Downey Head

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

The definitive stamps were originally based on a three-quarter profile photograph taken in June 1910 by W. & D. Downey, the Court Photographers, referred to as the ‘Downey head’.

The first designs, featuring the head copied from a photograph of the King in Admiral’s uniform, were engraved by J. A. C. Harrison and inserted into frames by Bertram Mackennal (at the King’s suggestion) and George Eve.

George V portrait by W&D Downey
George Eve’s 6d ‘Wreath’ design
2½d Downey head colour trial
Issued 1d Downey head stamps
Issued ½d Downey head stamps

At the same time new printers were contracted – Harrison and Sons Ltd – and the Royal Mint was engaged to create the printing plates. Neither had any experience of stamp printing and the process was rushed because the Postmaster General wanted the stamps to appear in time for the Coronation in June 1911.

The first ½d and the 1d values in ‘Dolphin’ and ‘Lion’ frames with the Downey head were issued on Coronation Day, 22nd June 1911, receiving much criticism for their poor quality. The head was unsuitable for letterpress printing, having been copied from a photograph, and the die impressions were blotchy. Other values were prepared, but only the ½d and 1d values in the Downey head series were put on sale as further issues were abandoned in favour of issuing stamps with a full profile head.

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