The British Empire Exhibition - Britain's first commemorative set
About two weeks ago I bought this block of stamps for £16. Not only is the stamp beautifully designed, but it is also historically important – it is the first commemorative stamp ever produced by the British Post Office.
The British Empire Exhibition was a celebration of the British Empire which opened in 1924 in a specially built hall in Wembley in North London. The Post Office felt it would be appropriate to issue a stamp to mark the event.
George V, who was a keen philatelist and fancied himself as an expert in stamp design, expressed strong views about the stamp. 'Although his Majesty is not very much in favour of stamps of this sort, because the whole idea is un-English and is copied from America, the King thinks that if it is done at all, it should be done properly.'
The Post Office felt that the best design was by the influential designer and typographer Eric Gill. However the King said that he preferred the design by Harold Nelson. This was the one that was finally adopted. The stamp was printed in two values – 1d and 1½d.
The design shows a British lion 'in an attitude of defiance'. It is recess printed and larger than the normal British stamps, which had been printed up to that time.
A couple of points are worth mentioning about this particular block. The initial run of stamps was perforated with a line or cross perforator, rather than a comb perforator, in which the individual blocks had to be made to fit the exact size of the stamp. This cheaper method wasn't always very successful and was later changed for comb perforation. This block happens to be line perforated, which might explain why there appears to be an uneven perforation at one of the corners.
Also this block of stamps was posted in Greenwich (in South London). Many of the stamps were bought as souvenirs and posted at the Exhibition in Wembley, so that they received the special commemorative hand-stamp, which featured a futuristic lion. This block was probably used for genuine postal purposes.
The stamps are very attractive and the block is a nice addition to a collection. And the issue was obviously a success because the Post Office repeated it next year, when they issued the 1925 British Empire Exhibition set, using exactly the same design, but with only the year altered.
See also - the book by Jack Shamash - George V's Obsession – A King and His stamps