CHARLES AND FREDERICK HEATH: The Original Whodunit (part 5)


As is so often the case, once one starts delving into a certain matter, more and more information comes to light. And so, when I thought I had somewhat exhausted all possibilities, I came across Bacon’s The Line-Engraved Postage Stamps of Great Britain Printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co. Published in 1920, it was billed as the definitive book on their stamp production between 1840-1880, with use of the Perkins Bacon records and with full cooperation of its managing director, James Dunbar Heath.

For the first time we find information about actual documents of the day which shine a bit more light on the question. What we have is letters to and from Charles Heath which make it clear he was closely involved with the project, being asked to ‘have it engraved’ and to give his ‘personal attention’ to it. Other letters mostly deal with the sending and receiving of the dies. This includes a letter, now in a private collection, with the line ‘If that does not transfer well nothing will’, alluding to the Heaths having had to engrave a second die after the first one was deemed too light.

All other documents available support the case for Frederick. We find, for example, that Heath’s Christian name is not mentioned in the contract of January 1840, which states ‘…by the said Act they are also authorised for printing (…) said Stamps and have approved of a design for such Stamps, the same being a fine steel plate Engraving by Heath…’. The well-known art historian, known for his thorough research of artists, writes in Notes and Queries of 1884 that ‘…as he feared his eyesight was not good enough for such fine work, he (i.e. Charles) handed it over to his son Frederick…’.

Frederick’s work is referred to in two letters from Perkins Bacon. One is written to Frederick himself, in 1870, in which Frederick is asked for a new engraving for the halfpenny stamp, asking for the queen’s head to be ‘slightly reduced from that you formerly engraved’. This is obviously a reference to his portrait done for the Penny Black. A second letter, written by Perkins Bacon to the Board of Inland Revenue in May 1878, mentions the recent passing of the artist who engraved the Queen’s head on the postage stamp, which can only be a reference to Frederick, who had passed away in April 1878.


All in all, it becomes clear that Charles was closely involved, in a supervisory role, as was often the case in those days when he took on any type of engraving work, but that it must have been Frederick who has done the actual engraving. The existing documents refer to it, contemporary figures and family members confirm it, as do the various proofs with annotations to that effect.

“Elementary”, said he…

This article was first published in Gibbons Stamp Monthly in August 2019 and is reproduced here with their kind permission.