Out In The Universe... Stamps - - Celebrating a remarkable life...

Michael O. Nowlan - April 24, 2000
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Over the last century and a half, Great Britain's royal women have demonstrated an exceptional record of longevity. Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years and died at the great age of 82.  Today's monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is well on her way to 50 years wearing the crown, having ascended the throne February 6, 1952. The most remarkable, however, is Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother who will celebrate her 100th birthday on August 4. 

It is probably safe to conclude that the visages of the above three women have graced more postage stamps than any other three individuals combined. In the early days of stamps, Queen Victoria was the only image on stamps of the British Empire. Today Queen Elizabeth II is often profiled on many Commonwealth stamps.

Queen Victoria, though, is not my topic; nor is Queen Elizabeth II. It is the other Queen Elizabeth, the present Queen's mother, the Queen Mum as she is often affectionately called. The Queen Mother has been on the stamps of over 100 countries, sometimes for several different issues and sets of multiple stamps.

The Honourable Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born August 4, 1900, the ninth child of Lord and Lady Glamis. History records she had a very happy childhood developing a "close and harmonious" relationship with parents and siblings. Nonetheless, the lady in question was destined for a life on the high road of British royalty as Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI and then as the Queen Mother. 

Spanning the century in the way The Queen Mother has is a story that has captured the hearts and imaginations of all those who give even a slight attention to British Royalty. She has been an individual of considerable repute, and she has been an influence in remarkable ways.

To celebrate the commencement of her 100th year, a 12-nation stamp omnibus was designed and marketed by Crown Agents over a two-month period August-October 1999. Nations participating in the salute were Ascension Island, Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Norfolk Islands, St. Helena, Samoa, Solomon Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan Da Cunea, and Tuvalu. 

Each nation issued four distinctive stamps and one souvenir sheet. Although some of the combined 60 stamps and souvenir sheets depicted either historic or contemporary scenes of the Queen Mother's life, most had an historic feature as well as a contemporary one. Notably, the historic scenes are in black and white photography while the more recent are in beautiful color. That format alone provides a sharp contrast with history. Essentially the stamps displayed a royal life in its splendor, its tragedies, and its triumphs. 

The omnibus set is now much sought after, and as the Royal birthday nears, it will get even more attention. It is unknown, of course, how other nations will mark the 100 birthday with a stamp. There is strong possibility the list could be impressive. At the end of February, the Isle of Man issued six expressive stamps and a souvenir sheet. 

Initially, Canada Post Corporation reneged on a stamp issue for the Queen Mother. In March, however, the tables turned, and the issue of a stamp was approved. Although no image has yet been revealed, the national press carried a story that it will be one stamp to be issued May 23 at Stamp Show 2000 in London. It will be in a 95-cent denomination to pay Canada's international first class mail rate. Other postal administrations are certain to follow a similar pattern at that big international show in Britain's capital. 

Great Britain's Royal Mail plans several collectibles, including a miniature sheet with four first class stamps, a first day cover and presentation pack and a prestige booklet to be issued August 4. Royal Mail's special stamps for Stamp Show 2000 will not feature the Queen Mother.

If you are completely swayed by the Queen Mother hype, you will want The Queen Mother's Century Celebrated in Stamps (Sahara Publications), a head liner title with which to trace this exceptional life. Author Peter Jennings says The Queen Mother is "an outstanding lady of the twentieth century."

Peter Jennings, who is a foremost philatelic journalist, captures the spirit of the century in The Queen Mother's Century Celebrated in Stamps. His thesis and title are taken from the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau omnibus. Through his usual lucid text, he provides "intriguing insights into the concept and design process" behind the omnibus. The book, however, is much more than the development of a specific stamp issue. 

Jennings opens with an overview of the roles King George V and his son King George VI played in stamp collecting. The former was one time president of the Philatelic Society of London. An "avid philatelist", George V made key contributions to the hobby, and "King George VI followed the tradition of his father and became one of the greatest stamp collectors" in Britain.

Having set the stage, Jennings then takes us on a stamp and photographic tour of the century, commencing with the early years and moving through the War Years, Celebration (peace after the long war), A Public Role, and Home and Family. Those chapters of The Queen Mother's life are all accented in the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau omnibus collection. 

The photographs of Royal photographer Tim Graham compliment Jennings' text to a very high degree. So do the stamp images used with permission. There are also numerous other photographs that accurately portray Royal events before the Graham photos. The photographic essay in Chapter One, which portrays King George VI as stamp collector, is expressive. All of the stamp images focus on the art of Royal photography throughout the century. 

Jennings concludes his text with an overview of the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau and a useful, visual essay on "How a Stamp is Designed". An appendix cites selected listings of stamps depicting The Queen Mother from 1932-2000. The Queen Mother's first appearance on a stamp occurred in August 1932 on a Newfoundland seven-cent issue depicting her when she was Duchess of York. The stamps that feature Her Majesty now number in the hundreds. 

The Queen Mother's Century Celebrated in Stamps may not be categorized as a great study of philatelic history. However, it accents a timely topic and it captures a life through stamps. There are few if any distinguished personalities who have been more photographed and who have appeared on more different or unique stamps than The Queen Mother. It is definitely the classic philatelic coffee table title for 2000. The popularity of The Queen Mother will make it a best seller both in Britain and around the world. 

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon is indeed a remarkable figure of the 20th century. The Queen Mother's Century Celebrated in Stamps is a tribute to her. The book demands a specific place in philatelic literature because of its insight to history on stamps and its exceptional theory on stamp design. In a foreword, David Beech, Curator of the British Library Philatelic Collections, praises "this lavishly illustrated philatelic tribute" as one "which will be treasured worldwide." Peter Jennings' awareness of philately gives it strength and validity.

With this new book, the stamps already issued and those to come, the Queen Mother will remain foremost among women on stamps. In fact, when the perforations settle, there may be an unsurpassable record number of stamps in the Lady's favor. What a way to celebrate 100 years of life.



Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.

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