May 12, 2008

The Stamps of Frankenstein

News has come that the Royal Mail of Great Britain will be issuing stamps celebrating Hammer Films this summer (2008). The set will include a Curse of Frankenstein stamp, based on the poster shown here.

Frankenstein philatelic history spans back a mere decade. In 1997, Royal Mail plans for a Mary Shelley bicentennial stamp were abandoned, and — not for the first time — the author was supplanted by her creation. A Tales of Terror set appeared, itself a subset of an ongoing Tales and Legends series, featuring four famous British monsters painted in a vigorous caricature style by Ian Pollock. The watercolors included a bushy-haired Dracula, a split-face Jekyll and Hyde, a fiery-eyed Hound of the Baskervilles, and a subdued, laconic Frankenstein Monster.

The same year, at Halloween, after intensive lobbying by the Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney estates, the American Postal Service issued a heavily promoted Classic Movie Monsters series featuring Universal Pictures’ family of creatures: Lon Chaney’s Phantom, Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman, Lugosi’s Dracula, and Boris Karloff on two stamps: The Mummy and Frankenstein.

Thomas Blackshear II provided excellent portraits of the characters, notably a baleful, lizard-lidded Karloff Frankenstein, though monster fans, understandably, had hoped for paintings by the legendary Famous Monsters cover artist, Basil Gogos.

The USPS distributed thousands of promotional kits to schools. “We are using the fun of these 'monsters' to get kids interested in collecting stamps," said Azeezaly Jaffer, manager of Stamp Services. “The subject matter of these kid-appealing stamps offers employees the opportunity to promote the hobby.”

The USPS would use The Monster again, in February 2003, this time a closely cropped photograph of Karloff in mid-transformation at the hands of Jack Pierce. The picture served as the “Makeup” entry in a series called American Filmmaking: Behind The Scenes.

Date unknown, a curious Hollywood Horror Classic set was issued by the West African Republic of Sierra Leone, with art by American painter Zina Saunders. The collection includes Charles Laughton’s Dr. Moreau and Lionel Atwill from The Mystery of the Wax Museum, along with the familiar Universal monsters, and features the world’s first Bride of Frankenstein stamp. Karloff appears in a scene from Son of Frankenstein.

The new stamp set, coming June 10 from the Royal Mail, honors popular British films, notably the three Hammer Film lynchpins, Curse of Frankenstein, (Horror of) Dracula, and The Mummy. Much has been printed in the UK about Christopher Lee, featured on all three stamps, becoming the first living non-royal to be featured on a British stamp. In a statement published in the Telegraph, Lee says “I suppose its an honour. Her Majesty is rather more recognisable than me, though. In all but one of the stamps I have seen I have my head in bandages. It’s probably a mercy.

Interestingly, the other stamps in the Film set honor the bawdy Carry On Series, including their Hammer Film spoof Carry On Screaming.

The stamp design is a bit awkward, using horizontal film posters with the Queen’s cameo and postage overlaid and competing with the already busy images. Nevertheless, it’s amusing to see the Queen’s profile sharing space with the once critically reviled Hammer horrors, and Screaming’s pneumatic Fenella Fielding.

Closeups of the British 1997 Tales of Terror series.

USPS pages for the 1997 Classic Movie Monsters series, and 2003 Filmmaking: Behind the Scenes.

A fascinating page of Dracula stamps from around the world, including a full sheet of the Sierra Leone Hollywood Horror Classics series.

Two wonderful blogs: Literary Stamps, and Fantastisk Filateli.


Kitty LeClaw said...

Brilliant blog, friend! Frankensteinia is not only teaming with content, but very pleasing to the eye, as well. I think I am in lust!

Pierre Fournier said...

Lust is good!

Thank you, Kitty. I work hard on the graphics and presentation, and its nice of you to notice.

rob! said...

oh my i want those stamps!!

Tenebrous Kate said...

I love the fact that the stamps still carry the "X" certificate! Warning: this letter is for Mature Audiences Only. Wonderful stuff.