Untold lives blog

6 posts categorized "Philatelic"

31 January 2017

Stamps and Gender Studies: Female royalty on Hawaiian definitive Postage Stamps, 1864-1893

Add comment

Postage stamps are an important resource for gender studies.  Hawaiian stamps issued between 1864 and 1893 are an excellent example.  Hawaii was originally an independent nation with its own monarchy, parliament, anthem and flag.  Several of the nation’s postage stamps depict the last senior female members of the Hawaiian Royal Family; all strong, compassionate, talented women with a deep love for their kingdom and people.

Princess Victoria KamamauluBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Although Princess Victoria Kamamalu’s (1838-1866) brother the King prevented her marriage for political reasons, Victoria was far from a pawn in male power politics of the time.  Remaining a spinster she resisted her brother’s attempts to marry her off to more amenable suitors, even causing the King significant embarrassment when implicated in a scandal with a married Englishman. An accomplished pianist and singer she performed in the Kawaiaiha’o Church Choir despite criticisms that her royal rank rendered such activities inappropriate. In 1863 she also established the Kaahumanu Society to assist small pox sufferers, the sick and elderly.


Princess LikelikeBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Princess Likelike (1851-1887) married Archibald Scott Cleghorn, a Scottish resident. Tiring of his controlling behaviour she abandoned him to become the Governor of Big Island between 1879 and 1880, refusing his repeated requests to return home. Involved in extensive charity work, Likelike also had a musical bent writing iconic Hawaiian songs including Ainahau.


Queen KapiolaniBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Queen Kapilolani (1834-1899) established the Kapiolani maternity home and participated in the 1887 state visit to Britain to attend Queen Victoria’s 50th Jubilee Celebrations. Throughout the visit Kapiolani insisted on speaking Hawaiian despite being proficient in English.


Queen Emma Kaleleonalani British Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Queen Emma Kaleleonalani (1836-1885) was a renowned equestrian who expanded the Royal Palace Library. She established the Queen’s Hospital in 1859 and St Andrew’s Priory School for girls in 1867. A devout Anglican she was a central figure in establishing the Church of Hawaii and St Andrew’s Cathedral. 


Queen LiliuokalaniBritish Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues Noc

Queen Liluokalani (1838-1917) assisted in founding Queen’s Hospital and the Kaahumanu Society for the relief of the elderly and sick in 1864. In 1909 she also established the Liliuokalani Trust for the welfare of orphaned Hawaiian Children. She wrote Hawaii’s most iconic song Aloha ‘oe and one of Hawaii’s national anthems, acted as regent during her brother’s world tour in 1881, and also participated in the 1887 State visit to Britain. In 1891 she was elected head of state on her brother’s death, ruling until 1893 when she was imprisoned and forced to abdicate following an American backed coup bringing the Hawaiian Monarchy to a tragic end. Prior to her death in 1917 Liliuokalani continually sought support to regain her throne, and also published her memoirs Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen in 1898.

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections

Further reading:
British Library, Philatelic collections: UPU Collection: Hawaii 1893 Provisional Government Overprinted Issues
Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen (Boston, 1898)
Paul Bailey, Those Kings and Queens of Old Hawaii, (LA, 1975)
Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom (3 volumes, Honolulu, 1947-1967)

02 September 2016

‘A most fearefull and dreadfull fire’

Add comment

The directors of the East India Company did not hold their regular meetings at the start of September 1666.  They were caught up in the Great Fire which started its devastating sweep through the City of London on the morning of 2 September.

Fire of London maps_k_top_21_65_b
View of the Fire of London Maps K.Top.21.65.b Images Online

East India House in Leadenhall Street stood about 400 metres from the seat of the fire in Pudding Lane.  Books, papers, goods, and treasure were hurriedly removed for safety to outlying Stepney.   The fire damaged the western front of Leadenhall Market but was stopped just short of East India House - firefighters were spurred on by a City official tossing them a hatful of gold coins. 

‘It pleased God that, on the 2d of this moneth, being Sunday, in the morning, a most fearefull and dreadfull fire brake forth, which hath consumed the greatest part of the citty of London, even from Tower Dock to Temple Barr, and almost all within the walls, except part of Marke Lane, Bishopsgate Streete, Leadenhall Streete, part of Broad Streete, and some by the Wall toward Mooregate and Criplegate and part by Christchurch.  The sight whereof was exceeding afrightening and astonishing. In this sad calamity God was pleased to bee very favourable to the Companies interest, having preserved most of our goods, excepting some saltpeeter and our pepper at the Exchange sellar.
(East India Company directors’ letter to Surat 14 September 1666)

This map shows just how close the flames came to East India House.

  Fire of London Noorthouck, John. A new history of London
Section of map showing area of fire damage from John Noorthouck, A new history of London, including Westminster and Southwark.(1773)

Eighteenth Century Collections Online 

On 10 September a smaller than usual number of Company directors met at East India House.  Those who had overseen the removal of the property were thanked ‘for their indefatigable paines, and sympathie of the Companies concern’.  Rewards were given for services ‘in the late time of extremitie, when a total ruine was feared by the violence of the flames’. 

Orders were given to bring everything back to the City.  Buyers who had suffered financial losses in the fire were given extra time to settle their accounts.  Tradesmen whose premises had been burnt asked the Company to ‘break’ the front of East India House to provide shops. The Company refused - this would be ‘very inconvenient and unfit’.

When news of the fire reached India, the Dutch in Cochin celebrated and burnt an effigy of King Charles II.  The Company wrote to Madras in December 1666 warning them that the Dutch might exaggerate the effects of the fire. A plan was sent showing exactly what had been destroyed and what remained.

There is a story that victims of the fire were shipped out to St Helena in 1667 by the East India Company to start a new life. A set of stamps was issued by St Helena in 1967 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of their arrival.

 St Helena stamps 1967 Great Fire of London

St Helena stamps 1967 - Tercentenary of the arrival of settlers after the Fire of London - author's collection

The story has been challenged and said to be a myth.  However the Company did write to St Helena on 28 December 1666 telling them that they were sending out people for the island on the ship Charles.  As well as Henry Gargen who was appointed to the Council, there were several other persons whose names and salaries were enclosed with the letter.  Unfortunately this list does not appear to have survived in the Company records held in London or St Helena , so the identities and place of origin of the settlers are unknown.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/B/28 Minutes of the East India Company Court of Directors 1650-1669.
IOR/E/3/87 East India Company letter book 1666-1672.
Alexander Hugo Schulenburg, 'Myths of Settlement: St Helena and the Great Fire of London', Wirebird: The Journal of the Friends of St Helena, No.19, pp.5-8 (1999)


26 May 2016

Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar

Add comment

Today is the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence, a country on the northern coast of South America. Formally known as British Guiana, it had a rich and diverse history. Journalist Lainy Malkani takes a look back at some archive newspapers with a remarkable link to one of the most expensive stamps in the world.


Royal Gazette 4 Mar 1856

‘Wanted: 100 Hogshead of Sugar.’  Royal Gazette 4 March 1856 Noc

Judging by the variety of notices and adverts posted in the Royal Gazette in 1856, Georgetown, must have been a bustling and at times chaotic city. The proprietors of the printing shop, Messrs. William Dallas, Esq, who was one of a growing number of successful mixed-race businessmen, and Joseph Baum from Pennsylvania, were in the thick of it.

 The search for ‘100 Hogshead of Sugar’, is just one of thousands of ‘Wanted’ ads placed in the newspaper, and leafing through just one day in the life of the city feels like time travel at its best. On Tuesday 4 March 1856, Rose and Duff wanted to purchase ‘100 Puncheons of Rum’ while a shipment from London of 600 tonnes of ‘shingle ballast, gravel and sand’ was available for any discerning developer to buy if they had cash at the ready. On other days, an advert announcing the arrival of ships from Calcutta, laden with bags of rice and mustard oil for Indian indentured labourers indicates the country’s increasingly diverse population after emancipation in 1834.


Royal Gazette 3 Jan 1856

‘IRVING BROTHERS OFFER FOR SALE’  Royal Gazette  3 Jan 1856 Noc


The Royal Gazette, later known as the Official Gazette was regarded as the voice of the colonial administration and Government announcements were frequently posted. Disturbances in the city led to William Walker, the Government Secretary to decree that a reward of $50 dollars for information that led to a conviction of the troublemakers, would be withdrawn and replaced with a $250 reward - perhaps it was a sign of the fragility of peace in the city.

The printing office was located at No23 High Street and Church-Street in the upmarket district of Cumingsburg and it printed more than just newspapers. In 1843, it published a ‘Local Guide of British Guiana,’ a compilation of all the current laws as well as an historical sketch of the city. 

  Georgetown 1

From Local Guide to British Guiana (Georgetown: Baum & Dallas, 1843) Noc

But perhaps their greatest claim to fame was not as printers of newspapers or books, but of stamps, and one in particular, which is now the most expensive and rarest in the world.

The story begins with a delay in the shipment of postage stamps dispatched from London to British Guiana. By 1856, supplies were running low and so the local postmaster ordered Baum and Dallas to print a batch of one-cent stamps as postage for newspapers and a four-cent stamp for letters. The last remaining One-Cent Magenta recently sold at Sotheby’s for $9.5 million and the Four-Cent Magenta and Four-Cent Blue form part of an unrivalled collection of rare stamps donated by the wealthy Victorian businessman Thomas Tapling, held here at the British Library.


  British guiana677
British Guiana 4-Cent Magenta Noc


All in all, 1856 was a pretty good year for Baum and Dallas. The newspaper was now being printed three days a week instead of two, a sure sign that business was doing well. They had also, unwittingly secured a place in history as printers of the most valuable stamp in the world.

Lainy Malkani
Writer, broadcaster and founder of the Social History Hub



23 April 2016

Selling the silver screen: poster stamps and lost films

Add comment

Movie studios always promote their newest releases by advertising and merchandising which generates multi-billion dollar revenues. Yet the origins of movie merchandising remain unclear. In nineteenth century Europe, the postage stamp medium was adapted for non-postal purposes by businesses to create a new advertising medium, known as the poster stamp since they are essentially mini advertising posters.  This advertising practice spread to America and at its height prior to the First World War, collecting poster stamps actually eclipsed philately as a hobby with hundreds of thousands of them being issued to commemorate events and sell products.

In 1913 designers Oscar Wentz and Winold Reiss emigrated from Germany to New York hoping to make their mark on the American advertising industry. Wentz wasted no time establishing Wentz & Co., which by 1914 had signed contracts with most of the major movie studios to provide poster stamps depicting actors, actresses and serial movies. Designed by Wentz and Reiss, these were to be sold with accompanying albums by the movie studio to cinema owners, who would sell them to movie goers or give them away as promotional material to entice audiences back each week. 

The Campbell-Johnson collection in the Philatelic Collections possesses sixty-one poster stamps mainly produced by Wentz and Co., depicting prominent actors and actresses from the silent screen including Mary Pickford (1893-1979), the first great American movie star and co-founder of United Artists Studio with Charles Chaplin, D.W Griffith and her husband Douglas Fairbank in 1919; and G. M. Anderson (1882-1971) who is widely regarded as the first cowboy movie star. Here is a link to a silent movie of G.M. Anderson in the role of Broncho Billy in Broncho Billy's Fatal Joke, released in 1914.

Image 1  Image 2
Left: Poster Stamp depicting Mary Fuller taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28. Right: Poster Stamp depicting G. M. Anderson as his cowboy persona “Broncho Billy” taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28.

The collection also contains twenty-seven Wentz & Co., poster stamps depicting stills from episodes of The Goddess, six depicting stills from the adventure serial The Broken Coin, and thirty-six depicting stills from the detective serial The Black Box, all released in 1915 by the Vitagraph Company and Universal Studios.

 Image 3  Image 4

Left: Poster Stamp depicting a still from episode 14 of The Goddess taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28. Right: Poster Stamp depicting a still from episode 15 of The Broken Coin taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28.

As well as being examples of early movie merchandising these poster stamps are important as the Black Box and Broken Coin are believed to be lost films. Consequently, they offer a rare visual insight into their cinematography. Used in conjunction with published books upon which the films were based, and related movie song sheets, the poster stamps allow for a partial reconstruction of these lost works.

  Image 5 Image 6

Left: Poster Stamp depicting a still from episode 3 of The Black Box taken from the British Library, Philatelic Collections, the Campbell-Johnson Collection, volume 28. Right: Front book plate of E. Phillips Oppenheim: The Black Box (New York, 1915): British Library Reference NN 2868.

The Campbell-Johnson Collection of Cinderella and Poster Stamps can be viewed by appointment in the philatelic collections, by emailing

Richard Scott Morel, Curator, Philatelic Collections


The British Library Philatelic Collections, The Campbell-Johnson Collection, Volume 28
H. Thomas Steele, Lick ‘em, Stick ‘em: The Lost Art of Poster Stamps (Abeville Press, 1989)
Ken Wlaschin, The Silent Cinema in Song, 1896-1929 (McFarland Publishers, 2009)
Robert Whorton, 'The Master Key Serial: Wentz Master Stamp Set Instalment I' in  Cinderella Philatelist, Vol. 54, No. 4 (October 2014)

19 March 2016

Falling from the skies in style: Early references to the parachuting in the British Library

Add comment Comments (0)

Aviation is widely regarded as a major scientific and technological breakthrough but another low-tech invention associated with flying is the parachute.  Made of light, strong materials with a large surface area, the parachute slows the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag or aerodynamic lift. Conceptual images depicting parachutes can be found within an anonymous Italian manuscript from the 1740s, showing a free-hanging man clutching a wooden frame attached to a small canopy. The more famous depiction by Leonardo da Vinci was made a decade later. Similar sketches appear in numerous printed works throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however the first actual descent was not attempted until 1783 by Louis-Sebastien Lenormand in France. Together the Scott and Fitzgerald collections within the philatelic collections chart major milestones in British and Global aviation including early references to parachuting.

Image 1

Oldest known depiction of a parachute, Add MS 34113, f. 200v, British Library Untitled

The first two successful parachute descents made in Britain were conducted by John Hampton; his first attempt being made at Montpelier Gardens in Cheltenham on the evening of 3 October 1838. According to an account published on page four of the Spectator dated 6 October 1838 he made an uneventful descent from 9,000 feet landing safely after thirteen minutes.  The H. Eric Scott collection contains a page from the Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction No. 953, which illustrates Hampton’s second descent by parachute at Crenmorne House, Chelsea the following year on 13 June 1839. These images depict the several phases of his attempt, beginning with his ascent in a basket attached to a closed umbrella like parachute secured by a cord to the hot air balloon. At a certain altitude the umbrella like parachute was opened and detached from the balloon by cutting the cord, allowing the parachute to descend slowly back to earth and touching down safely on the ground, a feat which looks far from comfortable.

Image 2

Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction No. 953, H. Eric Scott Collection, British Library Untitled

Sybil Fitzgerald’s global collection pioneer airmail contains material for India including an interesting sheet printed in November 1837 entitled Monsr. D. Robertson’s Grand and Last Ascension at Calcutta. It contains details for a projected balloon voyage to Europe which sounds bizarre involving the use of balloons shaped like elephants and fish bearing the arms of the East India Company and Queen Victoria which would rise to a height of 12,000 feet (2000 fathoms). Prior to its departure on the winds to Europe, Robertson suggested that a small monkey would descend by parachute. Since nothing else can be found regarding this outlandish proposal it is hoped the monkey had a lucky escape!

Image 3

Monsr. D. Robertson’s Grand and Last Ascension at Calcutta, November 1837. Sybil Fitzgerald Collection, British Library Untitled

The Scott and Fitzgerald collections can be viewed by appointment in the philatelic collections by emailing:

Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections

'White, Lynn: Lynn White: The invention of the Parachute', in Technology and Culture, vol. 9, No. 3 (July 1968), pp. 462-467
The British Library, Add MS 34113, f. 200v
The H. Eric Scott Collection, volume 1
The Fitzgerald Collection, India

30 November 2015

The Sheikh’s stamps

Add comment Comments (0)

Stamps are important symbols of national identity. Kuwait had first issued its own postage stamps in 1923, and by the beginning of 1933, the Ruler of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, had decided that he wished to do likewise.

The Sheikh accordingly communicated his request to the British authorities in the Gulf. The issue would be in the form of standard British Government of India stamps, which were already in use in Bahrain, overprinted (or ‘surcharged’) with the word ‘Bahrain’. A similar format had been used for the Kuwait stamps.

However, there was a problem. Iran (still commonly referred to as Persia) had a long-standing territorial claim to the Bahrain Islands, and the issuing of something as symbolic as a set of postage stamps bearing the name of Bahrain would be likely to provoke protests from the Persian Government.  The British agonised between their desire to meet the wishes of a loyal ally on the one hand, and on the other, their desire not to offend Bahrain’s great neighbour on the opposite side of the Gulf.  Eventually, Britain gave the go-ahead for the issue, the surcharged stamps were produced in India by the Indian Posts and Telegraphs Department, and they went on sale in Bahrain on 10 August 1933.


Government of India two annas stamp, overprinted ‘Bahrain’, circa 1935. Source: Wikipedia.


When Sheikh Hamad saw the stamps, he was not impressed. For one thing, he was disappointed that the overprinted word ‘Bahrain’ was in English, not Arabic. He had also expected that his own head would appear on the stamps, not that of the British monarch, King George V. However, a few days later, the Sheikh had cheered up, and given his Adviser, the British-born Charles Belgrave, instructions that a commemorative set of the stamps should be sent to the best known philatelist in the world - King George V himself.

Stamp Bahrain IOR_R_15_2_139_0338Noc

Copy of letter sent to the India Office on behalf of King George V, 17 October 1933, expressing the King’s gratitude for the gift of stamps from the Sheikh of Bahrain. IOR/R/15/2/139, f 167 


The issue of the stamps produced a predictable response from the Persian Government, which ordered its postal service to treat items bearing the surcharged Bahrain stamps as though no postage had been paid on them whatsoever. The Persian Government had earlier that year made a complaint to the International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union at Berne in Switzerland, asserting the Persian claim to Bahrain. The British now followed this up by having a letter published in four philatelic journals, explaining that Bahrain was ‘like Kuwait, an independent Arab State on the Arabian littoral of the Persian Gulf’. Both sides had also made representations to the League of Nations.

Stamp Bahrain IOR_R_15_2_139_0302Noc

Letter from the India Office to the editors of four British philatelic journals, 20 September 1933. IOR/R/15/2/139, f 149. 


The issue, after being passed from pillar to post, eventually faded away, leaving the Sheikh’s stamps securely affixed for the future.

Martin Woodward
Archival Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership  Cc-by

Further reading:
IOR/R/15/2/139 File 1/A/1 I Stamps and Postage; Relations with Persia.