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1986  Halley’s Comet set

The last visit of Halley’s Comet was commemorated by a multitude of stamps from around the world. The Great Britain set, designed by the cartoonist Ralph Steadman and released in February 1986, a month before Giotto’s encounter with the Comet, is visually strong and ranks artistically among the best of all the Halley sets.

My favourite is the 17p stamp which depicts a bewigged Edmond Halley looking much like his Comet. The 22p stamp shows Giotto approaching the “dirty snowball” nucleus of the Comet while the 31p stamp reminds us that some people may be lucky enough to see Halley’s Comet twice in their lifetime. On the 34p stamp, the Comet is seen rounding the Sun and brightening as it passes perihelion.

Stanley Gibbons nos. 1312–1315

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1986  Halley’s Comet set (Jersey)

The Channel Island of Jersey also issued a set of its own to commemorate the return of Halley’s Comet. Each of the three stamps, designed by Jennifer Toombs, depicts past appearances of the Comet along with contemporary scenes. At the top left of each stamp are two dates in which the Comet was seen along with the caption “Years of the Comet”.

The 10p stamp bears the years 912 and 1066 and features King Harold, William of Normandy, and the Comet, all from the Bayeux Tapestry.

There is a complex story behind the events recalled on the 22p stamp, which relate to the years 1301 and 1682. Shown at her writing desk is Lady Elizabeth Carteret, widow of the governor of New Jersey Sir George Carteret, who came from Jersey itself. In 1682 Lady Carteret sold eastern New Jersey to William Penn and others. The map of the Atlantic Ocean in the background symbolizes the Jersey/New Jersey link. Lady Carteret apparently had links with Edmond Halley, shown observing the Comet in 1682. The cometary image above him is based on the one in the painting Adoration of the Magi by the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone, which may have been inspired by the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1301.

The 31p stamp bears the years 1910 and 1986 and shows the Comet as photographed in 1910 with the Giotto probe superimposed. The main body of the stamp illustrates aspects of transport and communications in 1910 and 1986 within the frame of a TV screen.

Stanley Gibbons nos. 383–385