BIOGRAPHY: Bob Godbehear

It is surprising how little is known about this engraver of quite a few iconic stamps. The main thing we know about Robert George Godbehear (1904-1998) is that he was the senior portrait engraver at Bradbury Wilkinson from 1939 until the late 1960s. But he was apprenticed there as early as 1921. During his apprenticeship he engraved a copy of a 1926 Luxembourg definitive (engraved by Robert Savage) portraying the Grand Duchess Charlotte. It is thought this essay dates from 1928.

Among his first known work after his apprenticeship is an advertising note for the firm, for which Godbehear engraved the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. This note dates from 1940. That is also the year in which one of Godbehear’s first, if not his very first, stamps appeared: the 1d value from the New Zealand ‘Centenary of Proclamation of British Sovereignty’ set. The stamp has the Rediscovery of New Zealand in 1769 as its theme and includes engravings of HM Bark ‘Endeavour’, a chart of New Zealand and a portrait of Captain Cook.

Godbehear worked in partnership with engraver Philip Goodwyn Hall on this particular stamp. It is a good example of how engravers get involved in their work, even if they are ‘only’ copying a designer’s drawing. In this instance, they mistook a line which was supposed to be a coastline for the route that Captain Cook took. Thinking this could not be right, they studied the original chart made by Cook and subsequently based their engraving on this original chart. That meant that they included lines of latitude and longitude and removed the mountain shading from the designer’s drawing. When a proof of their die was sent for approval, the lines were readily approved, but the mountain shading had to be restored, because that formed a pivotal part of Cook’s story.

As its title suggests, as senior portrait engraver, Godbehear was responsible for many a fine portrait on the printers’ banknotes and stamps. 1953 saw the issue of the Coronation omnibus set, which  included a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by Godbehear.

Arguably, Godbehear’s most famous feat was the engraving of the first portrait of a British monarch ever to appear on a Bank of England banknote. His engraving of Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait graces the £1 banknote issued in 1960. In 2012, this particular portrait even appeared on a British stamp, as part of the Diamond Jubilee miniature sheet. The Penrose 1982 illustrates an engraving by Godbehear of a different portrait of the Queen which was trialled before the eventual portrait was chosen.

Working for Bradbury Wilkinson also entailed making engravings for stamps issued by countries other than in the British Commonwealth. Among Godbehear’s early work are stamps engraved for the Polish Exiled Government in London, dating from 1941 and 1943. 

In 1941, Godbehear engraved the 1.50z value from the set issued by the Polish exiled government in London. Die proofs of this value exist in black. For the second issue by the Polish government in London, Godbehear engraved the 1z value. Die proofs of this stamp exist in blackish blue, red-brown and olive-black. The blackish blue proofs are annotated ‘Cross pieces of pole uneven, can we indicate insulators?’ and ‘Is the shading at top left darkness?’ The approved colour trial in dark olive was approved on 27 July 1943. The stamp was issued on 1 November 1943.

But better known is his work for Portugal. In 1945, he engraved two values of the Portuguese Navigators set: the 1e75 portraying Magellan and the 3e50 portraying Diogo Cão. In 1955, Godbehear portrayed three monarchs of the Portuguese Kings set: Afonso III, Diniz and Fernando.

Among Godbehear’s latest stamp work we find yet another iconic Elizabethan portrait: that of the 1969 Machin high value definitive set of Great Britain. The assignment was originally given to both Godbehear and his colleague Nigel Alan Dow. Both engravers submitted their die but Godbehear’s was thought to be superior so his was chosen for the actual issue.

Godbehear was sometimes described as likeable but rather brusque, and his engraving style was also sometimes rather brusque. In fact, his Machin portrait had more than usual depth in its recesses, which led to a lot of rejected printings. To solve this, the printers ran several dry runs on thick paper, to wear the plates. This solved the problem of rejects but as a result a high number of plates had to be produced, which is one of the peculiarities of this stamp set. 

Soon after, Bob Godbehear retired and his position as senior portrait engraver was taken over by said colleague Alan Dow.

You can find Bob Godbehear's database HERE.

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