The Royal Philatelic Society of New Zealand Inc. 

The Design Competition of 1895 - Material in the RPSNZ Archives.

Adam Miller


The Society holds in its Archives 18 sheets of mounted items from the Design Competition held in anticipation of what we now know as the 1898 Pictorials. 


On consideration of the requests and suggestions received, it was decided by the Cabinet at a meeting held December 28, 1894, to have a new issue, and the Postmaster-General instructed Mr. Gray, the Secretary to the General Post Office, to draft a circular calling for competitive designs and offering prizes for those selected.

The first draft of the circular (January 30, 1895) stated that in considering the designs "preference will be given, other things being equal, to representations of the Queen's head, or a scene or event characteristic of New Zealand in particular."  This, however, was subsequently amended, and as it appeared in the New Zealand Gazette of March 20, 1895, and in the circular of the same date, issued by the General Post Office, any mention of the Queen's head was omitted.  The decision to make the issue a "pictorial" one was probably arrived at from a consideration of a letter from Mr. Luke, a Melbourne artist, who submitted a proposal in January on behalf of himself and Mr. Walter Bentley, for advertising the scenic attractions of the Colony by means of the special use of postage stamps, in illustration of which proposal he submitted five designs for the 1d., 2d., 3d., 4d. and 2½d. values much on the lines of the designs finally agreed upon.  Mr. Luke's proposals not having been accepted, the circular and the following notice in the Gazette appeared, calling for designs for a series of eleven values :-


"Designs are invited for a new issue of POSTAGE and REVENUE STAMPS.  For the series of designs which may be adjudged by the Postmaster General to be the best, there will be prizes of £150 and £100 respectively.
Specifications may be seen at the General Post Office, Wellington, or at any Chief Post Office.

  1. The design of each stamp must include a representation of characteristic or notable New Zealand scenery or genre, but may otherwise be of any pattern, provided the words " New Zealand Postage and Revenue " and the value in figures, or in figures and words, are plainly shown.
  2. The design must be of the size 13/8in. by 7/8in., or 7/8in. x 11/16in. (For an example of the large size, see the Columbus issue of the stamps of the United States; for the smaller, see the current New Zealand stamps.)
  3. The design proper must be coloured, but uncoloured drawings, or enlargements may accompany them.  Photographs of any kind are excluded.
  4. All value of the stamps to be printed anew are
    1d., 2d., 21/2d., 3d., 4d., 5d., 6d., 8d., 1s., 2s., 5s.
  5. The designs are to be sent under cover of a pseudonym, or a motto, accompanied by the name of the sender enclosed in a sealed envelope, bearing the same assumed title outside, addressed to "The Secretary, General Post Office, Wellington", not later than the 31st July next.
  6. All designs, whether originals or copies, submitted, will become the property of the Postmaster-General.

The Postmaster-General reserves the right to select the best and second best designs from any series submitted, and to divide the prizes proportionately.
W. GRAY, Secretary.
General Post Office,
20th March, 1895.”

Shortly after the issue of the circular, Cabinet authorised the inclusion of the 1/2d. and 9d. denominations.

In response to this advertisement about 2,400 designs were received by the Postmaster-General.  They ranged from the crudest of drawings to the finished product of an artist. The suggestion that a board of experts be appointed to make the final choice was adopted, and the personnel was as follows :-
Messrs.  C. D. Barraud, a leading Wellington artist;  S. Hurst-Seager, of the Christchurch School of Art;  A. D. Riley, Director of the School of Design, Wellington;  S. Costall, Government Printer;  and Thos.  Rose, Assistant-Secretary to the General Post Office.

The whole of the designs submitted were afterwards exhibited at each of the chief cities.  In Wellington they were on view during the month of September, 1895, and the net proceeds of the small charge which was made for admission was given to the Society for the Relief of the Aged Poor.  A contemporary newspaper reported “The dainty designs are well worth a visit, for they are in a number of cases both exquisitely executed and in thoroughly artistic taste, while there is much unconscious humour in the crude efforts of others.”  They were then exhibited in Christchurch and Dunedin, and afterwards in Auckland, and the net proceeds devoted to charitable purposes.

How the bulk were dispersed after this is unclear.  What is apparent is that many made their way onto the market, with some appearing in Sotheby’s ‘Midas’ sale of 1989, including one appearing to be from an artist represented in the Society’s archives (I1-2), and another entry illustrated in the September 2000 auction catalogue of Classic Stamps Ltd, Christchurch, as lot 73.

Design entries

The items held by the Society are all firmly mounted (glued) onto black card which is in turn glued to plain album sheets.  No attempt has been made to write them up.  In most cases the works from an individual entrant have been retained together, but this is not always the case.  By comparing styles, 24 different artists can be discerned.  As none now retain the original name, or alias (although one retains a motto), they are simply identified as artists A through W, and their designs numbered sequentially, thus A1, A2 etc.

Most are watercolour on thin card, although pen & wash was also common.  Some of the more artistic designs are in ink only. Most strictly followed the size guidelines laid down, but others made enlarged entries, notably artist F (F1) who even went to the trouble of punching out the individual over-size perforations.


The majority of the designs are structured with a central vignette inside a border, often very ornate, containing the words “NEW ZEALAND POSTAGE & REVENUE” and the value.  Item L1 is a notable and modern-looking exception to this conformity, and one is immediately reminded of the bird Health stamps of 1959-62.

Identifying the image pictured is usually feasible.  In the case of flora or fauna the species can generally be determined, especially with kiwi (L1, S7, U1), moa (I2, S5), huia (A8, R2), cabbage tree (A1) or flax (A4).

Landscape views of mountains appear restricted to a small set of iconic landmarks, including Mitre Peak (S6), Mt Egmont (A14, E19, E22, F1?, R3, S10), Mt Cook (A12?, E14, S4?)  and the central North Island volcanoes (A13?, E13).  Only rarely has the artist contained a description in the design itself. R1-R4 are an exception showing respectively “Pink Terrace”, “Huia, Kauri, Kereru”, “Mt Egmont” and “Government Offices, Wellington N.Z.”  On the reverse of the card containing E12-E22 is written in the artist’s hand the description of the various scenes.  This tells us that E20 represents the planting of the British Flag at Akaroa.  Lakes, bays and waterfalls were also popular, although few artists could resist populating the water with a ship or canoe.

Maori-related designs feature prominently, although they are largely restricted to depictions of meeting houses (B4, P6 S8, whares (U3), war canoes (A14, P1, S1, U4) and the occasional tattooed face (I1, S2).  Captain Cook (S11, ‘Midas’ lot 233) makes an appearance as one of few recognisable faces.

Abstract designs seem restricted to the occasional map of New Zealand (S9) or the Coat of Arms.  Scenes depicting the daily life of the late Victorians, or their constructions and transports appear restricted to a few farming scenes (B3), important buildings (R4) and the odd train or stage-coach (G8).  Given the directive to include “characteristic or notable New Zealand scenery or genre” this is not surprising.

The Society would be glad to hear from readers who hold further examples of these unselected designs, and would appreciate a copy, preferably in colour, for inclusion with this important holding. 


Capill, P.E. A Fresh Look at the 1898 Pictorials. The New Zealand Stamp Collector 75/1 1995
Early Information about the 1898 First Pictorial Stamps. The Kiwi 49/3 2000
Collins R.J.G. & Fathers, H.T.M. (Eds.) Postage Stamps of New Zealand Vol. 1, Chapter V. 1938.
Sotheby’s. The ‘Midas’ Collection auction catalogue, 1989

Artist A, page 1. (14 items)

Artist A, page 2. (13 items)

Artist B. (4 items)

Artist C. (1 item)

Artist D. (1 item)

Artist E, sheet 1. (1 item [11 essays])

Artist E, sheet 2. (1 item [11 essays])

Artist F. (2 items)

Artist G. (9 items)

Artist H. (3 items)

Artist I. (2 items)

Artist J. (1 item)

Artist K. (11 items)

Artist L. (1 item)

Artist M. (3 items)

Artist N. (11 items)

Artist O. (8 items)

Artist P. (8 items)

Artist Q. (3 items)

Artist R. (4 items)

Artist S. (11 items)

Artist T. (4 items)

Artist U. (5 items)

Artist V. (1 item)

Artist W. (9 items)

Originally published in part, in The New Zealand Stamp Collector v80/3 September 2000