Explore the life and achievements of one of the very first female stamp designers.

One of the pioneers of female stamp design, Enid Marx paved the way for further female contribution to stamp design when she was commissioned in the production of Queen Elizbeth II’s early stamps, back in the 1950s.

Life of Enid Marx

Born in London in 1902, Marx’s artistic talents led her to study at the Royal College of Art, though she would fail her diploma in 1925. Over the course of her career she produced book illustrations, printmaking and textile design.

Marx sits by an easel, painting shapes onto a canvas. She looks deep in thought. The photo is a little grainy but it seems there is a tiny kitten on her lap.

Photograph of Enid Marx in her Studio, 1948

In 1944 her talent and contribution to industrial design was recognised when she became the first female Royal Designer for Industry. The title is awarded annually by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and is the highest honour for British designers.

In the 1930s Marx began work for London Transport. She designed seat fabric for tube trains and advertisement posters. Her geometric designs were used on ‘moquette’ fabric, a thick pile material used on upholstery and carpet. You can still see moquette fabric designs being used on London Tubes and buses today.

Marx’s designs featured bright contrasting colours to withstand extensive use and dirt while still looking clean. Many of her designs are in the London Transport Museum Collection.

Wilding Stamps

Until the reign of Queen Elizabeth II there were only a few women involved in British stamp design, but this changed with the new Queen.

The first stamp to depict Elizabeth II included a portrait of the young monarch photographed by Dorothy Wilding. These stamps with the iconic three-quarter profile, where the Queen’s head is turned slightly towards the viewer, would become known commonly as ‘Wildings’. Adorning this portrait for the ½d, 1d, 1½d and 2d value stamps was a decorative floral design created by Enid Marx.

When we say a stamp has a value in ‘d’, this means its value in pennies. 1d equals 1 penny. Before 1971, the UK used pounds, shillings and pence. There were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound – this meant there were 240 pence in each pound. The currency change in the 1970s, known as decimalisation, had a big impact on stamps. 

The Wilding and Marx collaboration came about when a small selection of artists were commissioned by the General Post Office (GPO) to design for the new Queen Elizabeth II postage stamp. All artists were supplied with a portrait by Edmund Dulac and instructed to make the monarch’s head the dominant feature and include the national floral emblems.

Marx initially submitted four designs with the Queen’s head circled with the English rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh daffodil and Northern Irish shamrock.

1 of 4 Submitted designs by Enid Marx, 26 Jun 1952 (QEII/LVW/2/003)
1 of 4 Submitted designs by Enid Marx, 26 Jun 1952 (QEII/LVW/2/004)
1 of 4 Submitted designs by Enid Marx, 26 Jun 1952 (QEII/LVW/2/005)

Marx’s design was shortlisted and tested with the Dorothy Wilding portrait. However, the design was deemed overcrowded by Lord Crawford, Chairman of the Royal Fine Arts Commission.

Marx was requested to remove the values and ‘POSTAGE’ from the top of the design and instead place ‘POSTAGE REVENUE’ at the bottom. This design was approved by the Queen and the 1½d value went on sale on 5 December 1952. Other values with Marx’s floral design would later be issued.

Marx design with top values removed, 24 Jul 1952 (QEII/LVW/4/006)
Issued stamp with ‘POSTAGE REVENUE’ at the bottom of the design, 5 Dec 1952

Penny Black Design

Early in the design process, it was suggested that the 1d stamp should be printed in black to emulate the Victorian Penny Black stamp. The Penny Black was on sale for less than a year as the dark colour made it difficult to cancel; the process of marking the stamp to show it had been used.

Colour trials of the Enid Marx design including the 1d in black, 6 Sep 1952 (QEII/LVW/4/010)

Enid Marx’s design was trialled in black but it was still difficult to read anything printed on top of the stamp. This is illustrated in the below Bahrain stamps.

For much of the 20th century Bahrain was under British ‘protection’. The country’s postal service was administered by Britain and British stamps were used with the overprint ‘Bahrain’ and the new value.

Black Marx design with blue 1½ Annas Bahrain overprint, 31 Dec 1952 (BO.07)

Trials were also made inverting the stamp’s black and white design but the printers, Harrison and Sons were not happy with the result and the idea of a black stamp was abandoned.

Commemorative Stamps

Marx submitted designs for many other stamp issues over the years, from the reign of King George VI to later commemorate stamps for Queen Elizabeth II. These designs were not selected to become the printed stamp but are preserved in the Royal Mail Archive, cared for by The Postal Museum.

Unadopted design for 1951 Festival of Britain stamp issue (GVI/14B(L)/008)
Unadopted design for Queen Elizabeth II Coronation stamp issue, 27 Aug 1952 (QEII/2/026)
Unadopted design for Queen Elizabeth II Coronation stamp issue, 27 Aug 1952 (QEII/3/001)
Unadopted design for 1963 Red Cross Centenary stamp issue, 10 Dec 1962 (QEII/20/016)
Unadopted design for 1963 Red Cross Centenary stamp issue, 10 Dec 1962 (QEII/20/015)

Enid Marx’s designs were selected to become the 1976 Christmas stamps. The four stamps depict 13th and 14th century medieval embroidery from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection.

Marx also designed the products sold with the Christmas stamp. This included the First Day Cover, an envelope featuring the new stamps, and the Presentation Pack, which provided information behind the designs.

Preliminary design for Christmas 1976 by Marx, 30 Oct 1975 (QEII/123/27)

Blue Plaque

To commemorate the eminent work of Enid Marx, a Blue Plaque was erected at her residence (39 Thornhill Road) in the Borough of Islington in 2022.

Marx lived at number 39 with Historian Margaret Lambert, where they collected and wrote about British Popular Art. Their collection can now be seen at Compton Verney in Warwickshire.

Want to see more of Marx’s work for yourself? Come pay a visit to our museum! We are displaying some of her work from our collection in a display celebrating the stamps of the late Queen Elizabeth II.