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L15-L16, L18

1912 Imperial Union Labels

Set 5L

"1d" emerald green
[MID]  [LAR]

"1d" dull yellow green
[MID]  [LAR]

"1d" dull orange
[MID]  [LAR]


Design: Hibernia (Erin) with harp, flanked by columns with shamrock and ringed crosses. Inscriptions "IMPERIAL GOVERNMENT" (top panel), "IMPERIAL UNION" (bottom panel), "IRELAND". Designed by William Ward. 24 x 34 mm.

Printing: Typography. Both the engraving of the block, from which a stereo of six subjects (2 x 3) was prepared, and the printing of the 2 x 3 panes were handled by unknown parties in Manchester, England.

Separation: Perf. 11.

Watermark: None.

Date of Issue: 1912.

Numbers Issued: 1500 total (250 panes of six of L15, L16, and L18 combined) (?).

Notes: Commentators have frequently described these labels as having been printed by the Ulster Unionists in 1912, when the third Home Rule bill came before Parliament. The Ulster Unionists, coming mainly from the northeastern counties and with strong cultural, religious, and economic ties to England, were Ireland's most intransigent opponents of Home Rule. In 1912 Irish Unionist leader Sir Edward Carson announced the formation of a provisional government in Ulster, to assume control should the Home Rule bill be passed. Hence the ostensible significance of the inscriptions "PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT" and "IMPERIAL UNION", as well as the use of English rather than Irish Gaelic (as in set 4L, the Sinn Féin labels).

But in fact, it seems probable that the labels were not printed as Unionist propaganda, but as something akin to a whimsical philatelic exercise, by an individual unassociated with the Unionist cause. In the 2 July 1932 issue of the British philatelic journal Stamp Collecting, William Ward claimed responsibility for designing and printing the labels, describing the whole affair as an "innocuous joke." Ward, of Lytham in Lancashire, was a well-known philatelic personage of the day, and an early dealer in Irish stamps. "They were never," Ward wrote, "intended primarily as other than a political take-off of the period. Neither were they made as most of the above mentioned labels, from a commercial aspect of pecuniary gain, and from what it has cost the wicked maker [i. e., Ward] in postages, notepaper, envelopes, and time, must have more than punished him for daring ever to show that Ulster could have stamps as well as Sinn Féin." Ward goes on to say that he designed the labels in Manchester, England in 1912, after returning from Dublin with sheets of the 1908 Sinn Féin labels (presumably for speculation). Certainly the imagery of the "Imperial Union" labels - Hibernia with harp, ringed cross, shamrocks - recalls that of Sinn Féin. Ward describes the details of the printing, and states that he prepared 250 panes of six subjects in four colors: ". . .rich emerald; pale green; vivid orange; and lukewarm orange - just to show that they had no particular political bias!" Specimens of the "vivid orange" seem not to have survived; the three colors now known were clearly printed from the same printing base. Examples on cover of the "Imperial Union" labels (with British definitives prepaying postage) have been found. While Ward's story begs many questions, there is precious little to support the notion that these labels are anything other than what he claimed.

Provenance: Dr. Charles Wolf (all).

Bibliography: EPA 1961, "Political Labels of Ireland," 7; Feldman 1968, 16; Mackay 1968, 58-9; Foley 1972, 811.

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