First Class: A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps
by Chris West
If it was about stamps only, author Chris West would have had no
trouble seeking out a better copy of the Victorian 4s red of 1867
than the one used to illustrate the increase in global trade and
expansion of empire which required the General Post Office to issue this and other high value stamps.
Britain's trade into China was difficult, the Chinese maintaining
that “Our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific
abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There is
therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in
exchange for our own produce.” So Britain took opium from the
hillsides of India to China, and after a couple of wars, Britain
gained the island of Hong Kong, and that chapter is illustrated with
a Hong Kong 5c stamp.
The inter-war years of inflation, depression, jazz and modernity
are illustrated with a German 2 million mark surcharge, the Silver
Jubilee issue, and King Edward VIII's definitive.
So the story of Britain is not only about Rowland Hill, Disraeli,
Gladstone, Churchill, but includes Dickens, Brunel, Bazalgette
(sewers), Tommy Flowers (Colossus), Stephen Tallents (GPO PR and
after whom Tallents House is named), John Lennon, Edmund Dulac, and
many others, some of whose names may be unfamiliar but who add to the story of
Britain since 1840.
Of course many people have been omitted but in 250 very readable
pages not everybody could be included.
Well worth a read. I borrowed it from the public library, as the house is full of books and I have not yet read
more than a fifth of last year's Christmas present Masters of the
Post: The Authorized History of the Royal Mail.
272pp, Square Peg, £16.99* ISBN 978-0-224-09546-4 *Cheaper on
Amazon and elsewhere.
Royal Mail are selling the book at £11.99 - stock code VA247
Signed copies are £15.99 - stock code VA246 - postage extra in both cases.
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