“The Post Office could hardly refuse to issue stamps for the 1948 Olympic Games, as the precedent had been established by host nations in previous years. At first, just two stamps were envisaged, 2½d and 3d, later extended to include the 6d and 1/-. An air letter using the design of the 6d stamp was also planned.
Consulting with the Council of Industrial Design, several artists, and the four main stamp printers, were approached. From the designs submitted the Council chose work by G. Knipe of Harrison & Sons, S. D. Scott of Waterlows, Edmund Dulac, Percy Metcalfe and Abram Games. Before these were shown to the King, the Postmaster General felt another option should be offered, and recommended a design by John Armstrong...”
—The British Postal Museum & Archive
Numerous artists submitted designs for consideration. Only four designs were granted final approval. The Olympic Games stamp set (including four denominations) was issued on July 29th, 1948. All four designs include the profile and crown of King George VI and slight variations on the Olympic rings.
The blue stamp above (2½d), representing the “Globe and Laurel Wreath,” was designed by sculptor Percy Metcalfe. This stamp, first in the set, had the largest circulation size.
postage stamp (3d) symbolizing “Speed,” designed by Abram Games
postage stamp (6d) featuring “Olympic Symbol,” designed by Stanley D. Scott
postage stamp (1/-) with “Winged Victory” designed by Edmund Dulac
On July 30th, 1948, The Manchester Guardian shared thoughts on the Olympic Games postage stamps and the artists behind the designs. (view text larger via Guardian UK)
Below are the top contenders amongst submitted designs that almost made the cut, but were never released as official postage stamps.
“Copyright doubts were expressed over Knipe’s design, as it showed two athletes taken from a photograph: it was therefore withdrawn.” —The British Postal Museum & Archive
In a “perfect recollection,” more than 60 years later, some of the unofficial designs ended up in print as part of a new souvenir pack including a “nonpostally valid facsimile sheet of four 1948 Olympic Games Stamps.”
The lengthy history involving the design of vintage British stamps is complex. Often dictated by strict rules, requiring thorough review by committee and Royal approval, the process of designing and selecting official postage stamps is handled with pride and careful consideration.
To coincide with the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the I.O.C. and the British Library opened the exhibition “Olympex 2012: Collecting the Olympic Games” on July 25th, 2012. The “visually striking exhibition telling the fascinating story of the past and present of the Olympic Games through the medium of postage stamps and related memorabilia” will be on view through September 9th, 2012.
(scans of commemorative postage stamps for the Olympic Games 1948 from my personal collection)