Jane Goes Postal: Wrap Party

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)

JANE AUSTEN BICENTENARY CELEBRATION

COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS 1975

_____________________________________________

WRAP PARTY

 

Thanks for joining us this week for Jane Austen’s 232nd. birthday celebration honoring the design and issue of her bicentenary stamps in Great Britain in 1975. I hope you enjoyed learning about the fascinating design process, the history of their release and the celebration by the Jane Austen community in Britain.

Well, never one to not have her say, I could not pass up the opportunity to comment on the designs and throw in some additional tidbits. So here goes!

 

Illustration by Barbara Brown, Emma & Mr. Woodhouse, Bicentenary Stamp (1975)     Image of Mr. Darcy, British Commemorative Stamp, (1975)     Illustration by Barbara Brown, Catherine Morland, Bicentenary Stamp (1975)     Illustration by Barbara Brown, Mary & Henry Crawford, Bicentenary Stamp (1975)

In retrospect, the stamps were a success artistically because of designer Barbara Brown’s sensitivity and respect to Jane Austen’s work and characters. Learning about her design decisions only added to my appreciation of her choices, and the Stamp Advisory Commission’s excellent choice of an illustrator to create the stamps. I loved how she chose to work in miniature, when very few stamp designers of her day did so. It was brave and worked in her favour. Her choice of the six different characters representing her thoughts on the most popular novels and which character would best represent them was apt. The accuracy of their clothing, scenery and attitudes added to the overall success of the designs and earned the respect and gratitude of the Jane Austen community, and properly honored the bicentenary celebration.     

Image of Jane Austen First Day Cover designed by Jeffery Matthews (1975)

This is one of the Jane Austen First Day Covers with Jeffery Matthews beautiful Regency inspired artwork and hand-stamp of Jane Austen’s initials. I think that it complemented the stamp designs and colours perfectly.

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)

This is another example of one of the Jane Austen First Day Covers  showing the additional artwork that was commissioned of Emma & Mr. Woodhouse from the novel Emma that designer Barbara Brown furnished.

Image of the Jane Austen First Day Cover issued by the city of Bath (1975)

This is the Jane Austen First Day Cover specially issued by the city of Bath featuring a portrait of Jane Austen that had been commissioned by Jane Austen’s family in 1869, and was on the frontis page of the book A Memoir of Jane Austen, written by her nephew James Edward Austen Leigh. Also of note is the beautiful hand-stamp by Jeffery Matthews inspired by the drawing of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra.

Image of the Christmas First Day Covered, issued in Great Britian (1975)

And finally, I thought that you might like to see the set of Christmas stamps that eliminated the Jane Austen set from being issued on her birthday of December 16th. Far be it from me to say that Jane Austen should supersede the celebration of our Lord’s birth, but some say that in the literary world,  – – they are close to the same thing!

A very special shout out to Lucy Shepherd, Archives and Record Management Assistant of  The British Postal Museum & Archive for her expert help in locating the excellently written research document Special Stamp History 105, Birth Bicentenary of Jane Austen, 22 October, 1975, by Giles Allen, 9 January 1997 which was the primary source of my article.

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

*Image of the Jane Austen First Day Cover issued in Great Britain, (1975)

*Image of the Jane Austen First Day Cover issued by the city of Bath, Great Briain, (1975)

*Image of the Christmas First Day Cover issued in Great Britain, (1975)

Jane Goes Postal: Part Five

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975) 

JANE AUSTEN BICENTENARY CELEBRATION 

COMMEMORATIVE  STAMPS 1975

_____________________________________________

Part five

PRESS, PRINTING & PUBLIC

 

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

Jane Goes Postal: Part Four

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)

JANE AUSTEN BICENTENARY CELEBRATION

COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS 1975

_______________________________________________

 Part four

REVEAL & APPROVAL

 

On June 5th (1974), Barbara Brown’s four stamp illustrations were revealed to the Stamp Advisory Committee and approved. The final details such as variations on the amount of information (Austen’s name and dates, book titles, names of characters) were still under discussion, and the committee requested a combination of variations from the artist.

          Illustration by Barbara Brown, Emma & Mr. Woodhouse, Bicentenary Stamp (1975)                     Illustration by Barbara Brown, Catherine Morland, Bicentenary Stamp (1975)         

The finished designs were received on 29 July, and finally seen by the SAC on 12 September. The meeting decided in favour of right-aligned captions in italics with the names of the depicted characters rather than the novels from which they were taken. The following order of values was agreed: 4½p, Emma and Mr Woodhouse; 5½p, Catherine Morland; 8p, Mr Darcy; 10p, Mary and Henry Crawford. It was felt apt that the paired figures should be at either end of the value range and the single portraits in the middle.

Image of Mr. Darcy, British Commemorative Stamp, (1975)                       Illustration by Barbara Brown, Mary & Henry Crawford, Bicentenary Stamp (1975)

The printers Harrison and Sons were contracted to print the stamps, and would also create essays (test runs) from the artwork. Interestingly, there were delays in the essay production caused by the uncertainty within Marketing department over the correct spelling of ‘Morland’ and the mis-spelling of ‘D’Arcy’!

The first essays were finally approved as they stood at the following meeting on 16 January 1975. By this time postage rates were being revised, and the new values were provisionally set at 7p, 8p, 10p and 12p.

The projected postal increase from economic inflation would cause several delays and revisions in the designs until June, 1975 when the final essays were presented to the Queen and approved on the July 1st.

Well…, to quote American baseball great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over, until it’s over.”

Please join us tomorrow for part five and the conclusion of the story of Jane Goes Postal: The Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative Stamps, and read about the publicity build up and the public’s reaction to the set.

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

*Illustrations by Barbara G. Brown of the Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative Stamps, first row left to right, Emma & Mr. Woodhouse, Catherine Morland; second row left to right, Mr. Darcy, Mary & Henry Crawford 

Jane Goes Postal: Part Three

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)

JANE AUSTEN BICENTENARY CELEBRATION

COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS 1975

__________________________________________________ 

Part three 

AN INSPIRATION 

 

Barbara Brown’s challenge in creating artwork of Jane Austen’s characters was a daunting but not unique task. How could one honestly represent such beloved characters whose persona’s have been so wholly impressed in the imagination of her readers for over 160 years? It had been achieved to some degree of success by her predecessors C.E. Brock, Hugh Thomson and Joan Hassall in their widely published book illustrations. How could she present them in an honourable and interesting manner to spark imagination and evoke memory?

Their success or failure would lie in the artist’s intimate knowledge of Jane Austen’s work, and with the honesty that she chose to represent it. This dictum can be applied today to any artist, writer or movie producer who endeavours to present Jane Austen in any medium. Honesty and respect is everything in life, and in art. So when Barbara Brown gave a retrospective description of her designs in the British Philatelic Bulletin  of October 1975, we see her perception and sensitivity on this subject, and are sanguine.

From the four novels which seemed to me the most widely read … I selected six characters whom I thought I could most successfully define and comment on within a limited area. I selected no characters with whom I could not sympathise…

Sympathy is everything indeed! Jane Austen oozes unceremonious sympathy.

Emma Woodhouse, the reigning queen of her busy humdrum court, typifies a quality of life that the restless stylish Crawfords would probably reject.

It is obivous here that Miss Brown is well aquainted with Jane Austen’s characters and their motivations. Well done! 

 These designs showing paired, as opposed to single figures, seemed to me particularly important because I wished them to suggest the strongly conversational style of the novels.

Jane Austen’s narrative conversational style is the foundation of her success, so Miss Brown was on good footing here. 

As for Mr Woodhouse, I selected him in preference to any other character who would equally well have partnered Emma, partly because it seemed to me essential to include one of Jane Austen’s brilliant characterisations of those in their middle or later years, and partly because Mr Woodhouse seems to me an unjustly despised gentleman.

Ok, to lift a line from the movie Jerry Maguire (1996), you had me at Mr. Woodhouse. 

 The dissimilarity between the sedentary parent and the scheming daughter provides another contrast with the intimate, accomplice-like relationship between Henry Crawford and his sister Mary…

Her choice of Mary and Henry Crawford is puzzling and at odds with her previous mention of only choosing characters that she could sympathise with. Personally, I have trouble relating to these two spoiled schemers, who Jane Austen moralized into ‘just deserts’ by the end of Mansfield Park.

 Mr Darcy, aloof and distant, had to stand alone epitomising the title of the novel whose hero he is clearly destined to be; while Catherine Morland, very human and silly, is at least for the time content to wander alone through an illusive world of Gothic fantasy.

Ahhh … too true. Darcy alone, in his regal glory, and adventurous Catherine striking out on her own. Perfect. No complaints here. We are only saddened that there could only be four designs.

Please join us tomorrow for part four of the story of Jane Goes Postal: The Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative Stamps, as Barbara Brown’s final illustrations are revealed and approved by the Stamp Advisory Commission.

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     

Jane Goes Postal: Part Two

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)

JANE AUSTEN BICENTENARY CELEBRATION 

COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS 1975

___________________________________________________

Part two

A COMMISSION

 

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