At this year's London International Stamp Show come and see our display of wood engravings.

In 2021, David Gentleman transferred his collection of wood engravings to The Postal Museum to care for. To celebrate his work, we are displaying some of these unique wood engravings on our stand at London International Stamp Show 2022. There will also be a display of wood engravings, original stamp designs and David’s engraving tools at the museum from 18 to 27 February 2022.

David Gentleman

David Gentleman was a prolific stamp designer, producing stamps for Royal Mail through much of the second half of the 20th century. Gentleman’s work will be celebrated this year in a dedicated miniature sheet of his designs issued on 18 February.

Carved piece of wood featuring a design of men in a ship.

Battle of Hastings Wood Engraving.

How wood engravings are made

David engraved on blocks made of boxwood, placed on a leather engraver’s sandbag. This helped him produce curved lines with specialist engraver’s tools like a spitsticker and a graver.

The designs are created by carving away areas you want to remain blank and leaving the area you want inked raised. Any part of the design that sits higher on the wood engraving will be coated in ink. When the wood engraving is put face down on paper and pressed down using a press, the design will appear on the paper. You can see how the design for the ship is raised and the black ink remains on the wood engraving above.

Our displays will also show some of David’s wood engraving tools, which he has kindly loaned to the museum. These sharp metal implements, shown below, would be used to carve out the design into the wood.

Photograph of three engraving tools with wooden handles.

David Gentleman’s Engraving Tools

Items on Display

Here is a taster of some of the wood engravings, and the issued stamps they became, on display at the International Stamp Show.

Shakespeare

Two pieces of wood, on the right a carving of a woman and on the left a man with his arms raised.

Romeo and Juliet Wood Engravings

In 1964, David Gentleman’s designs were used to celebrate the Shakespeare Festival marking 400 years since the birth of William Shakespeare. Each character on the stamps was intricately carved. By comparing the Romeo wood engraving (above) and pull (below), you can see that the direction he reaches for Juliet changes. A wood engraving print will always be the reverse of the carved design.

Romeo and Juliet Wood Engraving Pull
Romeo and Juliet Wood Engraving Pull
1s3d Shakespeare Festival
1s3d Shakespeare Festival
Bottom Wood Engraving Pull
Bottom Wood Engraving Pull
3d Shakespeare Festival
3d Shakespeare Festival

Battle of Hastings

Carved piece of wood featuring a soldier on a horse and one being shot in the eye.

Battle of Hastings Wood Engraving

1966 marked 900 years since the battle between King Harold II and Duke William of Normandy. David based his stamp designs on the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 meter long tapestry telling the story of the battle, woven in the 11th century. The stamps feature men on horseback along with Norman ships and the famous image said to be King Harold II with an arrow in his eye.

Battle Scene Wood Engraving Pull
Battle Scene Wood Engraving Pull
4d Battle of Hastings
4d Battle of Hastings
Norman Ship Wood Engraving Pull
Norman Ship Wood Engraving Pull
6d Battle of Hastings
6d Battle of Hastings

Christmas

Carved piece of wood with the design of a hen.

French Hen Wood Engraving.

Christmas stamps have been produced every year since 1966. In 1977 Gentleman produced a set of stamps that explored the Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas. Each stamp featured the number of characters in the song, such as: two turtle doves, or three French hens.

French Hen Wood Engraving Pull
French Hen Wood Engraving Pull
7d Christmas 1977
7d Christmas 1977
Pear Wood Engraving Pull
Pear Wood Engraving Pull
9d Christmas 1977
9d Christmas 1977

There will be lots more on display at the stamp show and at the museum. If you would like to learn more about David Gentleman and his stamp designs, watch a conversation between David and Douglas Muir, the museum’s Senior Curator, Philately.

The Postal Museum will be on stand 135 during the show. Come and visit us to see this amazing collection of wood engravings, or look out for the display at the museum from 18-27 February.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Deputy Curator (Philately)