Tuesday, October 06, 2020

The first Northern Ireland postage stamps, July 1958

I am convinced that one day the ancient emblem of the Red Hand of Ulster will once again be restored to mainstream usage here. Many of our sporting bodies use it - Ulster Rugby, hockey, multiple GAA clubs, various schools level athletics organisations, recently Mid Ulster District Council – but, in the main, polite 'establishment' society appears to be frightened of it. GCAS, the design company I worked for and was eventually MD of from 1999–2006, was commissioned by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to replace the Red Hand from their logo (a brief which was completed just before I moved to GCAS; the rationale was that it was an unwelcoming symbol for international visitors, it visually communicated 'stop, don't go there'.)

In 1958 the Red Hand was regarded as the essential component in Northern Ireland's first ever postage stamps: the 3d designed by 38 year old Liverpool-born Belfast-based commercial designer William Hollywood; the 6d by Bolton-born Leonard Pilton (a lecturer at Belfast Art College); the 1/3d by a 22 year old from Deer Park, Portadown, called T. (Tom?) Collins, who was about to start working life as a 'teacher of arts and crafts at an intermediate school in his native town'.

Collins' is the most insightful as his design went further than the other two by incorporating the classic 5 bar gate and pillars, an icon of our landscape, and a symbol which was adopted as the logo for the first Ulster Folk Museum. His papers about his work on designing the stamp is held in PRONI, Ref No D4552.