George V Definitives

When King George V became King on 6 May 1910 new photographs were needed as the basis for coins, medals and stamps.

These were taken by W. & D. Downey, the Court Photographers. The King preferred a three-quarter profile for the stamps, which became known as the Downey head. This was engraved by J. A. C. Harrison and inserted into frames by Bertram Mackennal and George Eve. The stamps were printed by Harrison and Sons Ltd from plates produced by the Royal Mint. Neither had any experience of stamp printing and the process was rushed because the Postmaster General wanted the stamps ready for the Coronation in June 1911. Hence the first issued ½d and 1d stamps in ‘Dolphin’ and ‘Lion’ frames with the Downey head were of poor quality and greeted with derision. Nevertheless, work still continued on other values.

After much experimentation with engraving and printing, the King decided that the head needed to be replaced and suggested a true profile. Profiles were created from Mackennal’s coinage and medal heads and inserted into existing frames by Mackennal and Eve, but with a new ‘Oak and Laurel Leaves’ frame by Mackennal for the 1d stamp. This profile of George V became his iconic image and stamps were issued from 1912 to 1913.

Low values were printed in letterpress using plates made by the Royal Mint. Waterlow & Sons Ltd took over the printing from Harrisons in 1924. In 1933 the series was then replaced by photogravure versions. High values were printed in intaglio (recess) using the ‘Seahorses’ design by Bertram Mackennal. Printers for the high values were Waterlow Bros and Layton, followed by De La Rue and Co., Bradbury Wilkinson and Co., and then Waterlow and Sons from 1934 when the dies were re-engraved.

  • George V Definitives – First Designs

    In 1910 De La Rue lost the contract to create and print all British stamps. Responsibility for stamp production was subsequently divided up.

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  • Downey Head

    When King George V acceded to the throne on 6 May 1910 new photographs were needed for coin, medal and stamp designs.

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  • Mackennal Profiles

    Problems were identified with inserting the Downey three-quarter profile head of King George V into the existing frames.

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  • Photogravure

    In 1933 tenders were invited for a new printing contract, using photogravure as the specified process.

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  • Seahorse High Values

    When Bertram Mackennal first submitted designs for George V's low value definitives he suggested a larger stamp for the high values, allowing more potential for design.

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