Beningfield’s Butterflies on Stamps

There is a timely seasonal theme over at See it on a Postcard today for Sunday Stamps. The weekly theme is left open to interpretation, so I have chosen this set of commemorative GB stamps from my childhood collection featuring British Butterflies for the theme of summer. While butterflies are active all year round, with some species even living through the winter months by either hibernating or flying to warmer climes, summer is traditionally regarded as the peak butterfly season.

British Butterflies
British Butterflies – 1981

This charming set was issued by the Royal Mail on 13 May 1981, and I am presenting them to you here exactly as mounted in my loose-leaf stamp album: a set of four mint, uncirculated stamps, in clear fronted, black Hawid stamp mounts.

All four stamps were designed by English wildlife artist and naturalist Gordon Beningfield (1936-1998), who had notably published an art book – Beningfield’s Butterflies – in 1974. Benington would go on to design yet another insect-themed set four years later in 1985, depicting more British insects.

The butterflies featured on the stamps were both common and nearing extinction back in 1981:

  • 14p: Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
  • 18p: Large Blue (Maculinea arion)
  • 22p: Peacock (Inachis io)
  • 25p: Chequered Skipper (Carteroephalus palaemon)

According to the presentation pack in 1981:

both the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies are still common and may be seen in parks and gardens in late summer and also in spring”.

Presentation Pack, 1981

A quick check online tells me that while the Peacock is still a relatively common butterfly, seen in many European parks and gardens, the Small Tortoiseshell, a ubiquitous presence in gardens and parkland during my childhood, would now seem to be in very rapid and perplexing decline in Western Europe.

The Large Blue butterfly was first recorded in Britain in 1795, declared extinct there in 1979, but reintroduced as part of conservation methods, and is now listed as Endangered in the European Red List.

As for the Chequered Skipper, it was described in the presentation pack as:

a pretty little woodland butterfly which used to occur in central counties of England but has not been seen in recent years.  It may still be found in a number of places in western Scotland, and it is hoped that the English colony still survives or can be re-established.”

Presentation Pack, 1981

A quick search on Wikipedia tells me that the fate of the Chequered Skipper in the British Isles has not improved greatly, alas. The once abundant numbers decreased dramatically, and it is still only seen predominantly in western Scotland.

Do go visit See it on a Postcard for more summer-themed Sunday Stamps!

5 replies on “Beningfield’s Butterflies on Stamps”

I must say butterflies aren’t my first thougth when I hear “summer”. We have more bothering small animals around here!

But these stamps are a perfect choice, with its colourful illustrations.

The first butterfly seen is always a year marker for me although it happened to be not one of these. Lovely set. I seem to remember they were going to reintroduce the checked skipper in a forest somewhere. Meanwhile we will just have to get by with the dingy skipper instead, a much duller chap.

I have never seen a large blue or a chequered skipper. I do have Benningfled’s book of poetry about the countryside.

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