Thursday, 14 November 2013

326. Where's The Bard?

 Royal Mail announced the contents of its 2014 new issue programme in September 2013. Despite the fact that it seemed appropriate to commemorate television characters such as Dougal the Dog (from "The Magic Roundabout" which was a programme originally made in France) or Peppa The Pig, there appears to be no issue being released during 2014 to commemorate one of the greatest Englishmen in history, William Shakespeare, in the year of the 450th anniversary of his birth. True, there is to be a "Remarkable Lives" set which may or may not include a Shakespeare commemorative stamp but a single stamp, on par with Dougal The Dog and Pippa The Pig, is hardly reasonable acknowledgement of Shakespeare's greatness and importance in the history of England and the English language. So many people around the world use phrases written by Shakespeare in day to day conversation without even knowing it - I think I just used one in this sentence! 
  No doubt Royal Mail can argue that there have been plenty of British stamps issued before which have commemorated  Shakespeare or subjects related to him but the total hardly amounts to much more than the postal administration has issued related to "Harry Potter" or "Dr. Who", both notable fictional characters whose fame and importance need to survive 400 years before their importance as philatelic subjects can be ranked with the immortal Bard. For those who feel that the omission of a significant Shakespeare philatelic commemoration during 2014 is an outrage, here below are some of the previous British and Commonwealth issues which have commemorated Shakespeare and his works:-
  Back in the days when great designers produced marvellous works of art for use as stamp designs (rather than people who are good at computers and can manipulate a photograph on a screen and add some lettering to it), Great Britain issued a set of 5 stamps to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth on the actual anniversary date, 23 April 1964. The immortal David Gentleman whose work often was to philatelic design what Shakespeare's work was to literature, designed the 4 lower values of the set. All 4 values depicted a portrait of Shakespeare himself while the 3d value depicted Gentleman's rendition of Puck and Bottom, characters from "A Midsummer Night's Dream", the 6d featured Feste from "Twelfth Night", the 1s 3d depicted Romeo and Juliet and the 1s 6d showed King Henry V from "Henry V". The stamps were printed in photogravure by Harrison and Sons and were produced with and without phosphor bands.
 In contrast, the 2s 6d value (featured at the head of this blog) depicted the eponymous character "Hamlet" and was designed by C and R Ironside and was printed in intaglio by Bradbury Wilkinson without phosphor bands. Surely this is one of the greatest set of stamps ever issued in British philatelic history:-

   On 21 June 1988 the British Post Office joined Australia in issuing 4 stamps each which commemorated the bicentenary of British settlement in Australia and emphasised the cultural links between the two Commonwealth countries. One of the 4 designs featured William Shakespeare as well as Australian cultural icons and a rather diminutive portrait of a popular British singer of the 1960's, John Lennon. The set was designed by G. Emery and lithographed by Questa while the Australian set was printed by the same method by CPE Australia Ltd. of Melbourne.

  The plays of Shakespeare were noted by Royal Mail in an issue of 6 stamps and 1 miniature sheet which was released on 12 April 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The stamps were printed in photogravure by Walsall Security Printers and the miniature sheet was lithographed by Cartor:-

  To return to 1964, the British Post Office issue was added to by an omnibus issue produced by The Crown Agents which included issues from 12 countries (Antigua, Bahamas, Bechuanaland, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Falkland Islands Dependencies, Gambia, Gibraltar, Montserrat, St. Lucia and Turks And Caicos Islands). The design depicted a large portrait of William Shakespeare with the riverside Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in the beautiful town of Stratford-Upon-Avon which, like Tolkein's real "Middle Earth" is located in the heart of the English Midlands. The excellent stamps were designed by Richard Grainger-Barrett and printed in photogravure by Harrison and Sons:-

  The birth quatercentenary was also celebrated by Cyprus with an issue of 4 stamps, 3 of which featured ancient theatres in Cyprus while the fourth, the 100m value, depicted the island's Othello Tower and a scene from Shakespeare's play, "Othello". The stamps were issued on 15 June 1964 and were lithograph printed by Aspioti-Elka of Athens. The stamp included the quote from the play, "You are welcome Sir, to Cyprus".

  An easily overlooked British Shakespeare stamp is that which was issued on 28 April 1982 to commemorate British theatre (the Europa theme of that year) as part of a modest set of 4 stamps which was designed by Adrian George and printed in photogravure by Harrison. The design depicts Hamlet in the usual pose of contemplating the skull of Yorick, his father's court jester:-

  William Shakespeare himself made a reappearance on a stamp which was issued on 18 July 2006 as part of a se-tenant block of 10 stamps on the subject of paintings in the National Gallery in London on the occasion of the Gallery's 150th anniversary. The stamps were designed by Peter Willberg and printed in photgravure by De La Rue by :-

  Finally we should also mention that the theatre built by Shakespeare in which to stage his plays, The Globe, and other theatres of the time, were featured on a se-tenant strip of 5 stamps which was released on 8 August 1995 to commemorate the building of a modern replica of The  Globe in London. The stamps were designed by C. Hodges and printed in lithography by Walsall Security Printers:-

  Bizarrely, as previously mentioned, Montserrat issued a sheetlet of 4 stamps and an accompanying miniature sheet on 29 May 2013 to commemorate the 425th anniversary of the burning down of The Globe:-

  As well as being one of the participating territories in the 1964 Crown Agents omnibus, Gibraltar issued a stamp on 6 October 1998 which featured a portrait of Shakespeare and a quotation from one of his works. This stamp was part of a set of 4 on the subject of Quotations (the other designs featured Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein) and was designed by Mark Whyte and lithographed byHouse of Questa :-

  Finally, we may also mention a set issued by Sierra Leone on 30 May 1989 to commemorate the 425th anniversary of the birth of Shakespeare. This rather grandiose set consisted of 2 sheetlets, each of 8 different stamps, and depicted scenes from various Shakespeare plays. Another great philatelic designer, Gyula Vasarhelyi, produced the colourful and dramatic designs and the stamps were printed in lithography by BDT International. Four of the stamps are depicted below:-

  In his later years, Shakespeare gave up the horrors of living in the foul city of London, as all sane Englishmen must eventually do, and returned to live out his remaining life in Stratford, back in the heart of England. He died on his 52nd birthday, 23 April 1616 - an enormously significant life came to an end. A significant life but, apparently, not significant enough for Royal Mail to feel that a notable anniversary of his birth is worth commemorating. A significant Englishman but apparently not as significant as Peppa The Pig. Nor, clearly, as significant as the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, whose 250th birth anniversary was commemorated by Royal Mail on 22 January 2009 by the issue of a miniature sheet which contained 6 different stamps. The item was printed in photogravure by Enschede. This issue demonstrates the long-term keenness of Royal Mail to appease the Scottish public whilst remaining indifferent to the wishes of the less vocal inhabitants of England.

  On another completely different subject, reports in Kenyan newspapers in late October 2013 reported that the Kenyan government was attempting to persuade other African countries to boycott the 2013 Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (now known as CHOGM) to be held in Sri Lanka between 15 and 17 November 2013 because The Commonwealth had not taken a decisive stand against the prosecution of the current Kenyan President in the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes related to the 2007 Kenyan presidential elections.
   The reports stated that the calls would be supported by a number of African countries in sympathy with the Kenyan viewpoint and that the governments of South Sudan and Burundi had suspended their bids for their countries to be admitted to membership of The Commonwealth. Reports a little later from Sri Lanka denied that Kenya and other African countries would not attend the CHOGM but if it is true that South Sudan and Burundi have suspended their applications to join The Commonwealth then previous expectations that collectors of Commonwealth stamps may have to add these two countries to their collections will not be realised in the near future. That's quite a relief since the stamps of South Sudan are very difficult to obtain and only then at a considerable mark-up above face value while the stamps of Burundi are mainly produced by the Stamperija philatelic agency with all the problems that raises for collectors of new stamp issues.

  I have been waiting for the design of the stamps Sri Lanka will be issuing (or have already issued) to commemorate the holding of CHOGM in the country but I have not yet seen any illustrations of any such issue.
  Finally, news from New Zealand Post of an issue with the inscription of "Ross Dependency" which will be released on 20 November 2013 on the subject of the Antarctic food web. The issue will consist of 5 stamps and 1 miniature sheet which were designed by Gregory Millen and lithographed by Southern Colour Print:-

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1 comment:

  1. Congratulation.. Good blog. Have you heard about the stamps issued by Ghana in 1989 on Shakespeare?! Wonder how to get a set for purchase!
    Appreciate your blog. Regards, A.M. Rao, Bangalore, India