British Queens on stamps

From the beginning till today

Stamps are essential items that are used by ordinary people to send letters or postcards. This is their primary function. But stamps can be also more valuable than just a piece of paper for mailing. And here we can already speak about one of the most exciting and interesting hobbies- stamp collecting. Philately enthusiasts are eager to add original and even unique items on particular themes to their collections such as stamps depicting animals, historical events, sport activities, famous people, politicians etc.

 british queen stamp

One of the most popular personalities that philately lovers want to see on their stamps is Queen. In the history of Great Britain there were two outstanding Queens (Victoria and Elizabeth II) that were honored with special philatelic items. Some of them are worth a fortune that is why stamps collectors do not cease searching for the stamps with Queens` images to decorate their philatelic albums and to add some chic to them.

Let`s get acquainted with most outstanding stamps depicting gracious and famous British Queens that were and have been honored with a variety of philatelic items till  today.

First Queen’s appearance on a stamp

Queen Victoria stamps are highly sought after, because if the stamps are in pristine condition and rare, they are worth a lot of money. But let`s return to the first ever issued postage stamp that contains the image of highly honored British Queen Victoria and trace the history of this unique item. 

 first queen stamp

Queen Victoria ruled the country when modern postage stamps were introduced in 1840. This great personality served as the monarch of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 until her death in 1901. She was the longest serving monarch in history and under her reign Great Britain became culturally as well as industrially more expanded. During this time other progressions were made such as the establishment of a more modern constitutional monarch and a variety of other political reforms.

Essentially, Queen Victoria provided stability to Great Britain and its immense empire during an era of great social and technological change. The impact Queen Victoria had prompted the postal service to create a stamp in her honour to commemorate all of her achievements.

Real philately enthusiasts and stamp collectors should be aware of the most outstanding examples of Queen Victoria`s earliest stamps such as Penny Black, Penny Red, Penny Venetian Red, and the Penny Lilac stamps. Each stamp was instituted for different reasons and some were in circulation much longer than others. Along with that, each stamp had individual letters on the corners of the stamps to denote where they were located on the printing plate. 

Penny Black

Penny Black was the first ever issued adhesive stamp that is considered one of the most expansive and rare one today. Actually this particular item put the beginning of the British Postal Service according to which postage was paid upon delivery of the mail and was charged for the distance that the mail travelled, as well as how much the package cost. There were only few Penny Black stamps issued that is why the first adhesive stamp is considered to be very rare and is highly appreciated by collectors worldwide.

 Penny Black stamp

The only known complete sheet of Penny Black stamps is situated in the British Postal Museum and is regularly exhibited to the attention of all those who are interested in philately and the postal history of Great Britain. Penny Black stamp is also remarkable for the reason that the profile of Queen Victoria that can be seen on it often appears on other philatelic items, even on the newest ones.

Penny Red stamps

Penny Red is one more adhesive stamp that depicts the silhouette of famous Queen Victoria. It was released after the triumph of its predecessor – Penny Black – in 1841. Till 1879 the item was regularly redesigned that is there are few varieties of this issue are well-known today. The decision to release one more stamp with a similar design was conditioned by the fact that Penny Black stamp of Queen Victoria contained a very difficult for reading cancellation mark due to the black colour in which the item was designed. When using the Penny Red, the black cancellation mark is easily read.

Penny red stamp

It should be noted that the first Penny Red had no perforations that is why the stamps were to be divided from each other with the help of scissors. For the sake of convenience in 1854 the perforations on the stamps were adopted. Nowadays Penny Red is considered one of the most valuable British stamps that are highly popular among stamp collectors. 

Penny Venetian Red


First Penny Venetian Red was introduced to the British postal system in 1880. Its design was similar to its predecessors in terms of style and purpose. However, one bright difference could be noted – the philatelic item was coloured venetian red. Over 1,5 million stamps were issued for postal purposes, however nowadays stamps enthusiasts can find only few examples of them. The Penny Venetian Red stamps served for mailing only one year and was lately replaced by one more Penny stamps variety - the Penny Lilac stamp.

Penny Lilac stamps

queen penny lilac 

Penny Lilac stamps are notable first of all for the fact that this was the last issue introduced under the reign of Queen Victoria. It superseded the short lived Penny Venetian Red because the Customs and Inland Revenue Act of 1881 necessitated new stamps that were also valid as revenue stamps, and so the Penny Lilac was issued in that year, inscribed "POSTAGE AND INLAND REVENUE". All previous stamps had the inscription "POSTAGE". This stamp remained the standard letter stamp for the remainder of Queen Victoria's reign, and very large quantities were printed.

Other Pennies with Queen Victoria

Although three issues described above were the most popular ones the British Postal Service introduced a number of other stamps that were sold for different prices including, a halfpenny, two pence, and three halfpence. Other types of stamps were widely used and their names were determined based off of the colour and cost of each: Two Penny Blue, Halfpenny Rose Red, Three Halfpence Red etc. The years the stamps were created range from 1840-1891.

Halfpenny Rose Red

The Queen Victoria stamps revolutionised the postal service in the United Kingdom. As the Revenue Act was adopted in the United Kingdom, the Queen Victoria stamps were the ones that earned income for the postal service and the country, in general.

Queen Elizabeth II stamps

The most outstanding ones

 Queen Elizabeth II stamps

Queen Elizabeth II is considered to be one of the greatest and longest reigning monarchs of Great Britain as well as the Commonwealth reals including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Jamaica. Her reigning began in 1952, thus the new versions of stamps were to enter British Postal Service. Till today the stamps with Queen`s images appear very often thus contributing to the popularity of this outstanding monarch. 

First issues with Queen Elizabeth II

The first ever stamps issued with Queen Elizabeth II`s portrait are known under the name Wilding philatelic series. It was named so because of photographer Dorothy Wilding who captured the Queen`s image shortly after her coronation. Wilding issues were used until 1967. Today, Queen Elizabeth II stamps from this time are known as "The Wildings".

 First Queen Elizabeth stamps

Here should be noted an interesting fact – from the time of Queen Elizabeth II`s reigning the ultimate approval of the stamp issuance lied with the monarch herself. It means that a particular stamp design should receive Royal approval before this particular item will be released to the attention of the public. 

Since the inception of "The Wilding" style stamps, more iterations of Queen Elizabeth II stamps have been produced. There are numerous options when considering purchasing a Queen Elizabeth II stamp including time period, design, and quality of the stamp which all influence the final price of the product. Buyers should be aware of the different choices available to them to ensure they make the best purchasing decision to suit their needs.

Variations in Machin Issues

The decision to replace the Wildings was made thanks to stamp designers Michael Goaman and Faith Jacques, who insisted that a large Wilding portrait is difficult to place in the frame of such a tiny item as a postage stamp.  The fact that the Queen was half turned to the viewer was not satisfactory as well, thus in 1967 the stamps were replaced by the Machin head with the sculptured profile of the Queen.


These were the main reasons why the new series of stamps known as Machin was introduced to the British Postal Service. The peculiarity of these stamps is that they have very simple design with one solid colour background. Machin stamps were so popular among the British people that they implanted themselves as the most commonly used stamps of the United Kingdom. For this issue the photo with the Queen`s profile wearing a crown was chosen. This particular photo had been used for other philatelic items for the next fifteen years.

Although the Machin stamps are considered to have the same design for the whole series, there are many variations of them. For example, the background colours were regularly changed as well as the printing methods the peculiarities of which can be easily identified by well-educated collectors. Amongst Queen Elizabeth II stamp specialists, there may be hundreds of varieties that are undetectable to the laymen.

Machin series` influence on modern postage stamps

Although Machin stamps with Queen Elisabeth II profile were introduced many years ago their design still influences British postage stamps.  Perhaps the most interesting use of his iconic Queen's head design is on the latest Post and Go stamps which many collectors believe will prove to be the start of a new generation of postage stamps where services and values are overprinted at the point of sale on pre-printed stamp designs.

The Queen’s Face Transcends England: Colonial Postage

Not only Great Britain but also its former and current colonies regularly issued postage stamps with Queens` images on them. Let`s return to the past and consider several interesting items that depict great female monarchs. 

queen elizabeth colonial stamps

The Queen’s portrait on an 1896 postage stamp of Hong Kong which became a “Crown Colony” in 1842 as an outcome of Britain’s first Opium War with China closely resembles the young portrait on the Penny Black. Framing the young head are English words (“Hong Kong” and the postage price) and Chinese characters, showing a blending of cultures. This stamp offers a “miniature message” about colonial loyalty proclaimed to Victoria’s Hong Kong subjects and the world.

queen elizabeth colonial stamps

Some colonial stamps advertise the mother country’s preeminence on a vast imperial stage. Postage stamps of Uganda, a British protectorate from 1894-1962, show a melding of imperial and colonial imagery that stereotypes Africa as “other”. Stereotypical symbols of this East African nation join with the “civilized” mother country on an 1898 stamp, acknowledging Britain’s power and sovereignty.

 queen elizabeth colonial stamps

Some colonial stamps glorify the mother country and Britain’s imperial network by depicting her holdings rather than her visage. An 1898 Canadian Christmas stamp celebrating the inauguration of Imperial Penny Postage demonstrates how some stamps openly proclaimed British imperialism and all that it connoted. This stamp, designed by Sir William Mulock (a Canadian politician and cabinet member), shows a world map with British colonial holdings colored in bright red. The stamp text emphasizes Britain’s size and stature; “We hold a vaster empire than has been” comes from an ode entitled “A Song of Empire” that Welsh poet Lewis Morris composed in 1887 to mark Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. 

Modern Queen stamps

Many modern British stamps, from the 1960s onward, have a small silhouette of the queen's head in the corner and no country name printed on the stamp. These are also many items with Queen`s portrait issued by such islands as Jersey, Isle of Man, Falkland Islands, British Virgin Islands, Ascension Islands and other territories such as Gibraltar, Guernsey, Alderney that are under the ruling of UK. The greatest series of modern stamps with Queen Elisabeth II`s images was introduced in Royal Mail’s Special Stamp program that has commemorated and celebrated the Queen’s 90th birthday. Today, there are an estimated 2.5 million stamp collectors and gift givers in the U.K. and millions worldwide.


Modern Queen stamps Modern Queen stamps

P.S. Interesting fact - The Stamp Without A Name

Great Britain is the only country in the world that does not feature the name on its postage stamp. Unlike all other stamps, this stamp is identified by an image of its reigning monarch. Great Britain was the first country to issue an adhesive postage stamp. Before long many other countries began using pre-paid postage stamps for mail delivery. Today, commemorative and pictorial stamps are common in many countries, including Britain. On British stamps, the monarch’s head is always present, though often only in silhouette in the corner of the stamp.

 Lord Nelson stamp