Monday 3 September 2018

World War I Centenary – 1918 stamp issue 13 September 2018

This is the fifth and final set in landmark series that commemorates ‘the War to end all Wars’.   Not only did the First World War claim millions of lives, it changed the course of history and transformed the lives of generations to come.  Each year of the war is explored though a stamp which covers six key themes: Poppies, Poetry, War Art, Memorials and Artefacts. These themes combine to form a beautiful and poignant collection which serves as a fitting way to commemorate this tragic conflict. 


The stamps in detail
The poppy has been one of the enduring symbols of the First World War and has come to be associated with remembrance. To mark the centenary of the end of the war, Zafer and Barbara Baran photographed one hundred poppy flowers, layering the images together to create 100 Poppies. Each of the poppies was freshly cut and carefully lit before being photographed, to capture the flower’s delicate luminosity. In the final artwork, the light gently filters through the overlapping petals, giving this composite image a ghostly, fleeting appearance and suggesting movement.

In ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, British Army officer and poet Wilfred Owen mourns the waste of young lives, cut short by wailing shells and the rattle of rifle fire. Killed in action in 1918, a week before the armistice, Owen has become one of Britain’s most celebrated war poets. In this woodblock print, illustrator Andrew Davidson has hand-carved the opening lines of Owen’s poem. Using an illuminated letter style that evokes the shattered treescapes of war artist Paul Nash, the design reflects the rawness and power of Owen’s words.

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888 and orphaned after the death of his English mother and his Barbadian father. He became known as a professional footballer. After war broke out, he served in the Footballers’ Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and fought on the Somme. Commissioned in May 1917, Tull became the first mixed-race Army officer to command troops in a regular unit. After fighting in Italy, he returned to the Western Front. On 25 March 1918, he was killed in action. Having no known grave, Tull is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

In 1914, Paul Nash enlisted as a private in the Artists’ Rifles and was later commissioned into the Hampshire Regiment. Invalided home in May 1917 following an accident, he returned to the front in November 1917 as an official artist. He was appalled by the sight of the Ypres Salient. In We Are Making A New World – titled with bitter irony – Nash depicts a bleak and hopeless sunrise over a copse of shattered trees. The ground is pitted with waterlogged shell holes. Nash was deeply moved by the destruction of trees, seeing in their degradation a metaphor for human suffering.

On Armistice Day, 11 November 1920, an Unknown Warrior was buried at Westminster Abbey, after being chosen at random from several unidentifiable sets of remains and solemnly conveyed from France. Enormous crowds gathered in silence to witness the procession through London, and King George V unveiled the Cenotaph at Whitehall before following behind the coffin to the Abbey. For a nation reeling from the enormous loss of life, the burial of the Unknown Warrior provided a focal point for grief.

Lieutenant Francis Hopgood joined the Royal Flying Corps in March 1918, transferring from the Artists’ Rifles. On 10 April – a few days after the Royal Flying Corps had been incorporated into the new Royal Air Force – Hopgood was shot down. Crash-landing behind German lines, he was captured and held as a prisoner of war. Clear sight was vital to a pilot’s ability to survive aerial  combat. Hopgood’s goggles are fitted with custom prescription lenses in Triplex safety glass, which  survived his crash-landing without breaking into pieces.

Prestige Stamp Book & Retail booklet

Of interest to Machin collectors is the final pane in the PSB, which includes the 1st class MPIL stamp with M18L year code.  Unlike the stamps in the Game of Thrones PSB this clearly shows the 'P' in MPIL, although some of the other letters are indistinct. [The phosphor on the Poppy stamps is gradated, and quite different to that on the Machins, although that seems to be unnecessary on these white stamps.]

The retail booklet contains 2014 & 2018 Poppy stamps in self-adhesive form for the first time. The 1st class Machin is coded MCIL M18L.  The iridescent printing is different (when viewed at an angle) to that in earlier 2018 booklets being not as reflective, but the visibility is the same. The security printing on the background is LsLs, as (some) previous versions.

Cylinder numbers W1 are Cyan, magenta, yellow, black, Royal Mail red, grey (for inscriptions on Poppies), iridescent, phosphor.

Technical details and acknowledgements
Printer: International Security Printers (ISP)
Stamp Size Square, 35mm x 35mm
Print process: Lithography,
Stamp Format: 6 sheets x 50 stamps per sheet
Retail booklet is printed in gravure and self-adhesive by ISP Walsall.

Products: Set of six stamps, FDC, Presentation Pack, Stampcards, Retail stamp book, PSB, Coin Cover x 3, Framed products.  Composite Sheet, Souvenir Pack. First World War Album.

The composite sheet shows the 30 stamps in 6 columns, one for each of the themes, and a row for each year.  The stamps are said by Royal Mail to be the same as those issued originally.  I'll leave it to those who buy them to do the comparison and share any differences found.


UPDATE 13.9.18: As mentioned in the comments to this post, there is a barcode printed on the back of the sheet behind the sheet number and onto the first stamp in column 6, as shown below.  This does not warrant the stamp being separately identified in catalogues - and quite honestly I can't understand why it has been done, unless for Royal Mail stock control purposes.  When barcodes were introduced on counter sheets and miniature sheets we were told that it was for Post Office Ltd stock control, rather than retail 'point of sale' purposes - and post offices don't scan the codes when selling at the counter, which bears this out.

We will stock and list shortly, the 1st class definitive from the PSB and a limited number of retail booklets.

Design: hat-trick Design
Acknowledgements: 100 Poppies by Zafer and Barbara Baran © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2018; ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ by Wilfred Owen, quotation used with kind permission of The Wilfred Owen Estate, illustration by Andrew Davidson © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2018; Second Lieutenant Walter Tull, photograph © Walter Tull Archive; We Are Making a New World by Paul Nash © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1146); The Grave of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey, London, photograph © English Heritage; Lieutenant Francis Hopgood’s goggles, featured with kind permission of The Museum of Army Flying, photograph by John Ross © Royal Mail Group Ltd 2018


  1. Looking at the scan of the new 6x1st class retail book I would like to say that this looks like one of the best designed books by Royal Mail for a long time. so well done to the designers. The red of the Poppies go so well with red of the Machins.

  2. Tallents House have told me that the composite sheet will have a limited issue of 7,500, but there will be no premium charge. Presumably it will be printed by ISP in litho. So as it is a limited issue there is no need to buy it. However what if it is printed by Walsall in gravure ? Do I change my collecting principles ? We wait to see.
    Also the Sept issue of the Bulletin on page 391 lists the price of each page in the WW1 Prestige book, as if they will be available to buy individually.

    1. I very much doubt that it would be printed by gravure as this process is very expensive especially for a limited edition print run of 7500. So most likely will be printed by lithography.

  3. Many thanks Brian M for that insight. I suppose one thing to consider would be whether Gibbons would list a limited edition sheet.

  4. Would the £1.47 'Gift Fund Box' qualify for a listing with its barcode underprint ?

    1. I'm sorry, I have no idea what this refers to.

    2. Composite sheet has a barcode printed on the gummed side - probably the first time they've done this with a PVA gummed item?

    3. This might be the first time for an underprint (as they were called) on this type of sheet but back in the 1980's underprints were used on various GB stamp book issues.

    4. It is clear that Anonymous and Brian know about the barcode printed on the back of the sheet before the stamps are available to ordinary customers. I don't buy them on spec so haven't got one.

      If anybody would like to send me an image which shows the barcode and evidence that it is on this sheet, then I will publish it. Thanks

  5. I have no idea what is printed on the back of the new sheet (if anything) but was only replying to the post by Anonymous as he/she suggested it was probably the first time this had been done which as we know it is not.

  6. I have seen the new composite sheet at Stampex today (15.9.18) and can confirm the the barcode on the gummed side is for internal purposes at Tallents House and is used by staff to enter the price onto the computer system. This is the same as the barcodes on other products such as Prestige books and retail books. One of the staff team there showed this to me on the till at Stampex.

  7. The stamps are said by Royal Mail to be the same as those issued originally. But I found the face values (to Europe) are different compared with the original. Original are £1.47 for 2014, £1.52 for 2015 and 2016, £1.57 for 2017, £1.55 for this year. But in this composite sheet, only £1.47 for 2014 keep same, all other face value were changed to £1.47 for 2015 and £1.52 for 2016 to 2018. This is obvious NOT the same as those issued originally.

    1. I don't know what you have been looking at but the picture on the Royal Mail website shows the composite sheet with the same values as original.


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