“Admirals” refers to several series of definitive stamps depicting King George V released by Canada (1911–1928: Scott #104-134, #162,172, #178-183, and #MR1-MR7), Rhodesia (1913-1923: Scott #119-138), Southern Rhodesia (1924-1930: Scott #1-14), and New Zealand (1926: Scott #182-184). Although George V had succeeded Edward VII as King of England and the British Dominions on May 6, 1910, stamps depicting his reign were not issued until the latter part of 1911. The delay in producing the new design, some 18 months after the King’s accession to the throne, had more to do with the process of preparing new printing contracts than with the time needed to actually produce the new stamps, although there were objections to the King appearing on the stamps at all. These particular stamps are called the “Admirals” due to the fact that the King is portrayed in the ceremonial uniform of Admiral of the Fleet of the Royal Navy.
The first of these were the 1 cent and 2 cent denominations issued by Canada on December 22, 1911. These saw postal use for about 16 years, which was longer than any other definitives except for the Small Queens released from 1870 until 1897. This was the start of the first series of the Canadian “Admirals” released from 1911 to 1931 with eleven different denominations ranging from 1 cent to 1 dollar. These depict King George V in profile, facing the left.
The engraving of King George V on the 1911-1931 Canadian series is modeled after two photographs by H. Walter Barnettby and the other by W. & D. Downey. The engraving was mastered by Robert Savage of the American Bank Note Company whose main base of operation was in New York but which also had printing facilities in Ottawa, Canada. These issues are perforated 12 x 12.
The 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 cent denominations were reprinted at later dates with different colors. Every denomination of the King George V issue were printed in panes of 200 and 400 stamps and cut into and issued in sheets of 100 stamps, or in booklet form with pages of four or six stamps. They were also released in coil form with three different perforation varieties and were first released in November, 1912. The last stamp issue of this series to be released was the 2-cent carmine issue which had the unusual perforations of 12 x 8 and was issued on June 24, 1931.
During this period, Canadian stamps and their usage were affected by many factors.
- World War I interrupted the supplies of pigments from Europe as well as the supply of high quality steel used for printing plates.
- The printers changed from printing stamps on wet ungummed paper to dry pre-gummed paper.
- A growing population and increased use of the mails required that the printers find faster ways of printing greater numbers of stamps.
- In 1915, a 1¢ War Tax was placed on each piece of mail. Eleven years later it was repealed.
- The postal rates changed numerous times. This resulted in new stamps being issued to meet these rates, and existing denominations being issued in new colors.
- Increased use of stamp vending and affixing machines prompted the Post Office to issue stamps in coil format.
- Increased popularity of stamp booklets resulted in their continued issuance during this era.
- New services such as Airmail were offered by the Post Office.
- Old cancelling devices were gradually phased out as new types of cancels were introduced.
The unusually long issuing period required new dies and several plates to be struck, resulting in a large range of flaws and other varieties for a stamp collector to study. It is because of these factors that the “Admirals” are some of the most extensively-researched stamps in Canadian philately.
Stocks of the earlier Canadian series of King George V definitives began to become exhausted in 1928 so a second series was prepared and issued beginning in August 1928. Rather than portraying the King in complete profile, these stamps portrayed King George V with his head in a quarter turn to the left. The series was issued in six denominations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8 cents, with a different color for each value. The first stamp of this series to appear was the 4 cent released on August 16, 1928, while the 8 cent stamp was the final to appear, issued on December 21, 1928. Stamps from this series that were also issued in coil form and include the 1, 2 and 5 cent denominations.
A number of books detailing the “Admiral” issues of Canada have been published. There are also a number of excellent online guides, including an overview on the Canadian Philately blog extensive sites hosted by the Royal Philatelic Society of Canada and the British North America Philatelic Society.
Rhodesia’s “Admiral” stamps were released between 1913 and 1923, portraying King George V facing straight. Four values were printed from a single working place while the remainder were bicolored and printed from double plates. Three engraved dies for the head were used which can be identified from the shading on the King’s ear and the shank of the anchor on his cap badge. Shades for these issues are numerous. These stamp issues were perforated with gauge 14 or 15. Because of this numerous color varieties and other factors, correct identification can be difficult the collector. Many books on the subject are out of print and difficult to obtain as is other source information.
Using the same design as those of Rhodesia were the first stamps to be inscribed SOUTHERN RHODESIA, fourteen engraved stamps printed on unwatermarked paper, perforated 14, released in 1924; a coil version of the 1 penny scarlet, perforated 12½, was released in 1930.
In New Zealand in 1924, it was considered that the demand for 2s and 3s stamps was such that two new stamps were required to replace the “Duty” stamps that had been in use up to that time. As Viscount Jellicoe was then Governor-General, it was considered appropriate to depict on the stamps a portrait of the King in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Jellicoe having been the commander of the British fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
The New Zealand Cabinet approved the stamp on July 1, 1924. The three stamps (Scott #182-184) were designed by H Linley Richardson of Wellington. The dies were engraved by Waterlow and Sons, London, while Bradbury Wilkinson produced the printing plates which were printed by the Government Printing Office, New Zealand, in sheets of 80, perforated 14, on paper watermarked with NZ and a star. The first printing of the 2 shilling in deep blue and 3 shilling in mauve was on thin Jones paper and released on July 12, 1926. The engraved impressions are generally rather poor.
In May 1927, the 2 shilling New Zealand Admiral was issued on a thick Cowan paper and the 3 shilling was later issued in September 1927. The impressions on the Cowan paper are far better than those printed on the Jones. Initial printings of the 2 shilling value on Cowan paper can easily be distinguished from the earlier Jones paper as they are a much lighter and brighter blue. The color became deeper in later printings. In November 1926 a 1 penny stamp was issued with the same design. The stamps remained on sale till May 1935.