Off with his head

The rejected composite photograph, 1937
The rejected composite photograph, 1937 (NAA:AA1970/559, 25)

The shock abdication of King Edward VIII in December 1936 left the Australian Government with precious little time to issue new stamps for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in May 1937. The delicate design negotiations were entrusted to our man in London, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, then serving as Australia’s High Commissioner.

In accordance with convention, the stamps would feature the new King and Queen dressed in official regalia. Unfortunately, the only photograph available to the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG) showed George VI in a suit. Also on file was a photograph of Edward resplendent in the uniform of the Seaforth Highlanders. Why not cut and paste the head of the new King onto the body of his predecessor?

Pressed for time and perhaps anticipating objections, the PMG’s HP Brown called on the assistance of Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who dutifully marched the composite photograph up to Buckingham Palace.

Unable to conceal his amusement, King George’s assistant private secretary told Bruce the photograph ‘is a bit too ingenious’, given that the Seaforth Highlanders was ‘a regiment with which the King has never been connected!’

An approved photograph was promptly despatched. In March 1937, a more relaxed Brown wrote to Bruce thanking him for his help and enclosing two stamp-sized photographs ‘from which the dies are being cut’.

The stamps were issued just in time for the coronation, after months of ‘laborious work’. No Australian penny was minted in 1937.

  • read caption below
    The Palace disapproves
  • read caption below
    The approved photograph
  • read caption below
    Thank you, Mr Bruce

A selection of records relating to the abdication of Edward VIII and the coronation of George VI

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemSpecial stamp issue1937A461, AH396/1/12
ItemA King abdicates1936–1937A3522, 3/1
ItemAustralia responds to news of the abdication1936–1939A461/8, V396/1/1
ItemCelebrating the coronation in Australia1936–1937A461, AK396/1/12
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017