In 2016 it was 100 years since Agatha Christie completed her first novel - though publication would not occur for a further four years, and 40 years since her death. To mark both occasions the UK's Royal Mail issued a set of six stamps representing many of her best-known novels – Murder on the Orient Express, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Body in the Library, And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and A Murder is
In true Christie style each stamp, designed by Jim Sutherland and illustrated by Neil Webb, contained hidden elements relating to key scenes and principal characters from the Christie novels selected. Clues and features include a figure, half-hidden and wielding a knife, letters, the names of the suspects and Poirot himself. However, in arguably the most creative set of postage stamps ever designed, these clues are not solely small text or images that need a magnifying glass to find, but they also necessitate the use of body heat to expose hidden thermochromic ink, ultraviolet light to expose additional images and even an online app to animate a clue. Only through the collective use of all these techniques will the amateur sleuth be able to fully reveal all the hidden secrets. Lastly, the six stamps together are linked through six hidden miniature letters that can be used to form a single word of significance. Even the first day cover envelope had an additional secret contained within it.
At this point, you can either obtain a set of stamps and see what you can figure out on your own, or keep reading and all will be revealed on a stamp by stamp basis... so spoiler alert!
Stamp 1: Murder on The Orient Express:
This stamp requires body heat to activate the thermochromic ink and reveal a hidden secret.
· Use a finger to warm the curtain in the second window from the left to reveal a man with a dagger.
The other traditional clues and secrets, viewed with a magnifying glass, are as follows:
· The cloud of smoke billowing from the steam engine reveals a picture of Hercule Poirot, aided by the quarter moon as his eye.
· The names of all the possible murder suspects are written as the train's track at the foot of the stamp.
· On the sleeve of the man in the left window is the letter A.
Stamp 2: And Then There Were None:
This stamp has traditional clues and secrets viewed with a magnifying glass.
· The reflection of the quarter moon in the sea is depicted as the words to the rhyme used in the story (written upside down)
· The island in silhouette is the face of an individual looking up into the sky.
· The eye of the individual is the house on the island
· The house shows a window lit up in yellow with the silhouette of the mysterious person looking out. The reflection of this light in the water features the words ‘U.N. Owen’ in microtext.
· The other window in the house has the letter T in it.
Stamp 3: The Mysterious Affair at Styles:
Royal Mail developed an augmented reality feature for the The Mysterious Affair at Styles stamp which triggers a 3D animation. At the time of its launch this was done with the 'Aurasma' app (later HP Reveal). Sadly the app no longer exists, but there is a brief video on YouTube done by the Royal Mail that shows how the image became a 3D diorama. Click here to view it.
The traditional clues and secrets in the stamp are as follows:
· The parting of the curtains, aided by the two seated characters’ legs and the table cloth appear to show a skull
· The two figures in the picture represent Poirot and Hastings
· The bottle represents the poison used in the story
· Incredibly the whole stamp is reproduced in miniature as the label on the poison bottle!
· Enlarging the tea cup on the table reveals the letter G.
Stamp 4: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd:
This stamp requires the use of a magnifying glass to unravel the clues & secrets.
· The high-backed chair presents itself with a shadow holding the murder weapon, a dagger.
· Roger Ackroyd is the character sitting in the chair; he is holding the suicide note from his fiancé which leads to his death and this can be read when turned upside down & magnified.
· The flames in the fire depict the face of Poirot.
· In the flaming image, Poirot's left eye is the letter H.
Stamp 5: The Body In The Library:
This stamp requires the use of a magnifying glass and an ultraviolet light to unravel the clues.
· The bookshelf lists the sixteen Christie book titles published prior to this book that involved Miss Marple.
· The first book on the left of the bookshelf, with no apparent book title, shows the letter A.
· The ribbon on the book on the table, along with the glasses and the hat, represent Miss Marple.
· The use of an ultraviolet light reveals a blue question mark between the arms of the outlined body.
Stamp 6: A Murder Is Announced:
This stamp requires the use of a magnifying glass and an ultraviolet light, to unravel the clues.
· The torch beam shining on the wall depicts the round face of a clock.
· The female character stands with her legs depicting the clock hands at 6.30 p.m.
· The female character holds a copy of The Chipping Gleghorn Gazette with the advertisement that was placed in the newspaper, readable when magnified.
· The use of an ultraviolet light reveals the hidden numbers on the face of the ‘clock’.
· The image at three o'clock is that of Miss Marple, with the letter A as the eye.
· The word ‘Switzerland’ appears in microtext on the little clock face that’s set at 6.30pm.
· A man holding the torch is also holding a gun which was used in the story.
The Hidden Letters:
A: Murder On The Orient Express.
T: And Then There Were None
G: Mysterious Affair At Styles.
H: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
A: The Body In The Library.
A: A Murder Is Announced.
I'll let the reader reassemble these letters to solve the final secret!
First Day Cover Envelope:
The bar code beneath the name read is actually compressed letters that when viewed obliquely and read from the right spells out "The Queen of Crime".
Values: The stamps were available to be purchased in different formats, as listed below with the original UK prices. Today prices are generally about double the original rate and can broadly be found on online sites and from numismatists:
1. Mint Stamps AS 2010 - £6.98
2. Stamp Souvenir pack AW034 - £8.80
3. First Day Cover pack* AF413 - £8.80
4. Presentation Pack AP422 - £7.50
5. Post Cards (six in pack) AQ241 – £2.70
6. First Day Envelope AE367 - £0.30
*: The First Day Cover pack was available with the cancellation stamp of the Talents House postmark, Poirot’s moustache, or Miss Marple’s hat. In addition, there are numerous cancellation stamps that are collectible for the first day envelopes, many with wonderful images.
There was also a limited edition (100 total) framed set signed by Mathew Pritchard: 2020 value: ~£50+
In the future, prices should remain firm and may offer minimal improvement as more people rediscover the uniqueness of these stamps. However, aside from the limited edition signed set production numbers would have been significant.