A signing ceremony for the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists takes place annually at the Philatelic Congress of Great Britain, and has done so, with the exception of the war years 1941-1945, at every Congress since.
An invitation to sign the Roll is regarded as the world's pre-eminent philatelic honour. 356 philatelists from 40 countries have achieved this distinction. There are at present 76 living Signatories from 24 countries.
The Board of Election is composed of eight Signatories to the Roll, of whom four must reside in the United Kingdom. The Secretary is the Keeper of the Roll, and the Board meets annually to consider nominations and agrees the names of new signatories, which are at its absolute discretion.
Nominations may be submitted only by:
Those nominating should note that an invitation to sign the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists is a singular honour and for nominations to be successful candidates need to be of commensurate distinction.
A: Election to the Roll shall be effected in the manner set out hereafter.
B: The Board shall in its absolute discretion determine each year the number and names of eminent philatelists, irrespective of their countries of origin or domicile, whose names shall be recorded on the Roll in that year and who shall be invited to sign the Roll.
C: Nominations of a philatelist deemed worthy of signing the Roll may be made annually by:
D: A special Form of Nomination for election is obligatory.
E: The Honorary Secretary to the Board shall provide a Nomination Form annually to all Distinguished Philatelists and to all affiliated Societies, Federations and Associations overseas. Affiliated Societies, Federations and Associations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland will if desired apply to the Honorary Secretary for a copy of the Nomination Form in time for, it to be completed and returned to him by the end of the calendar year.
F: Nominations on the prescribed forms must be accompanied by a full and adequate statement of the status and qualifications of the philatelist so nominated and this information shall be at the disposal of the Board of Election hereinbefore constituted. The consent of the philatelist to the nomination shall be shown on the Nomination Form.
G: The qualifications for the honour of being elected to sign the Roll are:
The services to be considered by the Board shall be (inter alia)
Information under all the foregoing headings is essential to enable the merits of each nomination to be fully considered by the Board.
Philatelists who have been placed on the list for election shall remain thereon for four years during which time they will be considered at the annual Meetings of the Board. Nominations will lapse at the end of four years unless previously renewed on the prescribed Form but new nominations for the same person will then be accepted.
Although over three hundred and fifty philatelists have been invited to sign the Roll since 1921, they represent but a few of the many who have been eligible. How, then, do the fortunate ones become elected?
Election is solely by merit - that is, the ability, in the opinion of the Board of Election to meet the requirements laid down in the Rules Governing the Election of Distinguished Philatelists shown above.
In accordance with these Rules, candidates may be recommended from all parts of the world. There is no special pleading for a philatelist from the United Kingdom, who, like the others, must stand or fall on his or her merit. Professionalism is no bar to election and over 10% of the signatories have used philately as their major source of livelihood. There is no requirement for the Board of Election to elect a specific number of RDPs in any given year, and nothing is done deliberately to increase the number of different nationalities represented on the Roll. Nor is anything done deliberately to spread the honour evenly between the various disciplines of present - day philately. Provided they satisfy the Rules the philatelists invited to sign the Roll in any one year might well all be postal historians or, indeed, thematic collectors. As the years go by any changing pattern in international collecting will be reflected automatically by the names on the Roll.
The Board of Election does not regard election as a reward for old age, but rather as an incentive for a distinguished philatelist to continue his or her stalwart efforts for the good of the hobby with even more vigour.
At a meeting of the London Stamp Club on 30th October 1919, Percy Cooke Bishop (1875-1959) proposed a scheme for rewarding and paying honour to those who had worked for the advancement of the hobby of stamp collecting. He accepted that some Societies awarded Medals and cited the Lindenburg Medal, but there should, he thought, be some world-wide recognition for those whose research had helped to place, and was keeping, philately on the high pedestal it presently occupied. To this end Bishop suggested a Philatelic Order of Merit - to be an award of no intrinsic value but marked by a suitably designed Diploma.
In the issue of Stamp Collecting for 24th November 1919 the proposal was re-iterated with some amplification. The Order of Philatelic Merit was intended to be awarded to collectors and dealers alike and there would be no expenses or fees attached. There would be no posthumous awards. It advised that a Council of distinguished philatelists had been formed and it was hoped that an announcement concerning its deliberations could be made in the near future.
On 13th December 1919 the magazine carried an illustration of the Diploma which had been designed and printed in two colours by Messrs Butler and Co. of St Leonards-on-Sea.
A proof of the Diploma was shown at the London Stamp Club meeting held on 15th January 1920.
On 18th March 1920 Francis Hugh Vallancey, (1879-1950) President of the London Stamp Club was able to report on the work of the Jury. The Constitution of the Order had been defined, and the first list of awards announced.
Two months after the awards had been made Stamp Collecting reported without amplification that the Order of Philatelic Merit was to be an important item on the Agenda of the 7th Philatelic Congress of Great Britain to be held at Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 25th to 28th May 1920.
An award entitled Order of Philatelic Merit had encountered much adverse criticism as it might appear to be imitating the various honourable Orders which were the prerogative of the Crown, and it was proposed to abandon this title.
The Permanent Executive Committee of Congress met on 15th June 1920 and in connection with the Award of Philatelic Merit resolved "that the twenty-five names to whom the Award had already been made should be accepted as worthy recipients without question by this Committee". These were:
P J Anderson (United Kingdom)
Dr Justus Anderssen (Norway)
Edward D Bacon (United Kingdom)
A T Bate (New Zealand)
W Doming Beckton (United Kingdom)
Dr Carroll Chase (United States)
A B Creeke (United Kingdom)
Dr Emilio Diena (Italy)
Rev R B Earee (United Kingdom)
Major E B Evans (United Kingdom)
L Hanciau (Belgium)
H L Hayman (United Kingdom)
C A Howes (United States)
W R Lane-Joynt (United Kingdom)
Umejiro Kimura (Japan)
John N Luff (United States)
Charles J Phillips (United Kingdom)
B W H Poole (United States)
W C Renouf (India)
W R Ricketts (United States)
Baron A de Reuterskiöld (Switzerland)
Charles E Severn (United States)
Emil Tamsen (South Africa)
R B Yardley (United Kingdom)
A F Basset Hull (Australia)
At the 8th Philatelic Congress of Great Britain, held at Harrogate from 3rd until 6th May 192 I, the Permanent Executive Committee was able to report the establishment of a "Roll of Distinguished Philatelists" and a scheme to govern the administration of such a Roll. Those who had made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of philately would be invited to sign the Roll and would be presented with a Letter of Thanks at Congress.
Not only was the Roll presented as a fait accompli but the Committee was able to announce "with feelings of pride and satisfaction" that His Most Gracious Majesty King George V had been pleased to permit his name to appear at the head of the Roll.
An intimation that they would be invited to sign the Roll had been sent to the philatelists who had been named at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Congress (with the exception of A B Creeke, who seems to have been overlooked) and the Committee recommended that the following additional philatelists should be similarly honoured without question or discussion:
Percy C Bishop (United Kingdom)
L W Fulcher (United Kingdom)
Hugo Griebert (United Kingdom)
T W Hall (United Kingdom)
David J Hill (Australia)
J N Marsden (United Kingdom)
F J Melville (United Kingdom)
C L Pack (United States)
P L Pemberton (United Kingdom)
John Walker (United Kingdom)
A J Warren (United Kingdom)
H W Wescott (United Kingdom)
Sir Charles Stewart-Wilson (United Kingdom)
Anthony de Worms (United Kingdom)
Commander F H Napier RN (United Kingdom)