The Gandhi Stamp
Table of ContentsClick Here to View Contents
In 1969 the United Kingdom celebrated the Gandhi Centenary by commissioning the creation of a commemorative postage stamp. Mr. Biman Mullick designed the winning stamp. The story of how this stamp was created is presented below.
Interview with Biman, Part 1: The Winning Stamp
The first day cover, shown below, was designed by Biman Mullick. It was a basic design, utilizing a spinning wheel against a red and white background. Biman explained the relevance of the spinning wheel, saying:
“According to Mahatma Gandhi, the development of cottage industry is the answer to industrial dependence. One should at least spin the thread for one’s own use, was his idea. In those days and still now millions of his disciples follow his idea and spin their own cloth. In other words Mahatma wanted an industrial revolution through ‘Charka’, the spinning wheel. Eventually ‘Charka’ represents not only Gandhi and Gandhism but also became the symbol of the Indian National Congress party as well. The present ‘Ashoka’s Wheel’ on the Indian national flag has a clear link with the Mahatma’s Spinning Wheel.”
“Philatelists try to make their collection interesting. Here is an example. In 1947 when India was granted her independence, Lord Louis Mountbatten was the Viceroy of India. He also became the first Viceroy of Independent India. These facts inspired a philatelist to have autographs of Lord Mountbatten and me on the same FDC. He managed to obtain Lord Mountbatten’s autograph first then sent the FDC to me for my autograph. I felt highly honoured and moved. I autographed the FDC with great humility and pleasure. This is a unique FDC.
Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Mountbatten had a mutual respect for each other. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a misguided fanatic on January 30, 1948. Lord Mountbatten was also assassinated on August 27, 1979.”
Interview with Biman, Part 2: The First Day Cover
The links below will take you to stamps, first day covers, and other philatelic items which all pertain to the winning design shown above. Further down you can review Biman’s other designs and the designs of other contestants.
NOTE: The United Kingdom’s Royal Mail does not readily grant the right to display their postal items. The links below will take you to a section of the Postal Museum website in London. The Postal Museum is a charitable organization that enjoys a special relationship with the Royal Mail. The contest submissions we want to display must be viewed on their site and not ours. Thus when you click on the Gandhi Stamp icons immediately and further below your browser will open a new page on the Postal Museum site so you can view each submission and details about it.
This section below focuses exclusively on philatelic items that are all related to Biman’s winning design.
Interview with Biman, Part 3: Philatelic Items
In 1968, a committee of ten individuals was tasked with creating a commemorative stamp to accompany the 1969 UK Gandhi Centenary. Headed by Lord Mountbatten of Burma at the invitation of the President of India and with the approval of the British Government the committee at first faced pushback from Post Master General John Stonehouse. Stonehouse originally turned down the idea believing it to be impossible for the Post Office to commemorate every major holiday and event. But the Centenary Committee persisted and on 19 December 1968, Lord Mountbatten wrote to Post Master General Stonehouse pointing out that 25 other nations would be celebrating the Gandhi Centenary and that many of them were considering releasing their own stamps as well. Stonehouse conceded and in January of 1969 a Press and Broadcast Notice announcing the new stamp was released. This was the first time in British history a foreign statesman would be commemorated on a stamp.
J. R. Baxter of the Operations and Overseas Department (OOD) advised Stonehouse that an issue date and stamp value had to be determined. A release date of 13 August 1969 was determined to be optimal as it was the Wednesday before India’s Independence Day (August 15th) and was within the Centenary Year as the Indian High Commission desired. Wednesdays were also considered best for counter work for new releases at the time. Baxter also recommended a value of 1s 6d, the basic airmail rate for India.
Interview with Biman, Part 4: Submitting the Designs
In January of 1969 Jon Grant of the Council of Industrial Design submitted a list of five names to the Operations and Overseas Department (OOD) as possible designers for the Gandhi Centenary Stamp. These included Biman Mullick, Rosalind Dease, Martin Stringer, Abis & Stribley, and Healey & Mills. The OOD found the list to be light on experienced artists. Healey & Mills were ultimately not invited and the up-and-coming graphic artist Philip Sharland took their place. Stamp printers Harrison & Sons Ltd. and Bradbury and Wilkinson & Co. were also added. Biman has said:
“I designed the Gandhi stamp in a tiny little bed sitting room in Forest Hill South East London. The address is 8 Albion Villas Road, London S E 26.”
In the following article Biman explains how it is he was among those chosen to submit designs for the Gandhi Centenary Stamp competition.
"I started freelancing in 1965. Usually freelance artists get an artist's agent and the agent generally finds suitable commissions for them.
I did not have an agent. I directly contacted possible clients myself, such as the BBC. At that time the Post Office Savings Bank used to produce very interesting posters. I thought I would like to design posters for them. I contacted the Post Office Savings Bank. As a result, I managed to produce a few poster designs for them.
At the same time, I started to work roughly two days a week for a design practice called George Collette Associates and I also got a teaching contract for two days a week to teach Graphic Design at a Secondary School for girls called Sydenham School in South London. Art was a regular subject for a school but Graphic Design was not. It may be possible that here in the UK Sydenham School was the first secondary school that appointed a graphic designer to introduce the subject and I was the first graphic designer to do the task though I had no teaching qualification. At that time the BBC (Publication Department, Radio Times, etc.) was also one of my clients. I was contributing my drawings (Illustrations) for them on various projects. By that time I successfully finished a big commission for Oxford University Press. At the end of 1966 I went to India, got married to Aparajita in January 1967, and came back to London in March. Before I went to India, I informed all my contacts that I was going to India for a few months but would come back to continue my work with them.
Before 1966 I had already worked for the London Cooperative Society and had worked on various projects including packaging design for their chain of supermarkets. That experience was helpful to the design work I was doing at Collette Associates. At that time their biggest client was 'Littlewoods' a nationwide supermarket. At Collette I was working on the Littlewoods account.
When I came back to London, I went back to my two days a week job with the school and two days a week with Collette Associates. Suddenly Mr. Collette lost his contract for Littlewoods. As a result, I lost my two-days-week job with them. That was very upsetting.
I needed work to survive. I knew the Council of Industrial Design, commonly known as the Design Council, kept a register of designers. When any organisation looked for a designer they went to the Council for suitable designers.
I applied to the Design Council and asked them to include my name in their register.
I went to their Haymarket office for an interview with a portfolio of my work. They were impressed. They kept my name and said they would recommend my name to the right organizations for suitable projects. I was expecting that they would find clients who were looking for a designer experienced in posters, advertising, packaging design and book illustration. Time passed and I heard nothing.
One cold evening in January 1969 Aparajita told me that she had heard on the radio that the General Post Office was going to issue a stamp on Mahatma Gandhi. The news pleased both of us. She also remarked, 'The Post Office should have asked you to design this stamp, as you already designed for the Post Office Savings Bank.’ We both thought the design was already done. I had no idea how those projects were organised. I never expected to design a postage stamp. I thought that it was reserved only for a small group of designers specialising in stamp design.
The next day when I came home Aparajita informed me that the Post Office called and said they wanted to talk to you... 'The rest is history.'
The artists had a long list of colour constraints to follow when designing the stamp due to drawbacks in the printing process.
- Only four colours per design could be used.
- The background could not be black. However, a white background was acceptable.
- Background colours could not be deeper than a mid-tone
All designs were to be submitted to Don Beaumont by Monday, February 24, 1969.
Stamps would ultimately be printed by Harrison & Sons at their printing facility in High Wycombe using the photogravure process. Because this process typically yields more graduated tones the artists were advised to use materials that allow photographers to capture each tone in its true value.
Because of their tight schedule the eight committee members were unable to convene and were instead shown each design individually. The submitted designs were divided into six groups by designer. These designs have been archived by the Postal Museum of London and can be viewed using the links below.
These two stamps highlight the following submissions section. They are two of Biman’s submissions selected for their appeal. The Royal Mail has given permission to include them here.
Interview with Biman, Part 5: The Submissions
Below you may review all of the submissions for the Gandhi Centenary Stamp. Biman has the lion’s share but there are quite a few from other artists. All are interesting.
Note: this section does not include items associated with Biman’s winning design. Those are shown at the top of this page.
Set A — Biman Mullick
Set B — Philip Sharland
Set C — Martin Stringer
Set D — Abis & Stribley
Set E — Bradbury Wilkinson
Set F — Rosalind Dease
Harrison & Sons
The committee agreed upon one of Biman’s designs, shown at the top of this page, to be best aside from a few minor revisions. They requested that the right hand panel containing the lettering and the Queen’s head should be slightly redesigned for better balance.
In early March the Mullick design was shown to the Indian High Commissioner. The High Commissioner felt that the colours for the Indian flag were the wrong shade but approved the design providing a properly-coloured flag to the printers for reference. After that essays were produced and sent to Beaumont at GPO headquarters on 10 April and the Indian High Commission gave approval on 11 April. Finally, on 17 April, Stonehouse submitted the final essays to the Queen who gave her royal approval on 21 April.
Biman received £162 10s for his design. The other artists each received £63 for their work.
On January 19th, 1970 Biman was advised by Bibhash Gupta, the Editor of Stamp Digest, an Indian publication, that the International Gandhi Stamp Exhibition was moved from February 21st to March 2nd, 1970 in Calcutta. He also suggested that Biman’s stamp had a good chance of winning.
Interview with Biman (Continued on 2 Nov. 2020), Part 6: The Awards
The Exhibition was held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta with the assistance of the Indian Philatelic Society. Biman Mullick won First Prize for "Designing Gandhi Stamps." The Great Britain Post Office won First Prize for the "Best Gandhi Stamp." The Great Britain Post Office also won a second prize for their exhibit of all the contestants’ submissions which submissions are shown directly above.
Biman also won an award from the Indian Philatelic Society.
On September 21, 1970 the International Gandhi Stamp Exhibition Gold Medal was awarded to the British Post Office for the "Best Gandhi Stamp" at the London International Stamp Exhibition, Olympia. The exhibition was called "Phylimpia." Biman Mullick also received a gold medal at that same event for preparing the best layout and design.
The photos and articles below all pertain to these events.
The Exhibition was held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Calcutta with the assistance of the Indian Philatelic Society. Biman Mullick won First Prize for “Designing Gandhi Stamps.” The Great Britain Post Office won First Prize for the “Best Gandhi Stamp.” The Great Britain Post Office also won a second prize for their exhibit of all the submissions (shown above).
Biman also won an award from the Indian Philatelic Society.
On September 21, 1970 the International Gandhi Stamp Exhibition Gold Medal was awarded to the British Post Office for the “Best Gandhi Stamp” at the London International Stamp Exhibition, Olympia. The exhibition was called “Phylimpia.” Biman Mullick also received a gold medal at that same event for preparing the best layout and design.
The photos and articles below all pertain to these events.
Birth of the Gandhi Centenary Stamp
In 1969 Stonehouse, as Postmaster General, was approached by Lord Mountbatten, (known as Mountbatten of Burma at the time), about including a Gandhi birth centenary stamp in the postal program.
Letter from John Stonehouse, Postmaster General, to George Downes, Director Operations and Overseas and Chairman of the Stamp Advisory Committee, December, 1968 George Downes Re: Mountbatten Continue Reading →
Stonehouse wrote to Lord Shepherd advising him of his change of mind about the Gandhi stamp on December 27, 1968. December 27th, 1968 We corresponded recently Continue Reading →
Mountbatten wrote to Stonehouse on January 2nd, 1969, thanking John Stonehouse for his decision to issue a Gandhi stamp 2nd January, 1969 My dear Postmaster General,Thank Continue Reading →
On January 14, 1969, Lord Shepherd wrote back to Stonehouse thanking him for his decision. January 14, 1969 Dear John, Thank you for your letter Continue Reading →
On July 12, 1969, Mountbatten wrote to Stonehouse thanking him, on behalf of his Committee, for his decision to allow a Gandhi centenary stamp. July 12th, Continue Reading →
On July 21, 1969, Stonehouse wrote to Mountbatten thanking him for his letter. July 21, 1969 It is most kind of you to write to me about the