Jane Goes Postal: Part Two

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)




Part two



Early in March of 1974, artist and book illustrator Barbara G. Brown  of Saxon Artist, Ltd., was commissioned by the SAC to create preliminary designs of the Jane Austen bicentenary stamp set.

Miss Brown met Stuart Rose to discuss preliminary ideas; it seems that her idea of basing the designs on single or paired characters from the novels was already largely formed at this stage. In the ‘singles’ category Mr Darcy, the sisters Elizabeth and Kitty Bennett [‘Pride & Prejudice’], Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley [‘Emma’] were all mentioned, while Darcy and Elizabeth, Mr and Mrs Bennett, Lydia and Kitty Bennett [‘Pride & Prejudice’], Mary and Henry Crawford [‘Mansfield Park’], and Harriet and Emma Woodhouse were all considered as pairs. It was quickly agreed that Mr Darcy should be shown singly and the Crawfords as a pair; the pairing of Lydia and Kitty Bennett was considered but dropped in favour of Emma and her father Mr Woodhouse, and the solo appearance of Emma replaced by that of Catherine Morland [‘Northanger Abbey’]. The artist was formally invited to submit designs for four stamps on 25 March.

The artistic process always fascinates me, and it is apparent from Miss Brown’s choices that she had a thorough knowledge of Jane Austen’s work and a sensitivity to her characters. It is of course a challenge to limit ones selection to only four possible single characters or pairs, but her choice of Mr. Darcy alone, and the paring of Emma and her father Mr. Woodhouse are quite astute. Any other combination would have diminished the artistic impact. It is of course a loss, that the characters of Lydia & Kitty Bennet, and Harriet Smith did not make the cut. Even though they are minor characters in Pride & Prejudice and Emma respectively, they would have made excellent subjects to inspire the creativity of an artist’s pallet!

Miss Brown was informed of the size and placement requirements of the illustrations, including that the designs should be .5 inches by 1.07 inches in printed area and that for the ACR purposes, artwork should be prepared four times stamp size (4.29 inches by 6 inches).

Despite the size of artwork specified in the instructions, all Miss Brown’s designs throughout were stamp size. She later explained: ‘I decided to draw all the subjects stamp-size, partly because it seemed to me the most natural size to work at, and partly because for technical reasons I felt that the results would be more within my control than if I had drawn them to a larger scale’ (she added that Austen once described her own work as that of a miniaturist).

On 22 April she produced six initial pencil sketches; these included three variants of a design featuring Catherine Morland, one of Emma and Mr Woodhouse, and two of Mary and Henry Crawford. She was asked to develop these further and submitted finished roughs on 3 June; these comprised the designs used with minor variations in the final set, plus two variants of Emma and Mr. Woodhouse.

I was particularly impressed with her view of working in ‘minature’ which is how Jane Austen described her own technique of writing in a letter of 16 December 1816 to her brother J. Edward Austen.

The little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.

Miss Brown’s efforts were a bit smaller than two inches wide, but we will not split hairs here!

Please join us tomorrow for part three of the story of Jane Goes Postal: The Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative Stamps, and read about Barbara Brown’s explanation of her design choices and thoughts on Jane Austen’s characters.

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 Commemorative First Day Presentation Pack, designed by Jeffery Matthews, 22 October 1975

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