Looking back on 50 years of Christmas Special Stamps by Royal Mail

Royal Mail recently unveiled an interactive online exhibit looking back on the past 50 years of Christmas Special Stamps.

To date, there have been 229 unique designs issued by Royal Mail as Christmas Special Stamps.

The first stamps—issued Dec. 1, 1966—were the result of a children’s art competition announced by then-Postmaster General Tony Benn in May of that year. Since then, only twice (in 1981 and 2013) have children’s designs been used on Christmas stamps.

About 180 million stamps were printed by Royal Mail for the first issue of Christmas Special Stamps. Since then, more than 17 billion Christmas Special Stamps have been printed.

The Christmas Special Stamps alternate each year between secular and religious images; however, Madonna and Child stamps are also available on the secular years for those who prefer to send their festive greetings with a religious stamp.


This year’s Christmas Special Stamps celebrate some of the best-loved traditions of a U.K. Christmas: decorating the Christmas tree; making a snowman; hanging out a stocking; eating a Christmas pudding; and lighting a Christmas lantern. Also featured is a robin redbreast, which is synonymous with Royal Mail and has a strong association with sending and receiving cards and messages. Its appearance on cards was inspired by the red coats worn by postmen in Victorian times, who were known as “red-breasts.”

The stamps’ designs were crafted by Manchester-based illustrator Helen Musselwhite, who created intricate paper sculptures that were then photographed. She cut the paper by hand and folded the pieces to build the detailed and multi-layered festive scenes.

“Illustrating the Royal Mail Christmas 2016 stamps has been one of the most important and favourite jobs of my career to date,” said Musselwhite. “I’m immensely proud that my work will be winging its way across the world sending Season’s Greetings far and wide from the U.K.”

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