Jane Goes Postal: Part One

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)




In honor of the felicitous celebration of Jane Austen’s birthday here at Austenprose, we shall be visiting the story behind a reverent homage to our dear authoress. The creation and issue of the 1975 British bicentenary stamps.

Part One



In 1973, as the momentous 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s 1775 birth approached, members of the Jane Austen community in Britain were anxious for the nation to duely recognize and celebrate their favourite author’s milestone birthday. With the help of Miss Joan Quennell, Conservative MP for Petersfield, Hants, (about seven miles from Chawton), they proposed to the post office that special commemorative stamps be issued in her honour. Earlier that year, the post office had already solicited suggestion from their regional directors for possible subjects of special issue stamps, and Miss Austen and other prominent British literary figures such as R. M. Ballantyne, R. D. Blackmore, and Charles Lamb had been proposed.

The selection process is lengthy, and requires several reviews by the SAC (Stamp Advisory Committee), and the approval of the Queen before the finial decision is made. The first slate of options included a literary series with multiple authors, and it was not surprising that several regions advocated for this theme after the success of the 1971 Literary Anniversaries set. Trevor Carpenter, Chairman of the Scottish Postal Board, replied on 21 September that Jane Austen was ‘obviously peerless’ amongst the writers listed, but that the inclusion of Blackmore, Buchan, Kingsley and Ballantyne could make an attractive set.’ Clever man!     

Discussion and debate continued into 1974 and many combinations were explored.

It was argued that Jane Austen’s ‘pre-eminence’ in English literature, especially in comparison to the year’s other literary anniversaries – ‘among the births at least, none could be ranked with Miss Austen’. The intention was that the issue would feature characters from her novels, showing the costumes of the period. Besides its specialist attraction to thematic collectors as a ‘costume’ set, Alex Currall the Managing Director (Posts) (MDP), considered the issue would have general marketing appeal: ‘Jane Austen is highly popular, if not always directly through her books, then through the television and cinema presentations of them.’

Interesting to consider that in 1974, Jane Austen was as much in vogue and appreciated as today. Bravo!

It was only on 2 August 1974 that Anthony Wedgwood Benn, Secretary of State for Industry under the new Labour government and the minister now responsible for postal affairs, reluctantly agreed to accept the (Jane Austen) programme as now submitted and abandon the IWY proposal. (He had strongly favoured the theme of International Women’s Year, but since Austen was a female author, the choice of using her characters in the designs served both purposes, and was a good political compromise.)

Please join us tomorrow in part two of the story of Jane Goes Postal: The Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative Stamps, as we are introduced to the designer, Barbara Brown, and learn how she selected characters and settings for her beautiful illustrations.

Source: Special Stamp History 105, Birth Bicentenary of Jane Austen, 22 October, 1975, by Giles Allen,  9 January 1997, The British Postal Museum & Archive, London

*Image of Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemortive First Day Presentation Pack, designed by Jeffery Matthews, 22 October 1975

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