Did you know that it's National Opposites Day? Or rather, it isn't? Deputy Curator Georgina explores some polar opposite stamps...

25 January is the unofficial holiday of National Opposites Day, where you say the opposite of what you actually mean. Following this theme, I thought we’d have a look at some stamps in our collection that depict polar opposites.

Young and Old:

Two stamps depicting the young baby Prince Andrew in Queen Elizabeth's arms and the coffin of Denytenamun from the British Museum.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew, 40th Anniv. of Accession, 24p, 1992 & Coffin of Denytenamun, 250th Anniv. of The British Museum, 2nd NVI, 2003

Looking for my youngest stamp I found this image of Her Majesty the Queen holding the baby Prince Andrew. Prince Andrew was born on 19 February 1960, the third child of Queen Elizabeth named after his paternal grandfather Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. It’s interesting to see an image of the monarch as a mother, as Prince Andrew was actually the first child born to a monarch since Queen Victoria’s youngest.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, The British Museum is full of ancient artefacts. The stamp above depicts the coffin of Denytenamun, Priest of Annun c. 900 BC. Within the coffin is the body of a man of middle age wrapped in linen and sealed with resin. The Egyptians believed in life after death and that it was essential to preserve the body for the afterlife. All the organs except the heart would be removed from the body and the mummy was then housed in an ornate coffin.

Tragedy and Comedy:

Two stamps depicting words from Romeo and Juliet and a caricature of Eric Morecambe.

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, 1st NVI, 2016 & Eric Morecambe, Comedians, 26p, 1998

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet and along with Hamlet, it is probably one of the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays. The play tells the tragic story of lovers from feuding families and (spoilers!) their untimely end. When the play was first performed women were not permitted to perform on stage and Juliet’s character would have been played by a man. It is believed that it wasn’t until 1662 that a woman performed the role.

Eric Morecambe was actually born John Eric Bartholomew but used the stage name Morecambe after a seaside resort close to his home. He made up half of the famous comic double act Morecambe and Wise, whose TV show was watched in households across the country. 27 million people tuned in to watch their Christmas special in 1977. Their shows were full of celebrity guests who seemed to really enjoy being part of the comic performance.

Loud and Quiet:

Two stamps depicting an image of Concorde in flight and a drawing of Charlie Chaplin.

First Flight of Concorde, 4d, 1969 & Charlie Chaplin, The Entertainers’ Tale, 64p, 1998

Concorde was a turbojet-powered supersonic passenger jet airliner created in a joint venture between Britain and France. Concorde’s first flight took place on 1 October 1969 but it wasn’t until 1976 that it entered public service. It travelled at twice the speed of sound and produced a sonic boom reaching 110 decibels, annoying its neighbours in the process. Concorde took less than half the time of an ordinary passenger plane to travel from London to New York, but was extremely expensive. Passengers were treated to fine dining and it became popular with many celebrities.

Charles Spencer Chaplin, better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an icon of the silent film age. He was an English comic actor who later went on to write and produce his own movies. He was most recognisable for his persona ‘the tramp’ in baggy trousers and a bowler hat. Before the time of ‘talkie’ movies the narrative was told through title cards and music was played during the film by a pianist or orchestra.  

War and Peace:

Two stamps depicting a painting of soldiers by Eric Kennington and a photo of the Peace Bridge in Derry.

Eric Kennington, First World War – 1915, £1.52, 2015 & Peace Bridge, Bridges, 1st NVI, 2015

The piece above was produced by the war artist Eric Kennington, who was part of the 13th Battalion, London Regiment. He had worked on the front line with the men in the painting and captured a lasting memory of his comrades. The men here have just returned from the trenches and were resting in the ruined village of Laventie. The image is actually a reverse painting on glass and was first exhibited in 1916, now in the Imperial War Museum.

The Peace Bridge which opened on 25 June 2011 crosses the River Foyle in Derry. Funded by the European Union’s Peace III programme, this £14.5 million footbridge snakes across the river. The bridge was created to help unite the Nationalist and Unionist sides of the river after years of troubles. The bridge is greatly used and stands as a monument to peace.

Ugly and Beautiful:

Two stamps depicting the Mr and Mrs Twit and an image of Venice with a gondola.

The Twits, Roald Dahl, £1.00, 2012 & Venice, Sea Travel Post & Go, 1st Class up to 100g, 2015

The Twits was first published by Roald Dahl in 1980, exploring the life of the couple and the tricks they play on one another. Mr Twit is described as covered in hair with a beard full of bits of food from his last meal, while Mrs Twit is no better – she hits people with her cane. Neither character is very nice, and the author suggests that they became extremely ugly due to their ugly thoughts.

In my eyes, Venice is the most beautiful city that I have ever visited and many class it as the most beautiful (and romantic) city in the world. Venice consists of numerous small islands connected by bridges. Its highly decorated architecture and picturesque setting have made it a World Heritage Site. The stamp above from the 2015 Post & Go series depicts some of the key architectural buildings such as the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Basilica. With of course a gondola in the foreground.

There are undoubtedly many more opposites that I haven’t had space to talk about here, but I hope you are able to find more in your own stamp collections or in the stamps that land on your mat. If you need some inspiration why not pop into our Discovery Room?

– Georgina Tomlinson, Deputy Curator (Philately)