On 11th December 1936, after months of speculation and controversy, King Edward VIII renounced the throne in an historic radio address from Windsor Castle. The closing lines of his abdication speech were “…and now, we all have a new King. I wish him and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart. God bless you all! God save the King!”
Regardless of what you think of Edward VIII and his motivations, the result was that his younger brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York, was reluctantly thrust into the limelight as the new King George VI of Great Britain and the Empire.
The powers that be decided that the date for the Coronation planned for Edward in Westminster Abbey on 12th May 1937 would still be kept. This decision meant much less time was available to organise a commemorative stamp issue with the participating colonies that was desired, making the resulting stamps all the more impressive.
In total there were 47 issuing countries, spread across the farthest reaches of the Commonwealth. All were co-ordinated by the Crown Agents’ office in London, which ultimately produced 141 variants of the stamps.
Even in today’s high-tech world this would be a huge logistical exercise but step back 75 years ago to the days when there was no email or faxes, and many of the territories only accessible by lengthy journeys by sea. And every territory’s post office needed communicating with and final stamps shipping to them all in time for Coronation Day.
Each country’s issue featured a total of three denominations, each stamp showing a portrait of King George VI & Queen Elizabeth together with the Royal Symbols and the date 12th May 1937. The name of each participating territory, together with the value tablets was also included.
Originally the British issue was to feature a total of three values; a 9d, 10d and 1s, twice the size of the standard definitive depicting both the King and his consort Queen Elizabeth. This made headlines in the philatelic world as it would make the Queen the first living person other than the monarch to appear on a British stamp. With the coronation getting nearer, the printer Harrisons advised that would only be enough time to print one value so instead of a 9d, 10d and 1s and as a result only a 1½d value was issued.
It’s design was not a straightforward issue. While still unsure whether a Coronation issue was feasible, the Post Office invited Eric Gill to explore ideas, while Edmund Dulac submitted his own unsolicited designs (these two seem to have been rivals on at least a couple of occasions).
The King selected photographs by the Dorothy Wilding Studio, but these were not ideal for stamp reproduction and Dulac was asked to prepare a design using hand-drawn interpretations of the photographs.
The King preferred the Dulac design but some minor alterations were needed, and the printers worked frantically to meet the deadline. The stamps were issued on 13 May, the day after Coronation, printed in brown with a tinge of violet. This stamp was also used by the Morocco Agencies and Tangier who simply overprinted it. Incidentally, the first King George VI definitives were released the same day.
Seven territories including Australia, Canada and South Africa produced their own Coronation designs, but the remainder used the stamp below.
In total 202 stamps were issued to mark the coronation of George VI, the ‘Reluctant King’.