I’m grappling with my sixth Royal Mail Yearbook at the moment, and it’s taking me down the usual interesting avenues – obscure places I’d never go in the course of my usual business writing. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to reveal that one of the chapters is on King George V stamps. He was a near-obsessive philatelist who amassed a priceless collection which now belongs to the Crown. There’s a great story about the king paying a record £1,450 for a rare Mauritius 2d blue in 1904. One of his secretaries remarked that he’d read about ‘some damned fool’ who’d blown a fortune on a single stamp. Without skipping a beat, George replied, ‘I am that damned fool’.
But to get to the point… George also set up the British Postal Museum and Archive, which houses some real graphic treasures. Don’t worry, I’m not just talking stamps here, but all kinds of printed ephemera, including some achingly cool posters. These gems from the 1930s were recently picked up and released by zeitgeisty London greeting card specialists Umpen Editions. And you can see why… the designer-illustrators of the era were superb – witty, stylish and attention grabbing. Pat Keeley (top – a promotional poster for the famous Auden-scripted ‘Night Mail’ film) and Tom Eckersley (below – get the bubblewrap out, quick), as well as Hans Schleger (aka Zero) and Edward McKnight Kauffer were quite brilliant, and have a retro quality that’s bang on trend.