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Philatelic Collections: The Harrison Collection

This Collection consists of die proofs for postage stamps taken from master dies engraved by J.A.C. Harrison between 1911 and 1939. It was presented by his son, H.W.P. Harrison in 1963.

J.A.C. Harrison

J.A.C. Harrison


Recognised as being one of the great line-engravers of the 20th Century, John Augustus Charles Harrison was born in Manchester on 5th August 1872 into a family of engravers, his father being Samuel Harrison, the famous line-engraver. John, at the age of thirteen was apprenticed to his father, and also attended art classes in Birmingham. At seventeen he joined Waterlow Brothers & Layton, (later Waterlow & Sons Ltd), as an ornamental engraver. In the 1890s he left to become a freelance engraver and produced many line-engravings for heraldic bookplates.

The accession of King George V in 1910 gave Harrison the opportunity to demonstrate his skill on stamp designs when the Royal Mint commissioned him to engrave the British dies for the new Monarch. His Archive contains many examples of trial engravings produced as he mastered the technique of relief engraving. Although technically excellent his work was lost when heavy inking caused the design to be obliterated. Harrison was obliged to re-cut his master dies, which gave some improvement, but generally the design was not to the Public’s approval. Harrison also engraved the British "Seahorse" high values, in his preferred technique of intaglio. Printed initially by Waterlow & Sons, this work is generally regarded as the best design of British stamps since the Penny Black of 1840.

After the First World War, still working mainly as a freelance heraldic engraver he undertook the production of dies for Perkins, Bacon & Company, including his famous vignette of Captain James Cook used for the Rarotonga Issue of 1920.

His skill became more sought after by the security printers, and he agreed to be retained by Waterlow & Sons, and eventually joined the company on a full-time basis until 1939. After this date he continued to do portrait work for them until his death in 1954, aged 82. As Waterlow’s chief portrait engraver he produced many of the heads of King George V and VI for use on their colonial issues, as well as some for King Edward VIII, which in the event were never used.

His work was not confined to stamps of the British Empire however, he also produced many dies for issues from other countries. These include the Spanish Red Cross series of 1926, the portraits of Garzon and Artigas for the Uruguayan sets of 1928-30, as well as the double profile heads of the Kings for the Siamese Chakri Dynasty set of 1932. He also produced many portraits for currency notes and other security documents for many countries. During this time he also continued to engrave many heraldic bookplates.

The Harrison Collection contains several hundred examples of his work and is currently on exhibition.


Philatelic Collections
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7635
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7780