Royal Mail has been issuing its Special Stamps series for over 50 years. Special Stamps exist to celebrate the ‘best of British’: marking important UK anniversaries, celebrating the contribution of the UK to the world and commemorating events of national importance. The tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown is therefore an ideal subject for stamps.
Royal Mail receives hundreds of different requests every year, suggesting subjects to appear on Special Stamps. Of these requests, and the hundreds of others researched, a long list of around 40 subjects is drawn up for detailed research with the public, stakeholders and those who collect stamps. From this research, a final list of subjects to be marked in that year are arrived at, and work commences.
For the Landscape Gardens stamps, considerable desk research took place to understand the subject, and experts were consulted. In this case, in early 2015 Professor Timothy Mowl was asked to consult on this project. Tim is Emeritus Professor in the History of Architecture & Designed Landscapes at the University of Bristol and an expert on landscape gardens of the era. A shortlist of the many existing Capability Brown landscapes was drawn up, to cover Brown’s long career, while expert Royal Mail design staff began work on commissioning designers. Graphic design duo Robert Maude and Sarah Davies were tasked with developing the style and solving the problem of conveying so much detail of landscape into the small format of the stamp. Early on it was decided to commission new photography of the eight final locations, and the expert photographers David Noton and Joe Cornish were briefed. To be sure that the best and authentic views were captured, Tim advised on the scenes and in some cases met with the photographers and designer Robert to recce some of the locations.
Royal Mail takes pride in the design of its stamps, and the process includes input from the independent Stamp Advisory Committee which advises on the most appropriate designs to follow. This Committee meets six times a year and reviews design visuals for the different stamp issues and provides advice on how best to solve design problems. Different ideas were shown to the Committee through its development and they provided advice on the approach.
Once all the photography had taken place and Robert and Sarah had selected final images with Royal Mail, the designs were sent to the printer for proofing. High quality proofs, called essays, were then sent to Buckingham Palace to receive approval from HM the Queen. Every new stamp must have Royal Approval before it can be issued. Royal Mail, as the inventor of the postage stamp, is permitted by the Universal Postal Union not to have to print the country of origin on its stamps, as every other postal authority has to do. Instead, an image of the reigning monarch serves as the signifier of the UK.
The mass production of the stamps at a specialist security printer can then take place. Once printed they are fabricated into stamp products, such as First Day Covers and Presentation Packs, and quantities of stamps in sheets and the products begin the process of distribution to thousands of Post Offices throughout the UK, all ready for the First Day of Issue on 16 August.
Letters posted in post box in Capability Brown's birthplace at Kirkharle between 16th - 21st August 2016 were be stamped with an exclusive frank featuring the image of Capability Brown based on the Cosway portrait, by kind permission of Bridgeman Images, designed by Cosmic Carrot. The postbox can be found at the junction of the B6342 and Kirkharle Cottages.
The stamps and products are available at www.royalmail.com/landscapegardens and Post Offices across the country.
About the Author: Philip Parker is Stamp Strategy Manager for Royal Mail.