The Discworld Stamp Archiveby Steve Tandy

British Library Entrance

I think it’s fair to say that the Holy Grail of Discworld Stamp collecting are the AMPO $5 triangular sports, and not just any old one of these, but the original 2004 Brass Bridge Sport. Only the smallest number of us actually own one, and probably very few more have actually even seen one. This, however, can be easily remedied if you are ever down in London at the present time. In the British Library there are six frames, numbers 31-36 in bank 8 of the public philatelic displays located at the back of the entrance hall. There you will find an example of our Holy Grail &mdash it’s a lot easier task than the Knights of the Round Table had.

The British Library houses every publication from Britain and Ireland, which amounts to over 150 million items currently. This includes newspapers and periodicals, maps, prints, patents and so on. This requires 175 km of shelf space, growing at the rate of 12 km per year — L–space squared! Shelving for King George’s Library collection rises four floors from the entrance hall. The London building near St Pancras has 13 floors but over two-thirds are underground, and even then the majority of the publications are stored at Boston Spa in Lincolnshire. In addition to all this there are both sound and philatelic archives. And it is in the latter that the Discworld Stamp archives lie — in a set of box files and folders.

The Library’s collections are available to business and the public for research and study. You do need to arrange an appointment to view actual philatelic items, and you do need to have a reader’s card. This was a simple matter for me, having remembered to take two pieces of documentation that included both my address and signature. I was arranging a long weekend in London during February, and that centred on the Library visit. I put aside a morning, and that still seemed a bit rushed. I explained to Paul Skinner, head curator of the philatelic section, that having had a couple of magazine articles published and maintaining the Discworld Stamp Collector website, I was embarking on a series of articles for the Cinderella Philatelist (the quarterly journal of the Cinderella Stamp Club) about modern fantasy Cinderella stamps. Naturally Discworld would be a major player in these articles. Rather than repeating what I have already written, I needed a new and seriously philatelic perspective.

Briefing document

Paul himself greeted me at the Library, and passed me across to his colleague Richard Morel who was more than helpful when it came to going through the files. Richard was responsible for the public display, and has worked on trying to achieve some order in the archive. There are items across all the years, from the inception of the idea of producing stamps through to 2015. The kernel of the archive was, I believe, a collection of early stamps donated by a collector. Since then quite a collection has built up, much of which must have come from 41. There are early briefing notes, work in progress, prints of original artwork, colour trials, imperforate sheets of stamps that have not been seen as sheets, and design trials. I have already written articles for some stamps on The Discworld Stamp Collector, but now I have much to add to those existing pages, as well as material for new topics.

4p Susan colour trilas

My own personal favourite items were those that show the ‘might–have–beens’. These are the trial colours that were rejected, the sports that never were, and the alternative designs. These demonstrate how much work actually has gone into the design process to end up as those little bits of sticky paper. All periods of DW stamps are covered by these, but sadly not all stamps. It would be tremendous to see how either how one stamp developed fully, or to see more of the trials and proofs from more of the issues. Revealing are some of the annotations on some items which also reveal the hows and whys of the design choices.

For the Cinderella Philatelist articles I hope to engage the more philatelically minded readership and convince the more conservative members that there is a place within Cinderella philately for modern fantasy stamps. Many of us collect the different perforations of the first issues, and some of us collect shades and errors. The concept of Sports will be unfamiliar to outsiders, but they would be appreciative of the sort of background material available at the British Library. And like traditional philately, Discworld offers both the cheap and cheerful every day stamps, and valuable rarities to be tracked down and sought out. I will also focus on how Discworld Stamps complement the books, especially how the humour moves across to the stamps.

There was one disappointment however. While I was very pleased to be allowed to photograph the items in the archive, I was not well prepared for this. The combination of close-up photography, being indoors and under artificial lighting meant that the resulting photos were not always truly representative regarding colours, and both glare and shadows caused problems. Perhaps when there are new items there I shall return and do better. Talking of new material, the Library will be only too pleased to receive any items of interest which collectors may wish to leave to posterity, rather than selling.

You may not be able to spend half a day there, but the public frames can be viewed in 30 minutes if you are already at Euston or St Pancras stations. The other stamps may interest you, and there are also public exhibition rooms which put on good shows of materials from the archives; definitely worth a visit any day. P.S. it’s all free!

Other examples from the British Library collection

Tower of art Blue triangle Hogfather artwork Seamstress artwork Assassins' artwork Final artwork Patrician sport trial Initial Patrician sheet Boar's Head South Pelagic stamps
Tower of Art
$5 Bank blue triangle Hogfather artwork Seamstress artwork Assassins' artwork Definitives final
colour trials
sport trial
Initial Patrican
Boar's Head
South Pelagic


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