. Management made an offer of 8% on the 14th January 1971 which was rejected and so workers went on strike on the 20th. The strike lasted for 7 weeks with pretty much 100% coverage of all towns, cities, and rural villages. Some Post Offices did open their doors for a few hours a week so that pensions and other benefits could be collected but all in all it was one of the largest national strikes ever seen in this country. Given the importance of our Post Offices today with all the varied services they offer, and the amazing work that our Postmen and Postwomen do every day, it would be a major disaster if a similar action were to take place in these times.

In the end, the Unions had to back down as they had run out of money. Financially supporting in the region of 30-40,000 workers, who had no income during that 7 week period, was an enormous strain on the Union’s coffers and so all workers returned to work on the 8th March 1971. 

However, as far as the stamp collecting fraternity were concerned, this disruptive period produced a wealth of fascinating stamps and envelopes that we are still learning about today. Unlike now where we seemingly have hundreds of courier companies delivering letters and parcels, in 1971 the Post Office and Royal Mail, which was all one group then, had a virtual monopoly. In the early days of the strike, it was very clear that neither side was going to back down very easily and so this worsening situation for both the public and, but perhaps more importantly, businesses, led to numerous small companies setting up their own local delivery companies. These private enterprises took advantage of the increasing demand and operated mainly in towns and cities across the country. Due to the lack of manpower and transportation, these services tended to be operated solely for the purposes of the town or city that they were in, but even so, it became a valuable lifeline for many people. But how do you prove that the customer has paid for the delivery service? – well, you issue stamps of course! And so it was that this national crisis spurned many thousands of different stamps that were locally produced and actively collected by philatelists. Whilst the majority of issues from hundreds of different companies are known to collectors, we are still discovering “new” items 50 years later! In a way this is the reason why many collectors steer well clear of this area. Unlike when the Royal Mail issue stamps, whereby they are completely transparent and accountable on how many stamps have been sold for each issue, the companies producing private labels had no legal reason to disclose quantities of stamps that they had printed and subsequently sold. Collectors need to be reassured with the knowledge that when they are buying stamps that they are getting value for money. In this case, with the 1971 Strike Mail stamps, it is very difficult to know what “good value” is for two reasons. Firstly, collectors can normally turn to catalogues and collector-based books/articles to discover approximate market values, which tend to be loosely based on quantities printed. However, mainstream catalogues will not list these Private Strike Mail labels or similar stamps from around the world, because they were not produced by the official postal administrations and so were essentially “illegal” stamps. Most stamp collectors will only collect official stamps from their chosen area and so these unofficial stamps tend to have a much smaller following. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the scarcity of these issues will always be up for debate due to the unknown quantities printed and sold. Let us imagine that the National Postal strike is 6 weeks in, and we are a small courier company working in a town delivering local letters and parcels and business is very brisk. With the end of the strike not in sight we decide to print 5,000 more stamps to satisfy the demand. We get through 500 when the strike finishes. What do we do with the remaining 4500 that have been paid for and are sitting in our office? Do we destroy them? Or do we keep them, seeming as we have spent good money on them and after all, there may well be another strike in a month’s time. The chances are they would have been kept, but eventually forgotten about, gathering dust in some cupboard. This is the collector’s dilemma. At first glance this stamp could be quite scarce and collectable as only 500 were issued and many of those may have been destroyed if the recipient of the letter or parcel was not a stamp collector. However, there are 4500 sitting in a room which could be released onto the market in a year, a decade, or even 50 years or maybe never. So, although this period in UK philately is fascinating and still very much under researched, the number of specialists is very small and consequently the old adage “supply and demand” means that prices will always appear low given that there is only a tiny fraction of Strike Mail stamps existent compared to mainstream Great Britain issues.

Exeter cathedral

Whether it was a coincidence or just bad luck, the period of the strike encompassed one of the biggest changes in our financial system. £sd or Pounds, Shillings and Pence had been in use for hundreds of years but come February 15th, 1971, we went “Decimal”. 100 new pence equalled £1. Even though this was planned years before, it was still to be a seismic change for the public and affected all aspects of life – whether buying groceries, stamps, paying your bills, wage packets, coins in your pocket, it would take a lot of getting used to. The strike caused a “limbo” in the stamp world. New stamps were already in production way before the strike was even muted and thousands of collectors were excited about the historical new issue and looking forward to the 15th February, when they could at last purchase their stamps and obtain a First Day Cover. Except they could not – the strike put paid to that. Even though many First Day Covers were produced “en masse” beforehand they could not be delivered on “Decimal Day” and so collectors had to wait until the strike finished when at last their cherished covers could be received. It has always been quite common for postal services around the world to supply a reason for late delivery of a large quantity of mail. It maybe due to a fire in a delivery office, or a mail train crash or a postal bag placed on the wrong plane, and this 1971 strike was no different. All Post Offices were instructed to mark all the 15th February First Day Covers with the “POSTING DELAYED BY THE POST OFFICE STRIKE 1971” handstamp as seen below. This type of “Decimal Day” cover is only worth a pound or two due to the vast quantity produced but it remains a great record of this historical event.

Strike mail