184 Years of Postal History

1 Year of Our New King & 184 Years of Our Beloved Postage Stamps

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The history of British stamps is a captivating narrative that intertwines with the development of the postal system, technological advancements, and the socio-political landscape of the United Kingdom. Join us as we mark the occasion of the First Anniversary of King Charles III's Coronation and take a look at 184 Years of British Postage Stamp History.

Queen Victoria (1837-1901):

Queen Victoria's reign heralded the dawn of the adhesive postage stamp era in Britain. The year 1840 marked a historic moment with the issuance of the world's first postage stamp, the Penny Black. Designed by Rowland Hill, the Penny Black featured a profile of Queen Victoria and was valid for postage from May 6th, 1840. Its revolutionary concept of prepayment revolutionised the postal system, making it more accessible to the public and standardising postal rates based on weight rather than distance. The Penny Black's success paved the way for additional denominations, including the Two Pence Blue.

Throughout Queen Victoria's reign, several other significant stamps were issued, such as the Penny Red, which replaced the Penny Black in 1841. The Penny Red introduced perforations for easier separation and became one of the most widely used stamps of the era. Additionally, the surface-printed stamps, featuring intricate designs and printed in various colours, reflected advancements in printing technology and captured the spirit of the Victorian era.

King Edward VII (1901-1910):

The reign of King Edward VII witnessed the continuation of surface-printed stamps introduced during Queen Victoria's era. However, it also marked a transition to the "De La Rue Keyplate" design, which featured a profile portrait of the king surrounded by delicate scrollwork. These stamps, commonly referred to as "King Edward VII issues," were issued between 1902 and 1913 and were praised for their elegant design and uniformity.

King George V (1910-1936):

The reign of King George V brought significant changes to British stamp design and production. In 1912, the iconic "Seahorses" series was introduced, featuring a stylised representation of the mythical creature. These high-denomination stamps, printed in various shades and values, were primarily used for international postage and symbolised Britain's global trading power.

Another notable development during King George V's reign was the introduction of the "Mackennal Portrait" design in 1912. Created by sculptor Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, these stamps featured a striking profile portrait of King George V and were issued in various denominations and colours.

King Edward VIII (1936):

The brief reign of King Edward VIII in 1936 saw the production of postage stamps bearing his profile portrait taken by Hugh Cecil’s studio. However, due to his abdication later that year, other issues never made it past the concept & design stage, keeping this chapter of British postal history very short.

King George VI (1936-1952):

King George VI's reign coincided with a period of significant political and social upheaval, including World War II. British stamps from this era often reflected themes of national unity, resilience, and the war effort. In 1939, the "George VI High Values" series was introduced, featuring portraits of the king and allegorical figures symbolising the strength of the British Empire.

Another notable development during King George VI's reign was the introduction of Dorothy Wilding’s work to the world of philately. Resulting in her being the first female photographer to receive a Royal Warrant, her 1937 photograph of George VI and Elizabeth was used for the design of the Coronation issue, paving the way for her renowned and continued work with Elizabeth II and the “Wildings Definitives.”

Queen Elizabeth II (1952-2022):

The reign of Queen Elizabeth II has seen continuous innovation in British stamp production. In 1953, the "Coronation issue" was released to commemorate the queen's coronation, featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II alongside symbols of the British monarchy and empire.

One of the most iconic and enduring designs of Queen Elizabeth II's reign is the "Machin Head" design, introduced in 1967. Created by sculptor Arnold Machin, these definitive stamps feature a simple yet elegant profile portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and have become synonymous with British postage. The Machin Head design has been reproduced in various colours and denominations over the years, making it one of the most widely recognised and collected stamp series in the world.

King Charles III (2022-Present)

Maintaining the simple elegance for definitives that began with QEII’s Machins, the new King’s stamps go a step further in simplicity and do not feature a crown or any other regalia.

The portrait of His Majesty was created by Martin Jennings, a highly acclaimed British sculptor known for his public art installations and monuments, along with numerous commissions for high-profile sculptures.

It is no wonder then that Jennings was commissioned to create the effigy of King Charles III, which features on the latest British Definitive Stamps - the "Jennings Definitives". The Jennings Head design was altered for use on GB Stamps, originally featuring a crown and intended for coinage. His Majesty showed a preference for a more contemporary image of himself, and no royal emblems or jewellery are featured on his new stamps.


The history of British stamps is a rich tapestry that reflects the nation's heritage, technological progress, and cultural identity. From the inaugural Penny Black to the iconic Machin Head design and contemporary Jennings Definitives, British stamps have evolved alongside the changing times, leaving an indelible mark on postal history. As we continue to journey through the world of philately, British stamps remain a testament to the enduring legacy of the postal service and its role in connecting people and nations across the globe.

Product Grading

Please refer to the following grading acronyms in relation to this category.

  • UM = Unmounted mint.
  • VFU = Very Fine Used, with a very light postmark.
  • FU = Fine Used, with moderate postmark.
  • GU = Good Used, with heavier postmark.
  • PP = Presentation Pack
  • Ad. FDC = Addressed First Day Cover
  • Un. FDC = Unaddressed First Day Cover

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