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On February 6, 2002 the Crown Agents Stamp Bureau released probably the single most ambitious issue to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The omnibus set consisted of 25 countries with five stamps each on a sheet (125 stamps), plus a further 89 single stamps – a mind-boggling total of 214 stamps. The man behind the design was Andrew Robinson.

Robinson explained: ‘I trained at Blackpool Art College as a scientific illustrator and my first commission was from Readers Digest, illustrating the Nature Lovers Guide Series. My first design commission for Crown Agents was the 1993 St. Helena Birds definitive, which consisted of 12 stamps’. Despite being involved in stamps for almost a decade now Robinson commented: ‘I have never collected stamps but over the years my portfolio looks like a stamp album’.

As far as the origins of the Golden Jubilee omnibus edition, is concerned Robinson told us: ‘Tim Underwood – the Production Manager at Crown Agents Stamp Bureau – asked me to submit a design suggestion for the subject in early 2001. Tim and all at Crown Agents went with the first design I produced, with minimal changes. Although I recall the use of the Crown Jewels in the sheetlet border was hotly debated at the time’.

One of the hardest parts of the project was finding the photographic material to illustrate the Queen’s life. Robinson recalled: ‘The selection process was a mammoth task. After a visit to Windsor Castle, Tim Underwood and I soon realised that copyright for the photographs did not rest with Her Majesty. This enabled us to identify what pictures where available, and how we wished to develop the series. We then sourced the pictures from a handful of photographic agencies’.

Rejecting photographs
Unlike many other stamp design projects the thrust of Robinson’s ideas were taken on board very quickly. He remembered: ‘I suppose I got lucky, they sometimes say the first idea is the best and that’s how it was in this case. On the other hand we did have to reject a large number of photographs which were unsuitable and did not meet the high level of quality which was needed’.

One of the features of the 25 sheets is the fact that they use subtle variations on main colours – green, red, blue and purple predominate. Robinson noted: ‘This was probably the second hardest part of the project, the colours had to be 'regal' lending themselves to subject. It was very difficult achieving slight variations on a limited range of colours’.

One of the other main threads of designs within the omnibus set is the use of the famous 1955 painting of HM Queen Elizabeth by Annigoni in a cameo on the fifth, and largest, stamp on the right hand side of each sheet. Robinson told us: ‘The Annigoni painting was chosen by Nigel Fordham, Head of Crown Agents Stamp Bureau. I think I had a Cecil Beaton photograph for the common stamp on my early design. I believe the picture was chosen as it depicted the young Queen about to embark on a life of public duty. In hindsight it was perfect’.

As far as any design hurdles that had to be overcome to achieve the Golden Jubilee omnibus designs, Robinson said: ‘The design has several components, each presenting its own problem. I had to digitally recreate all the Country crests on the computer. The references I had came from a variety of sources and the issue need a lot of checking to ensure accuracy’.

In fact the use of crests on the miniature sheets is a vital element of the designs. We asked Robinson how their use came about. He recalled: ‘I think I may have just had the royal crest on the original design, the country crests were introduced soon after. The idea was to provide a visual link between each country and Her Majesty, and I think this works quite well’. It’s also worth noting the use of the famous orb and sceptre on each sheet – another design thread that gives the set a clarity and strength. Apparently Crown Agents had considered using a crown, but in the end felt that the orb and sceptre we two more than acceptable symbols of Royalty.

First Queen design
This was the first ever time that Robinson had designed stamps featuring HM The Queen. He explained: ‘I did produce an omnibus commemorating Prince William’s 18th Birthday for Crown Agents Stamp Bureau, which consisted of seven countries. They were sheetlets with an unusual perforation layout, but I really liked them modern designs for a modern Prince’. That 2000 set did come in for some overly harsh press coverage when several newspapers pointed out the fact that Princess Diana didn’t feature on any of the sheets. However Robinson was briefed to design for Prince William’s birthday, and took the commission literally.

As far as admiring any other stamp designers Robinson told us: ‘I look at other stamp designs, but I am never aware of the designer’s name. I like to know what other people are doing. It keeps me on my toes. I think the old engraved stamps are great, sadly I understand they are too expensive to produce these days’.