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What Does It Take to Be Featured on a British Postage Stamp?

More than four centuries after his death, William Shakespeare remains one of the most famous figures in British history. He has been the subject of countless biographies and his plays are a staple of English curriculums around the world. Despite his "common" birth, Shakespeare's legacy rivals that of many British kings and queens, so perhaps it was to be expected that in 1964, William Shakespeare became the first non-royal person to be featured on a postage stamp in the United Kingdom. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of his birth, the Royal Mail issued a set of four stamps that included Shakespeare's portrait alongside scenes from plays such as Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. The likeness of Queen Elizabeth II was also included, of course, although this caused some controversy as Shakespeare's head looked bigger than the Queen's on the stamps. However, the monarch said she was pleased with them, admitting that they were "striking and of high quality.”

Putting their stamp on history:

  • In the following decades, the Royal Mail honored other famous Britons, such as John Lennon, Robert Burns, and Charles Darwin, with commemorative postage stamps -- although always posthumously.

  • In fact, up until 2005, it was official Royal Mail policy not to feature the likenesses of living people who were not members of the Royal Family on postage stamps.

  • The rule was finally relaxed when England defeated Australia in the 2005 Ashes cricket series, and the faces of the team members were clearly depicted on a series of four stamps.

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