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King's Stamp, The (1935)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A post office official gives the commercial designer Barnett Freedman instructions on how to go about producing a stamp for King George V's 1935 Silver Jubilee. Freedman rushes out, hails a cab and begins sketching. He produces sketch after sketch before settling on a design, which is collected by a GPO messenger boy.

After being given the approval of the post office, Freedman sits down to make a lithograph, etching a greasy pencil on to limestone in order to produce a design ready for the printers.

At Harrison's stamp factory in High Wycombe, the official paper is cut open by a GPO official and then gummed and worked through various machines until it is perforated and packed and delivered back to the GPO.

The narrator begins the story of the stamp. In the 19th century, Rowland Hill explains to a traveling companion that the Victorian post office is badly organised and too expansive. Meanwhile, a Scottish woman is unable to accept a letter for economic reasons and several stereotypical businessmen denounce Hill's ideas as "preposterous" and "unEnglish".

Hill's journey comes to an end and his travelling companion alights. He has arrived in London. Various businessmen, politicians and social reformers now advance Hill's argument, and eventually it is accepted.

The Treasury launches a public competition to design a new stamp but despite having more than 2,000 entries they receive nothing appropriate and instead, Hill, working with some designers, develops the simple Queen's head image of the Penny Black, which is introduced on 6 May 1940.

Queues of Victorians stand in line to buy the new one-penny stamp; they are alternately afraid, befuddled and intrigued by the new invention.

The unenlightened attitudes of the establishment Victorian era are contrasted with an account of the rise of stamp collecting, climaxing with King George V's collection of rarities - apparently the greatest stamp collection in the world.