Monday Morning Brief | Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday

Apr 25, 2016, 11 AM

Queen Elizabeth turned 90 years old on April 21, and Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz thought it timely to take a look back at her history in the world of stamps. 

Full video transcript:

Good morning and welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for April 25, 2016.

This past Thursday, April 21, marked the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, which once again gave postal administrations around the world yet another opportunity to create new stamps, such as the ones shown here, that bear her image. It’s not like any of these postal administrations has squandered these opportunities, because her royal majesty’s face has been slapped on more different postage stamps than anyone else in world history. Just last year, plenty of stamps were issued when she surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch. In 2013, a bunch more were issued to mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation, and still more came out in 2012 to mark the 60th anniversary of when she actually became queen. Ten years before those stamps, there were the 50th anniversary issues. And so forth.

Longevity is not the only thing that makes her a perennial stamp subject. While Elizabeth II is the now the oldest monarch in the world, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a year and a half younger, ascended to the throne of Thailand two years before her. Yet no country but Thailand puts him on their stamps with any regularity.

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Elizabeth is a special stamp subject because she reigns over the British Empire, or more properly, what’s left of it. Many of the stamps depicting her, are from territories still owned and operated by Great Britain—places like the Falkland Islands, the Bahamas, and Pitcairn Island. Other parts of the old global empire have become self-governing, but some, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, still pledge their allegiance to the British monarch, and occasionally issue postage stamps picturing the queen. And when it comes to the stamps of Great Britain, Elizabeth is literally the face of her country, because the head of the reigning monarch has appeared on every postage stamp of Great Britain, rather than the country’s name, since the first stamp, the Penny Black, was issued under Queen Victoria’s reign.

While Elizabeth at 90 now looks little like the current British Machin Head definitive stamps that lock her 1966 image in the public’s mind, she has not slowed much because of her age. Though she has ceded globe-trotting to her heirs, Elizabeth attended 341 functions in 2015, doing her everyday job of being queen. And she has remained popular with her subjects, mostly because she has been exceptionally adept at avoiding controversy, something at which her children and grandchildren have not always excelled.

Royalty, particularly the British version, is also a perennial stamp subject because of the public’s obsession with celebrity and all of its glitz, glamour, pomp and circumstances. When it comes to royal pomp and circumstances, other countries are mere pretenders to the throne compared to Great Britain. Other countries have coronations and royal weddings, but they barely attract the attention of anyone outside of that country. That Britain is the world leader in pomp is perhaps to be expected since they essentially invented the concept. The phrase “pomp and circumstance” comes from the pen of William Shakespeare, and the march of the same name played at graduations, comes from Edward Elgar.

Being the British monarch is a wonderful job if you can get it, which you can’t, because it’s something you are born into. Perks include having an entourage attending to your every need, wearing fancy clothes, vacationing pretty much wherever and whenever you want, and eating great food—sort of like being a movie star. But unlike movie stars, you get more than one birthday celebration—one on your actual birthday and another public celebration in the middle of the British summer when there is an actual chance of good weather.

Of course, there are some negatives to being the British monarch. There is always a risk, albeit slight, of being downsized through a revolution. Because you are the head of the Anglican Church, you can’t just choose to become an adherent of any other religion. As with movie stars, lurid stories will appear in gossip magazines around the world following any perceived faux pas made in public. From time to time, you’ll have to deliver the occasional speech, and make small talk with political leaders you may or may not care for. You have to be comfortable in public surrounded by photographers clicking away, whether or not you are photogenic, to create images that perhaps one day may grace postage stamps, or more immediately, to appear in tabloids. And of course, you have to be able to master that tricky hand wave.

And with that, for Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott catalogs, I’m Marty Frankevicz. Enjoy your week in stamps.