Little Gems of the Postal History of the Great Exhibition of 1851

The Society of Arts Garter Envelope, 1850.

Number 2. by

Fred Peskett.


            There is a long and interesting story behind this one! About twenty years ago I was putting together a collection of late Victorian and the Three Kings Postal Stationery that had the pre-printed postage stamps cut out and pasted to plain envelopes in lieu of genuine postage stamps for postage. These Cut-outs were initially against the Postal Regulations, which makes them very desirable and collectable, the rules were later relaxed to enable Cut-outs to be used for postage, never-the-less, the collection made an interesting display for showing to the local stamp clubs.



            I was sent an auction catalogue for a sale of philatelic items from a venue in Southampton, one lot appealed to me, being listed as:- “Unusual Collection of cut-out Postal Stationery and other unusual and interesting items. Q.V. to K.G. VI”. I made a postal bid which was probably the only one, since the lot went for £2.00. I sorted out the items I wanted and  put the remainder into my “look at later” box. Some seventeen years later I got around to having a look in the box. The Cut-out display had long since been shown at several clubs and sold off.  So I thought I would get rid of the rest of the rubbish, one of the first items to come to the surface was the envelope shown. I was about to screw it up and throw it in the waste-paper bin, but something said “look at it a bit further”. The flap of the envelope had an embossed “Garter Seal”, a piece was missing, but with a glass I could see it had some writing which seemed to read:- “EXHIBITION OF INDUSTRY” around the belt, and “OF ALL NATIONS” inside the garter. This needed looking into further. The envelope has an imperforate penny red postage stamp with “stars” in the top boxes and “D” & “H” in the bottom boxes. It was addressed to:- A. Henry Vivian. Esq., Pateley Bridge, A London horizontal oval with 19 in a diamond postmark cancelled the postage stamp, on the reverse is a red LS 5 NO 5 cross and a blue RIPPON circular cancel for 6th Nov. 1850. (a pencilled inscription “244/127 £75 the lot” is also on the front which may imply that this envelope was once part of another auction lot of penny reds on cover?)

            The research into this envelope went as follows:-Being dated November 6th 1850, probably made it identifiable to the Great Exhibition the following year. I was able to have a look at the records of the Royal Society of Arts, although the example

I had found was not recorded, in January 1851 an embossed flap envelope for the Society of Arts was introduced, it had the same garter seal and wording, but it was against a blue background. Further research with the Victoria & Albert Museum revealed that A. Henry Vivian was a Juror for Class Group VI Manufacturing Machines and Tools at the Great Exhibition.

            So far it is understood that no further examples of this particular embossed flap envelope has been found and recorded, although several examples of the blue background Garter Seal are known. It is possible that the envelope I have could be a pre-production envelope used either in error or deliberately before the Society of Arts envelope was formally introduced?

            I think the envelope I have may well be defined as being an item of Great Exhibition Postal History? I am rather pleased I did not screw it up and toss it into the waste-paper bin!

            The small picture is a re-constructed illustration of the Society of Arts Garter Seal on the envelope described above.


© Exhibition Study Group 2013