CR Blog

Stamps of Approval

Posted by Mark Sinclair, 26 November 2008, 10:43    Permalink    Comments (52)

A set of first class stamps are to be issued in January next year commemorating ten icons of British design. The Royal Mail's new series offers up a discernably nostaligic look at some British Design Classics, largely culled from the 1930s and 1960s.

RJ Mitchell's Spitfire, George Carwardine's angelpoise lamp, Harry Beck's map of the London Underground network and Edward Young's designs for Penguin (below) all originate from the 1930s.

The series of ten also includes Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's telephone box (his K2 design is from 1926) and Robin Day's polypropylene chair for Hille Seating from 1963.

While the design of the Mini (originally launched in 1959) has moved with the times and the 1965 mini skirt is still a classic of contemporary fashion, classic designs like the Routemaster bus (manufactured between 1954 and 1968) and Concorde (1969-2003) have been retired relatively recently.

The stamps will be issues on 13 January 2009. A "prestige stamp book", issued alongside the stamps, will provide a more extensive background and history of the designs.

To mark the Mini’s 50th and Concorde’s 40th birthdays, Royal Mail is also issuing a "generic sheet" of 20 stamps (Mini series designed by Magpie; Concorde by Neon) and "medal covers" for each which have been designed by the Royal Mint Engraving Team. All stamps and sets will be available from


I love the MINI stamp!!
2008-11-26 12:38:15

They are lovely; makes me quite proud to be a Brit.
2008-11-26 14:40:10

Thank you for your kind comments. They are designed by HGV
Pierre Vermeir
2008-11-26 16:38:25

Thanks Pierre. Also, photography is by Jason Tozer
CR Mark Sinclair
2008-11-26 16:58:58

The bus is great, you can have your own photos on stamps now, great stocking filler for the kids!
creativedge - logo design
2008-11-26 17:40:28

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Pierre, Barbara & all at HGV for asking me to get involved with this project. It was great getting to shoot all these great examples of British Design (ok, so yeah, we let the french help out with a bit Concorde)...

When you see them all sat there on their familiar stamp perforations it's also hard to take in how much work it was to get all of these images into print. I know Barbara worked very very hard getting permissions from all the designers or their estates, and for the Royal mail every last detail of each object had to entirely correct & true to the heritage of the designs (quite rightly). This meant that there's been absolutely no cheating (can you believe it in 2008!) in the sourcing & photography of the objects. None of them are models or facsimiles of the real thing. We travelled down to the national Motor Museum in Beaulieu to shoot one of the very first Minis, Stuttgart in Germany for Concorde, an amazing place in Surrey for the phone box, Acton transport museum for the double decker, & Hendon for the Spitfire. Getting permission to shoot in & move things about in museums is far from easy!

The rest were shot in the studio & then everything had to go through another phase of exhaustive permissions & approvals by Royal mail before being given the go ahead. There really is a tremendous amount of work gone into this set & HGV deserve more credit in the blog copy in my opinion.

It was also a great pleasure getting up close to all these objects during the shoots, our British design heritage is something we should remind ourselves of often i think.

& my own thanks to Alex Steiner & Wilson Hennessey.
Jason Tozer
2008-11-26 18:16:37

Simply beautiful!
Deborah Richardson
2008-11-26 23:16:05

Nice like a lot especially, penguin book, mini, telephone and bus :)
lara Ellison
2008-11-26 23:47:39

Simple, elegant and timeless, great job.
Dana Robertson
2008-11-28 10:28:02

What a wonderful set of stamps.
Envocative of all things British!
Clear pictures and images that don't need an "arty" mind to be able to understand.
I love them - makes you proud to be British - and our heritage is something that we need to be reminded of!
Jane Holding
2008-11-28 11:29:33

I think these stamps are gorgeous! what a great piece of work by all those involved in the project.

P.S. which stamp is everyones favorite???
and check out the royal mail site for more work surrounding these stamps.

2008-11-29 02:05:00

congratulations for HGV design and photographer
very cute, my wife has a mini but she would have preferred a red one!!!
next time don't forget the english marmelade....
2008-11-29 11:43:38

What BEAUTIFUL stamps! I wish they were available in the USA!
Megan Lowden
2008-11-30 04:53:48

I miss that!
I want that!
I love that!

What a wonderful design..
2008-12-01 09:30:35

Brilliant! Favs are the Mini (a real one!) and the Penguin book. Would love to see a picture of these on an envelope to see how they work.
Derek Stewart
2008-12-01 11:02:08

Masterly. You guys are the best.
/ Oscar
oscar liedgren
2008-12-01 12:02:46

Makes me want to start collecting stamps again, good work Mr T.
2008-12-04 11:46:21

They are beautifully simple. But I know the work it took to achieve that level of simplicity was phenomenal.
Jim Davies
2008-12-04 12:26:37

I worry about the choices of content.

Elegant but ultimately depressing.

Its a condemnation of something in British society: is it the poverty of industrial courage, or the current low quality of design thinking, or safety of nostalgia? All these "classics" are from 40 years ago or longer.

The choices are also curious in the extreme, they don't fit together as a set, what was the CRITERION for choice?

Popularity? The Concorde was purely for the rich. The Underground map for everyone.

Longevity? The Spitfire and the telephone box are very much of their time, trapped in a particular period – if you stepped inside a piss-smelling phone box now you wouldn't think it was good design at all. (I would have picked the 19th century British invention of the postal system.) The angle poise, Beck's map and mini-skirt are still current and being re-issued in modernised, modified forms... they have an essential strength the others dont have.

And, by the way, isn't the design quality of the Spitfire mythic, a left-over from WWII PR, like the "miracle" of Dunkirk, and the I-eat-carrots stories about radar. A beleaguered nation needing positive (but ultimately groundless) stories? My understanding was that the Messerschmitt 109, like all German design/engineering of the 1940s and subsequently, was far superior. The RAF's "victory" was more due to German invasion of Russia than the design of one of its airplanes.

Was the mini truly so much better than the Cinquecento and the Deux Chevaux?

If the CRITERION was inventiveness:

The mini-skirt would be out.

The rubber boot!, called Wellingtons! The Balaclava and the Cardigan, worn today by countless millions.

The DM boot? Which solves a genuine practical problem (air cushioning but water-tight).

Isn't the ipod British? Its a British designer. (The mini is not.) It is at least as revolutionary as the Penguin paperback.

If the CRITERION was enduring usefulness:

Peter Durand's development of canned food? A bit earlier, but world-revolutionary, and still useful today.

The English gentleman's suit – as seen everywhere in the Western world and now the Eastern world – is a far more influential design than Mary Quant's version of a short skirt (she was by no means the first).

But I guess the designs featured on the stamps are now the "accepted" and safe choices, found in a dozen Good Design books, for a nation 50 years behind in its thinking.
Quentin Newark
2008-12-04 17:05:58

Dear Quentin,

Thank you so much for using the word 'elegant'.
Pierre Vermeir
2008-12-04 18:49:05

Re. Spitfire - it was the plane's manoeuvrability that made it so superior to the Messerschmitt etc. And what a stunning shape - form and function, isn't that what it's all about?

Congratulations on a beautiful set of stamps.
Leigh Brownsword
2008-12-08 12:04:43

Hi Leigh.

Hate to be a pedant, but about the Spitfire's much vaunted maneouvrability; the actual turn radius for Messerschmitt was 103 metres versus 115 for the Spitfire, with the same rate of 25 degree/sec. Of course, then it depends on which version of each plane we are comparing... As I said, I think the Spitfire's "superiority" was one of the myths put about during the war, like the great victory of Dunkirk, to make us feel better.

And if its simply stunning aesthetic shape we are looking for, the Lightning – in its silver livery – is at least as beautiful. The Harrier (still in use) arguably has far more innovative technology and design than the Spitfire.

I didn't want to disrupt the blog love-in. My points are all about the choice of content – nothing to do with Pierre's (or his clients') taste, which as we know, for both, is impeccable.

I think a wider and more unexpected set of choices, ranging across as much as 200 years, and right up to today, would have made a better impression of Britain's deeply innovative and enduring design skills, rather than a roughly 30 year window on a bygone era.
2008-12-08 15:13:55

Simply,a beautiful set of stamps as usual.
michele vermeir
2008-12-09 07:41:57

Woah! Take a breath there Quentin!

Any actual creation leaves in it's wake a slew of non-creation. Cutting room floor material, discarded for whatever reason, popularity, availability, budget, clients, whatever. We're not privvy to the why's & wherefores of this decision process. You seem to have some strong issues with the choices.

Your list sounds interesting though (canned food, DM's, Messerschmitt's, men's suits, ipods), but it's not inexistence is it?

It's a virtual list, a wish list.

These actual stamps serve a purpose, they're presumably required to be popular, they are also accomplished & celebrate a selection of our design history. I like them. I might even buy a sheet from the postoffice & put them in a wee frame.
2008-12-09 11:22:00

We've done a few microsites for Royal Mail stamp issues. Design Classics (the stamps above) doesn't go live until January 13th, but there's a great one up at the moment: Uniforms of the RAF. You can find it at

We've also got a Darwin commemorative issue going live in the New Year... keep an eye out.
Chris Georgiou
2008-12-09 12:36:29

Hi Quentin

As usual, design is often about opinion - but in the Spitfire’s case it is the opinion of the pilots that count, rather than myths, propaganda or Google-sourced facts.

The majority of WWII pilots heralded the Spitfire as man and machine working in perfect harmony – although they did say it was rubbish on roundabouts compared to the Messerschmitt!!!

The Lightning jet fighter, in MY OPINION, is aesthetically inferior - whether in silver or designer-black livery.

The stamps, in my opinion, are a good selection for the general public.
Leigh Brownsword
2008-12-09 14:02:17

Could Quentin’s ‘worry’ appear a little like sour grapes? Yes, we know that alternative British design icons could have been chosen..... but these are much-loved and bring a sense of delightful recognition and warm nostalgia.

Congratulations to HGV, The Royal Mail and related teams for creating a beautiful set of stamps to cheer us up in these gloomy times.
2008-12-09 18:01:16

Hmmm. Raise a question on a blog, and rather than a discussion involving some thinking about that question, most people, even members of the designer's family, feel they have to weigh in decisively to tip the balance in favour of perfection... as though it was simply wrong to dissent in any way.

Anything we write here is opinion, Leigh. Or, in your case, OPINION.

If I try and understand your latest post, you seem to be saying that the "majority" of WWII pilots considered the Spitfire superior in every way to the Messerschmitt – except in its ability to manoeuvre. Did I understand your point correctly?

I also am guessing you are excluding German pilots from your mythic war-propaganda "majority"?

I can only guess, Lily, that you have never been involved in determining the origin or content of any piece of design, its nothing to do with sour grapes to find that you dont entirely agree with what was decided, and its in the very nature of blogs to discuss things.

I am happy my very first ideas about possible alternatives for the Royal Mail's choices manage to seem interesting. Its a shame more people couldn't muster their thoughts.

Perhaps I should step aside now, and let the rain of sweetness and affirmation of perfection continue unabated.
2008-12-09 18:55:57

Leigh Brownsword
2008-12-09 19:34:25

Some interesting points made here.
Don't worry Quentin, I'm sure some other fine examples of British design will arise sometime in the future. Maybe with the next set.

Lovely stamps. Don't lick them though, I've herd all kinds of rumors about that. Where there's smoke and all that...

action man
2008-12-10 16:40:58

it's good to see someone using a blog for what it is actually meant for look forward to seeing further comments. Great blog
2008-12-16 14:32:02

What, no Dalek? A classic of British modernist design if I ever saw one!
2008-12-17 16:01:22

Pierre delivered - again!
Dr. Hilbert Seeger
2008-12-18 13:58:58

So pleased to see Robin Day chairs being recognised as the Great British design classic of the 20th century.
I love all of the chosen icons for these stamps BRILLIANT !
2009-01-08 12:29:24

Did anyone notice the inspiration of the Culture Show Design Quest on these stamps? I was delighted to see the Royal Mail fess up in today's Times (I work on the show so I notice such things).

Our top 10 did include modern British design that wouldn't have worked so well on a stamp, such as the Cat's-eye. Gaming did well, with Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto included - wonder when the Royal Mail will have its first series related to games?
Ellen West
2009-01-13 12:58:02

I'm not British.

I think the stamps look charming in the way they reinforce a nostalgic image of Britain that I've always had, even before setting my feet on this country for the first time: the red bus, the tube map and the mini skirt.

However, I agree that by not including some of the more contemporary or timeless CLASSICS suggested in this blog, this selection denies the enormous importance of contemporary British design and the way it is shaping our future.

The problem may lie with the title.

BRITISH DESIGN CLASSICS is too broad and can be interpreted in various different ways.

Does CLASSIC mean timeless, enduring? If so, items which no longer function should be avoided.

Does CLASSIC mean standard of excellence? If so, the mini should probably be dismissed (when I mentioned to a taxi driver how much I loved the mini – opinion obviously based entirely on aesthetic qualities – he was quick enough to answer that it was because I never drove one!)

I have a sense that the meaning of CLASSIC on this set was driven for the idea of historically memorable pieces of design.

If this is so, it seems sensible that the timeline from which the pieces have been chosen could have been expanded in order to better accommodate the 'historical' idea of the selection.


And what about the first postage stamp?! Isn't it one of the most important British design classics? After all, without the Penny Black this conversation wouldn't even exist!
Paola Atelier Faoro
2009-01-16 19:14:45

I thoroughly enjoyed Quentin's comments for providing an intellectually stimulating input to an otherwise relentlessly soggy discussion. If Quentin is suggesting that many of the designs chosen seem curiously irrelevant to those of us living in the real world, then I agree! The choice for the stamps reminds me of the embarrasing handover of the Olympic torch to London with the crass choice of a red bus! If there is another round of design orientated stamps, I would love to see designs chosen that reflect the big issue of today - sustainability and one-planet living.
Justin Bere
2009-01-16 20:13:50

Good one ;-) i will bookmark your weblog so i won't forget it ;o) Ciao
US Stamps
2009-01-18 19:46:22

Superb makes you proud to be british!
2009-04-09 14:03:37

These are really beautiful stamps, i just love the red post box!
2009-07-23 15:36:29

Surely the choco monster can't complain! If we didn't have stamps we wouldn't be able to send letters!!! And there where would we be?????!!!
Andrew Jobby
2009-09-18 14:06:07

What a great posting, these stamps look really nice and different; thanks for sharing these.
2010-01-21 11:39:56

What a great collection of stamps! Really the Royal mail should have a UK competition, design a stamp - with the winner get published! how cool would that be?
2010-05-09 07:41:57

Never really been into stamp design until recently when a fellow design showed the the error of my ways. Some really nice examples here. Cheers
Graphic Design Nottingham
2010-06-21 13:12:52

What a great collection of stamps! Really the Royal mail should have a UK competition, design a stamp - with the winner get published! how cool would that be?
2010-07-29 13:42:38

Very nice stamps of Royal Mail here! I'm a big fan of the London Underground Map stamp myself. Perhaps it can be very useful when you're lost in the subway there somewhere and you're about to post a letter anyway lol! Use it as a map!
2010-08-06 08:34:00

Fantastic! Love 'The Edwardians' with the classic Penguin cover. I have a similar covered book (same era) 'The Island of Dr Moreau' by HG Wells. A classic in design but sadly being slowly overhauled or transformed by technology, like so many other examples in these stamps...
2011-06-14 21:14:14

Love that iconic Mini.
2011-07-07 04:47:48

Thanks a lot for sharing i love the mini stamp to!
2012-02-12 12:09:29

Compared to the Dutch stamps these are just beauties. If webdesigners took the time to create design masterpieces like this the web would be a better place!
Webdesign - NL
2012-05-10 20:47:15

Dutch stamps suck, I know, I'm Dutch.
These stamps are really great.
Love the mini stamp.
enquetes maken
2012-09-02 10:42:05

Verry Nice stamps
2013-02-14 12:08:08

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