Commemorating the launch of an ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2, Deputy Curator Georgina tells us more about famous British ships on stamps.

50 years ago Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner made her maiden voyage. A stamp dedicated to her first journey was released in 1969, here we will look at her history, voyages and how designers thought best to depict her.

The stamp depicts an image of the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 on a blue background with a value of 5d.

RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, 5d, British Ships, 1969


Queen Elizabeth 2 was an ocean liner built by John Brown & Company, Clydbank in Scotland for the Cunard Line. They already had Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary as part of their fleet however they looked for a smaller, cheaper ship that allowed it to dock in ports others couldn’t. QE2 was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on the 20th of September 1967, however, it wasn’t until 1969 that she made her maiden voyage. At a weight of nearly 70,000 tonnes, she could carry passengers and crew totalling over 2,000 people.

Two stamps depicting the Cunard ships RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Mary 2 from the Ocean Liners stamp issue of 2004.

RMS Queen Mary 1936 & RMS Queen Mary 2 2004, 42p, Ocean Liners, 2004

Cunard Fleet

QE2 is not the only Cunard ship to appear on a stamp, the above images are from the Ocean Liners issue of 2004 depicting both the Queen Mary and the Queen Mary 2. The Queen Mary, like that of the QE2, helped the war effort, the Queen Mary during WW2 and QE2 in the Falklands. Below we have the predecessor of the QE2, launched in 1938 and named after the Queen’s Mother who at the time was Queen Consort.

Stamp depicting the Cunard ship RMS Queen Elizabeth in 1940 for the Merchant Navy stamp issue of 2013.

RMS Queen Elizabeth 1940, £1.28, Merchant Navy, 2013

Stamp Design

The year 1969 saw the maiden voyage of the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the centenary of the Cutty Sark both of which were celebrated in the British Ship series of the same year. The artists asked to submit designs were; Clive Abbott, Johan Polak, Andrew Restall and David Gentleman. It was also decided that the entire series should be produced by one artist to show uniformity.

A stamp design by Clive Abbott for the Queen Elizabeth 2 stamp for the British Ships issue of 1969, depicting the ship with a smaller silhouette above.

Queen Elizabeth 2 design by Clive Abbott, 1s 9d, 3rd September 1968.

A stamp design by Andrew Restall for the Queen Elizabeth II stamp for the British stamp issue of 1969, depicting the ocean liner surrounded by smaller boats.

Queen Elizabeth 2 design by Andrew Restall, 5d, 3rd September 1968.

David Gentleman

The SAC (Stamp Advisory Committee) decided that David Gentleman’s design worked the best, conveying a high level of detail in such a limited space. There were some recommendations such as the ship being depicting in the sea, as at the time it was the only ship in the series afloat. His design would then go on to become the issued stamp.

A stamp design by David Gentleman for the Queen Elizabeth II stamp for British Ships issue of 1969, depicting the ship on a white background.

Queen Elizabeth 2 designed by David Gentleman, 5d, 3rd September 1968.


In 2004 Cunard’s transatlantic route was transferred to the new Queen Mary 2, though once a year QE2 still undertook a world cruise. A year later QE2 would become the longest serving Cunard vessel. In 2007 the Cunard company was sold to a Dubai investment company who took possession of Queen Elizabeth 2. She performed her last transatlantic voyage with Queen Mary 2 from New York to Southampton in 2008. She would later leave Southampton embarked for Dubai where she currently resides.

Image of a first day cover for the British Ships issue of 1969 postmarked Edinburgh 1969.

British Ships, First Day Cover, 15th January 1969

Stamp artwork is such an important part of understanding the world of stamps. Here at The Postal Museum, we are so lucky to be able to maintain and exhibit this work. I hope to show more of these creations in my future blogs. Maybe have a think whether David Gentleman’s design would have been the one you would have chosen? Or why not have a go at designing your own!

– Georgina Tomlinson, Deputy Curator (Philately)