World Stamps

By Denise McCarty

How new British stamps help solve Agatha Christie’s mysteries

September 16, 2016 07:00 PM

  • Royal Mail’s tribute to Agatha Christie includes six stamps in three se-tenant pairs depicting scenes from the following novels: Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None (nondenominated first-class stamps), The Mysterious Affair at Styles and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (£1.33), and The Body in the Library and A Murder is Announced (£1.52).
  • A photographic portrait of Agatha Christie is pictured on a stamp from the Isle of Man.

By Denise McCarty

Great Britain’s new stamps honoring Agatha Christie depict key scenes and characters from six of her famous murder mysteries and also contain “hidden secrets in the form of microtext, UV ink and thermochromic ink,” according to Royal Mail.

The six stamps were issued on Christie’s birthday, Sept. 15, in three se-tenant (side-by-side) pairs. 

Royal Mail reported that the stamps mark the 100th anniversary of the writing of her first crime novel, the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the fictional detective Hercule Poirot, and the 40th anniversary of Christie’s death. Born Mary Clarissa Agatha Miller in Torquay, in Devon, England, in 1890, she died Jan. 12, 1976.

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Known as the “Queen of Crime” and the “bestselling novelist of all time,” Christie introduced Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in her first crime novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles, written in 1916 and published in 1920.

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This novel is featured on a £1.33 stamp. Like all of the designs in this Agatha Christie set, it shows a stark, art deco style illustration by Neil Webb with one color prominent amidst black, white and shades of gray.

On this stamp, green is the prominent color, used for the inscriptions of the book title and the author’s name on the left and the denomination and the profile of Queen Elizabeth II on the right. Also pictured in green is the bottle of poison on the table. 

If you look closely at the bottle of poison, you can see that it pictures the same scene of two men around a small table, as shown on the stamp.

The Agatha Christie website provides this synopsis of The Mysterious Affair at Styles: “The story begins when Hastings is sent back to England from the First World War due to injury and is invited to spend his sick leave at the beautiful Styles Court by his old friend John Cavendish. Here, Hastings meets John’s step-mother, Mrs. Inglethorpe, and her new husband, Alfred. Despite the tranquil surroundings Hastings begins to realise that all is not right. When Mrs. Inglethorpe is found poisoned, suspicion falls on the family, and another old friend, Hercule Poirot, is invited to investigate.”

Two other Hercule Poirot novels are represented in the stamp set: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on the other £1.33 stamp, and Murder on the Orient Express on a nondenominated first-class stamp.

Published in 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was the first of Christie’s novels to be made into a stage play. Named Alibi, the play opened in London in 1928.

Murder on the Orient Express, published in 1934, was made into a movie in 1974 with Albert Finney starring as Poirot. Kenneth Branagh will direct and star in a new film version due to be released in theaters in late 2017.

What looks like a white line at the bottom of this design is microtext naming all the suspects in this murder mystery.

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The other first-class stamp depicts the island setting of And Then There Were None, published in 1939. Since then, more than 100 million copies have been sold, making it the best-selling mystery novel of all time. 

This stamp also features microtext. Frank Green’s version of the nursery rhyme on which this novel is based is shown upside-down in the lower right of the design

The se-tenant pair of £1.52 stamps showcases novels featuring Miss Marple: The Body in the Library and A Murder is Announced.

The Body in the Library, the second Miss Marple novel, was published in 1942. The Agatha Christie website said: “One of Miss Marple’s finest cases, here we see her at the height of her female intuition, an inconspicuous elderly lady who can investigate undetected. Several other detectives get involved in the case — almost as many as there are suspects. Of course, it is Miss Marple who will unveil the ultimate clue.”

Published in 1950, A Murder is Announced was promoted at the time as her 50th novel. 

In a list of top 10 Agatha Christie novels compiled by John Curran and published by the Guardian in September 2009, A Murder is Announced ranked eighth with this description: “In the village of Chipping Cleghorn, a murder is announced in the local paper’s small ads. As Miss Blacklock’s friends gather for what they fondly imagine will be a parlour game, an elaborate murder plot is set in motion.“

Studio Sutherl& (Sutherland) designed the stamps using the illustrations by Webb. International Security Printers printed them by offset in sheets of 48 (sold in panes of 24 at most postal outlets). The stamps measure 60 millimeters by 30mm, and are perforated gauge 14.5 by 14.5.

As for the hidden designs, the Agatha Christie website said, “In true Christie style each stamp, designed by Jim Sutherland, contains hidden elements relating to key scenes and principal characters from Christie’s mystery novels. Clues and features include a figure, half-hidden and wielding a knife, letters, the names of the suspects and Poirot himself. Use a mix of body heat, UV light and a magnifying glass to reveal all of the hidden elements — will you be able to discover them all?”

The current first-class rate is 64 pence. The stamps denominated £1.33 pay the rate for international mail up to 20 grams, and the £1.52 stamps pay the rate for mail to Europe weighing up to 100 grams. 

Royal Mail’s other products for the new Agatha Christie set include first-day covers; six postcards reproducing the designs of the stamps, and a presentation pack.

In addition to a mint set of stamps, the pack includes text written by Christie’s grandson Mathew Prichard documenting her personal and literary life.

Ordering information is available from Royal Mail, Tallents House, 21 S. Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB, Scotland. Ordering can be done online, as well.

Royal Mail’s two agencies in the United States are Interpost, Box 420, Hewlett, NY 11557; and the British Stamp Service in North America, 1 Unicover Center, Cheyenne, WY 82008.

Although these are the first stamps from Great Britain featuring Christie’s novels, this is not the first time that Royal Mail has honored her. 

In 1991, it issued an Agatha Christie prestige booklet (Scott BK155) containing panes of Machin definitive stamps along with panes with images and information about some of the novels and her play Mousetrap, which opened in 1952 in London’s West End and is still running.

A handful of other postal administrations have issued stamps picturing Christie or commemorating her works.

For example, the Isle of Man shows John Gay’s photographic portrait of the author on the 31-penny stamp (Scott 1164) in its 2006 set marking the 150th anniversary of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Earlier, the Isle of Man had included her serialized story Manx Gold on a stamp (Scott 994) in a 2003 set honoring literature with Manx connections.

Her fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple (as portrayed by Margaret Rutherford) can be found on stamps issued by Nicaragua (Scott C311) and Guernsey (579), and Christie is pictured on a souvenir sheet in Sierra Leone’s 2001 Orient Express issue (2383). 

Further information about these and other stamps related to Christie can be found on Trussel.com’s page devoted to detective fiction on stamps