For Women's History Month we explore the intricate work of British stamp designer Marjorie Saynor.

Marjorie Saynor initially studied at the Royal College of Art in Hull and would later go on to be awarded a scholarship at the Royal College of Art. She worked as a freelance illustrator and designer, producing stamps during the 1970s and 80s for Royal Mail on behalf of Saxon Artists Ltd. Marjorie was one of many female artists who have contributed to British stamp design. In total she was commissioned for 5 stamp issues and submitted designs for many more.

Black and white photograph of a woman's head and shoulders.

Photograph of Marjorie Saynor taken from the 1970 Anniversaries Presentation Pack.

Adopted Designs

General Anniversaries

1s9d, Royal Astronomical Society.

The first stamps designed by Marjorie Saynor were issued on 1 April 1970. Of the five stamps her designs were used to commemorate the ‘International Co-operative Alliance 1895’ and the ‘Royal Astronomy Society 1820’. The rest of the stamps were produced by a colleague at Saxon Artists, Fritz Wegner. The astronomers represented from left to right are Sir William Herschel, Francis Baily and Sir John Frederick William Herschel.

Artwork of three gentleman and a telescope on a pink background with value, caption and cameo head.

Artwork for the Royal Astronomical Society Stamp.

British Polar Explorers & British Explorers

Four stamps depicting the head and shoulders of men with maps in the background.

Issued stamps for Polar Explorers 1972.

Marjorie designs were used to capture key British Polar Explorers in 1972 and in a similar vein explorers of hotter climates in 1973. Her artwork is produced at stamp size depicting the male figures against backgrounds associated with their travels. Capturing the intricate nature of maps was not unknown to her after illustrating the maps for Lancelot Hogben’s book ‘Man Must Measure, The Wonderful World of Mathematics’ in 1955.

Five stamps depicting the head and shoulders of men with maps in the background.

Issued stamps for British Explorers 1973.

You can see in her preliminary designs that she breaks the design down into sections; the portrait, background, layout (i.e. position of the monarchs head) along with the colour palette. This intricate process establishes that the design will work at such a small size with all elements clear and visible.

A grided page with four images; the complete stamp design, the colours used, the background map and the outlines of the shapes.

Preliminary drawings and colour guide for the Henry Hudson stamp.

Marjorie researched her designs to make them as accurate as possible. Many of the maps used in the background were sourced from the Royal Geographical Society. She also studied portraits from the National Portrait Gallery for the image of Francis Drake (5p), numbers 1627, 4851 and 3905, along with Walter Raleigh (7½p) based on a miniature by Nicholas Hilliard.

Maritime Heritage

19p, Admiral Blake & Triump.
24p, Lord Nelson & HMS Victory.
26p, Lord Fisher & HMS Dreadnought.
29p, Viscount Cunnigham & HMS Warspite.


Marjorie submitted 6 stamp size rough designs of significant naval figures with their associated vessel such as King Henry VIII and the Mary Rose, and Lord Nelson with HMS Victory. These small designs lay out the groundwork for how each aspect of the stamp; image, value, cameo and caption could be accommodated.

The below images depict the stamp size rough on the left with the accepted design on the right. You can see the portrayal of the ship has been adapted and the portrait perfected.

Two stamp designs for Lord Nelson, on the left the stamp has a 20p value and perforated surrounded. On the right the image just includes the figure and an outline of the ship.

Stamp size rough and final design for the Lord Nelson stamp.

Unadopted Designs

For many stamps, and especially during this period of stamp design, numerous artists were asked to submit designs. These would be assessed by the Stamp Advisory Committee who decide which images to use. This leads to unused designs known as ‘unadopted artwork’.

Here are just a few of the designs submitted by Marjorie for stamp issues in which she was not successful.

Silver Wedding Anniversary

These preliminary stamp size designs for the Silver Wedding Anniversary of 1972 depict the royal couple with caption and value.

Two small designs for the Silver Wedding Anniversary featuring images of the Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh.

3p & 9p, Unadopted designs for the Silver Wedding Anniversary.

Metropolitan Police

Marjorie’s designs for the 1979 150th Anniversary of Metropolitan Police stamp issue looked at the police force through history. Here depicting policemen on horseback.

Artwork consisting of two policeman, one on a horse, with the stamps value, caption and cameo head.

9p, Unadopted artwork for the 150th Anniversary of the Metropolitan Police Stamp Issue.

Marjorie submitted her last designs in 1982 for Maritime Heritage, ending her stamp career with a successful commission. I believe it is extremely important to remember female stamp designers, who at that time were often producing stamp issues commemorating men. We are extremely lucky to care for these beautiful pieces of stamp artwork and hopefully, Women’s History Month is just the start of our exploration into female stamp design.

If you are interested in learning more about female stamp designers do check out our blog on photographer Dorothy Wilding and you can see more designs by artists such as: Faith Jaques, Rosalind Dease and Sylvia Goaman on our online catalogue.

-Georgina Tomlinson (Deputy Curator, Philately)