The portrait of Queen Victoria which had been used for Queensland’s first stamps in 1860 was based on Alfred Chalon’s fine watercolour of 1837, depicting her as an elegant 18-year-old Princess during her first royal engagement, the State Opening of Parliament.

The recess-printed issue was a fine opener for the colony, and showing the Queen looking so youthful, even though she was by now in her 40s, was understandable flattery.

Few, however, could have anticipated that stamps bearing this portrait would still have postal validity after she had died of old age!

The ‘Small Chalons’ of 1860 ruled the roost for 19 years and became a symbol of Queensland.

When a new image was introduced in 1879 for the low values, based on William Wyon’s equally famous portrait, it was perfectly serviceable, but it lacked the grandeur of the old design, not helped by being printed using typography.

Queenslanders hankered after the iconic Chalon head, and within three years it was back, with a flourish.

In 1882 a re-engraving of the same portrait appeared for a new series of high values, ranging from 2s to £1. The format was larger, and even more spectacular than before.

Although the Queen was in reality now 63 years old and long since attired in widow’s weeds, this was if anything an even more vibrant image than its predecessor. This young lady seemed to be going to the ball, rather than the opening of Parliament.

The originators of the fresh look were Bradbury Wilkinson, and recess printing returned at the Government Printing Office in Brisbane.

The five values were initially printed on thin paper bearing the Crowned Q watermark, occurring twice sideways on each stamp.

In 1886 there was a switch to thick paper, but by 1895 thin paper was back once more for printings of the four highest values, now with a Crown Separate Above Q watermark.

There were subsequent printings as late as 1907-11, although the impact of the stamps became diluted as these later issues were printed in litho.

The ‘Large Chalon’ design not only outlived the Queen herself but saw Queensland to the end of its days as a separate colony.
Its beauty still shines through, as a reminder of the far-off day when the young Queen asked Alfred Chalon whether he was worried about the impact of a new invention called photography on the popularity of his painted portraits.

‘Why no, Madame,’ he is said to have replied. ‘Photography can never flatter!’