In 2017 we created a stamp collection for Isle of Man Post Office in conjunction with The United Grand Lodge of England.
This is the story of what we made and how we made it happen.
The Isle of Man Post Office wanted to mark 300 years of Freemasonry and recognise the vast charitable donations made by the organisation in the Isle of Man and elsewhere.
Having heard that Royal Mail were not going to mark this important date, Maxine Cannon, head of Stamps and Coins for IOM PO met with us in London. We had just finished creating the Royal Artillery Tercentenary stamps and the Stephen Hawking stamps were well under way. Maxine asked if we knew any Freemasons or had any contacts in the organisation so that an approach could be made. A brief email led to an introduction to W Bro Mike Baker, Communications Director. The rest is Tercentenary history.
There is a fine balance to be struck when creating anything that contains the traditions and elements of Freemasonry, that is also designed for use by the general public; signs and symbols that are familiar to Masons can be confusing to others, so it was vitally important that when creating these stamps, we created something that respected our traditions, but was also a work of art in its own right, attractive to Masons and non-Masons alike.
There are many ways to design a stamp; photographic, illustrative or representative, but the we wanted this issue to honour places, people and events that were important to Freemasonry. Perhaps the most important of these was to pay respect to His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, Grand Master, in his 50th year in office. It is worth observing that he has occupied the office for one sixth of the 300 years of UGLE. To mark this, a subtle ribbon runs around the edge of each stamp in the set of six, with the repeating letters HRHDOKGM50. The Grand Master was presented with a special set of the stamps at Windsor Castle during the Classic 300 Tercentenary event.
In the earliest stages of design, the agency staff were given a tour of Freemasons’ Hall and the Museum of Freemasonry; their main influence in the research for these illustrative stamps was the collar jewels worn by officers within the Lodge and the rich lapis lazuli blue and gold that are ever present in our craft Lodges, regalia and decorations. These jewels of office are the way we recognise the role a Mason plays in the Lodge and they are worn by junior Masons or grand officers, regardless of rank, to designate their position in the ceremony and workings of a Lodge. The jewels used in these stamps are symbolic adaptations of the many styles that are in use around the world, designed to be familiar to all Masons, but importantly attractive to non-Masons.
Each stamp also has a geometric or architectural pattern worked into the background, referencing some of the liberal arts and sciences that we study to further our knowledge. The designers were influenced by the stunning Art Deco architecture at Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, which is reflected in many other Masonic buildings.
Each stamp also bears the name of a Lodge in tiny lettering. The Lodges chosen, in the Isle of Man, Kent, London, Bristol and Aylesbury, all have significance to Freemasonry, a Masonic journey or to those who assisted in bringing the stamps to fruition.
Each stamp also bears a GPS reference to mark a location important to Freemasonry. Taking the numbers at the top of the stamp and entering them into Google Maps will take you to these places, which include the Grand Master’s throne in the main temple at Freemasons’ Hall, London and the centre of the Masonic Garden of Remembrance at the National Arboretum. The final stamp has three GPS references, together with the call signs of three Air Ambulances; the GPS takes you to the centre of each of their landing pads in Caernarfon Airport in Wales, RAF Benson in Buckinghamshire and the roof of the Royal London Hospital. The Air Ambulances, all charities that have benefited from donations by Masons, are present to symbolise the charitable giving that runs through Freemasonry.
While the agency was very aware that placing ‘secrets’ in the stamps might lead to unwelcome attention, the recent evolution in fluorescent security printing inks was too good an opportunity to miss, so, if you hold a UV light over the stamps you will see the official Tercentenary logo, glowing in Master Mason’s pale blue, invisible to the naked eye, but always there.
Since the launch of the stamps, they have been used by many Lodges to send their normal post (from the Isle of Man) and by special arrangement, the Masonic Charitable Foundation will benefit from any Christmas cards posted through the Isle of Man Post Office
The stamps have also been used on commercial mail form the Isle of Man and were issued to all Isle of Man post offices and more than 1.5 million stamps have so far been placed on post delivered to all corners of the world.
As with most special stamp issues today, the stamps have been produced with collectors in mind. To date, the stamps have been produced in many formats.
• Loose cut stamps
• A sheetlet of the six stamps
• A first day cover with information about Freemasonry
• Sheets of ten of each stamp
• A limited edition of 300 numbered Printer’s Panes of all the stamp sheets, exactly as they came off the presses
• A limited edition of 300 numbered ‘Classic 300’ special first day covers
Royal Mail were not planning anything to mark the Tercentenary, but by special arrangement, IOM PO have released a limited edition ‘Smiler Sheet’ showing all the Masonic designs, but with a Royal Mail stamp built in to the stamp to enable use in the United Kingdom. The first run of these sheets was limited to just 300 numbered sheets.
The stamps have been formally presented to His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent and to other senior Masons and to the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, where a Printer’s Pane hangs on the wall. The story of the stamps has been presented as a short lecture at Masonic meetings at the ‘Stamp Lodges’.
The final chapter in the story is that Isle of Man Post Office has produced a coin to mark the Tercentenary. This beautiful object, designed by the same people who created the stamps, is a solid token by which to remember an important and enjoyable year in our history. Only 300 of these have been struck bearing the Tercentenary logo.
The 20p stamps bears the Steward’s jewel, a Cornucopia or ‘Horn of Plenty’. It is a symbol of abundance and reminds Stewards that it is their duty to see that the tables are properly furnished at refreshment, and that every Brother is suitably served. The Lodge chosen for this stamp is St Trinians lodge on the Isle of Man, as it is the Lodge of the former chairman of the Post Office, Alex Downie OBE, DPGM IOM, who has been incredibly helpful in providing text and resources. The geometric pattern on the stamp contains a bright star and concentric rings, representing the brightest star in the firmament. The studies of mathematics and geometry are encouraged amongst all Masons, being several of the arts mentioned in the ritual. The GPS reference in the stamp is that of Freemason’s Hall in the Isle of Man.
The 47p / first class stamp bears the Inner Guard’s jewel; two swords in saltire. The sword is also the jewel of the Outer Guard or Tyler, and symbolically enables these officers to “keep off all intruders and cowans to Freemasonry and suffer none to pass but such as are duly qualified”. Barbican is a Lodge that meets at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street. It is a small Lodge representative of London Masons. The patterned background takes inspiration from the ceiling and other adornments in the Lodge rooms at Great Queen Street in London, this pattern has Art Deco influence and represents beams of light emanating from a centre. The GPS reference in the stamp is that of The Grand Master’s throne in the main Lodge room at Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London.
The 50p stamp bears a stylised version of the Junior and Senior Deacons’ jewel, a dove bearing an olive branch. It symbolises a faithful messenger, and dates back to the story of Noah in ‘Genesis’. After forty days and forty nights, a raven was sent out to check if there was any dry land after the flood, it didn’t return. Next a dove was dispatched, it returned with an olive branch – a sign that the waters were receding. The background star motif is taken directly from the central boss in the ceiling of the great hall or Lodge Room No 1 at Freemasons’ Hall, London. The central star is surrounded by smaller stars or lights. Dolphin is a Lodge in Bristol that operates under the Bristol Province in the West of England. The GPS reference in the stamp is that of Freemason’s Hall in Bristol.
The £1.30 stamp bears the jewel of the Junior Warden, a plumb rule, that symbolises moral uprightness and integrity; it denotes the connection of Heaven and Earth and teaches us to walk in a righteous manner and maintain a straight and undeviating line along the paths of virtue. The Art Deco-inspired pattern is an abstract form taken from the plumb rule, by which we try uprights; again Art Deco in style, it is a simple pattern to match the simplicity of the actions of a virtuous life. Hampden Lodge is a Lodge in Aylesbury, as far from the sea as any Lodge can get in England. The GPS reference is that of the very centre of the Masonic memorial garden at the National Arboretum. The ground staff very kindly gave the GPS reference by going to the centre of the garden.
The £1.74 stamp bears the jewel of the Senior Warden, a level, symbolising equality. It was used by ancient civilisations as a symbol of equality and justice. The simple and elegant tiled window pattern is inspired by the windows at Freemason’s Hall in the Isle of Man. Antiquity is one of the oldest surviving Lodges and was one of the four that met at the Goose and Gridiron so long ago. The GPS reference is that of the blue plaque in Paternoster Square / St Paul’s Churchyard that marks the former site of the Goose and Gridiron.
The £3.40 stamp bears the Worshipful Master’s jewel, the Square, which symbolises morality. It is an angle of ninety degrees or the fourth part of a circle and is the symbol of regulated life and actions. It is the Masonic rule for correcting and harmonising conduct on principles of morality and virtue, and as a symbol, it is dedicated to the Master. The Master’s symbol, being a square, is represented in this pattern by an overlaid tiled pattern of right angles. Petts Wood Lodge is a Lodge in Bromley, one of whose brethren has been so helpful in bringing this stamp issue to fruition. On this stamp there are three very special GPS references; the landing pads of the Air Ambulances at: Caernarfon, Wales (G-WASS), RAF Benson Thames Valley (G-TVAL) and London, (G-LNDN). This symbolic reference to the results of charitable giving honours Freemasons, who have donated millions of pounds to these causes. After the issue of the stamps, IOM PO made a special presentation to Dr Gareth Davies, Medical Director of London’s Air Ambulance, on the helipad at the Royal London Hospital. Barbican Lodge, the Lodge featured on the first class stamp made a presentation at the same time of a cheque for £1500.
A comment from Glazier Design
“We wanted to create something of true beauty that would appeal to every Mason, but also to every person who sees the stamps. It was important to us that the stamps were respectful in every way of the traditions of Freemasonry and represented the amazing charitable works Freemasonry accomplishes every year. It was an incredible honour to work with UGLE and the Isle of Man Post Office on this project”.
These stamps are available to collectors and the public and you can order them from www.iomstamps.com – special sets are available, including a First Day Cover, a special sheetlet of six stamps and framed editions.