Jane Goes Postal: Part Five

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975) 




Part five



Early in 1973, it had been proposed that the new stamps be released on Jane Austen’s birthday of December 16th. Unfortunately, this conflicted with the release of the planned Christmas stamps, so the release was scheduled for July or August of 1975.  Further production delays would push back their release yet further.

In the first press announcement in December 1974 the stamps were scheduled for 8 October; at the end of June 1975 it was agreed that the new date should be 22 October. 

By the end of August, the labour and pricing issues had been resolved and the printing of the stamps commenced at Harrison & Sons. The stamps were revealed to the press at a luncheon on the 9th of September and were well received. Their would be a first day presentation pack designed by Jeffrey Matthews, (the header of this post is one of them) and would include additional artwork by Barbara Brown including; a cameo portrait of Jane Austen, scenes from ‘Mansfield Park’, ‘Persuasion‘ and ‘Pride & Prejudice’, and the writer’s house in Chawton. In addition to the pack and envelopes, Jeffery Matthews also designed two pictorial hand-stamps.

The first day issue on the 22nd of October was a very special day for many members of the local Jane Austen Bicentenary Committee in Steventon, Hants.  

On the day of issue a philatelic exhibition with a Post Office counter and display was organised… and 80,000 covers were reported as processed via Bassingstoke… A ‘Despatched by Mailcoach’ cachet was also available on items that a mail coach carried from Steventon to Basingstoke via another collection point at nearby Hilsea College – those involved wore period dress. Another hand-stamp at Steventon was sponsored later in the year to mark Austen’s birthday on 16 December, for which a special posting box was provided in the Church Hall.

Another area in Britain that was significant in Jane Austen’s life and in her novels was also involved in the first day issue. 

A bicentenary exhibition including a Post Office display was also held in the Pump Room in Bath for three weeks from 6 October, and was marked by a special hand-stamp and cover for the day of issue, posting boxes being provided in the Pump Room, the Abbey churchyard souvenir shop, and the Assembly Rooms costume museum.

The pinnacle of the celebration was the British Library exhibition which included original manuscripts of her novels, first edition books, paintings and other Jane Austen ephemera. Barbara Brown’s working pencil sketches of her stamp illustrations, the finished artwork and the essays of the issued stamps from the printers Harrison & Son were also on display.

The stamps were immediately popular and sold briskly, appealing to both Jane Austen admirers and stamp collectors.

Mr. K. J. Ley, Chief Press Officer of the Post Office and in his own words ‘a great admirer of Jane’, wrote on 26 August to Sir Hugh Smiley, Secretary of the Jane Austen Society, that in his personal opinion ‘the designs are among the most attractive we have ever produced‘.

And additional praise from the most discerning eyes

Mrs Joyce Bown, Secretary of the Steventon Bicentenary Committee, told Stuart Rose after the press launch that the stamps were sure to be ‘a tremendous success’.

And from the philatelic community (stamp collectors)

Gibbons Stamp Monthly for November 1975 stated that it gave full marks to the Post Office and to Barbara Brown, the designer, for the four charming ‘period pieces’.

And finally, some insight from the designer

Barbara Brown was relieved that the product of her labours ‘seemed to find favour‘, but commented privately, I do wish I could have stood at the printer’s elbow when he mixed mixed the colour for Mary Crawford’s dress. 

One curious criticism and one aside

At least one member of the public wrote censuring Alan Martin Harvey for his suggestion in the first day envelope text that Henry Crawford in ‘Mansfield Park‘ ‘attempts the seduction’ of Fanny Price. This complaint found its way to Postal Marketing, where it attracted the informal comment, The subject is a bit ‘near the mark’ for my innocent ears. Are you sure he’s talking about Jane Austen and not Harold Robbins?

And nothing ever slips by those alert Janeites, or in today’s terms, the Jane Austen Police!

A question arose at the end of November of whether Mr Darcy’s overcoat on the 11p stamp was correctly depicted, in that it was shown as buttoning from right to left rather than the reverse, as was now the norm. Mrs Muriel Ross, Chief Librarian at the London College of Fashion, was able to demonstrate from illustrations that there was no strict rule in the period of Austen’s novels as to which way fashionable men’s coats were buttoned.

Well, I am sure that was a relief to the designer Barbara Brown, who obviously did her homework.

Thank you for joining us for Jane Goes Postal: The Jane Austen Bicentenary Celebration Commemorative Stamps, and hope you will enjoy the wrap party tomorrow.

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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