by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)
In 1989 the National Postal Museum (a predecessor of the BPMA) received a collection which has since been known as the Wilkinson Collection, named after the original collector, Ian Wilkinson. Since the Collection entered the Museum it has been somewhat sidelined, until now. Over the next few weeks and months I will be cataloguing the Wilkinson Collection, but due to the large number of objects in the Collection (estimated at 3,000!) this could take some time. In the meantime I will be writing a series of these blogs, highlighting different aspects of the collection and keeping you up-to-date on progress. When the project is completed the entire Collection will be available on the BPMA’s online catalogue for all to see.
The Wilkinson Collection could be surmised as ‘any object with a letterbox on it’, but it is so much more than this. It covers such a range of material and events that, whatever your interest, there is probably something that will prompt a smile or a memory; whether it is a model china letter box celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, the Dinky Toys you played with as a child and now treasure as an adult, or, as in my case, the Postman Pat stories and games that still prompt a rendition of the theme tune. The Wilkinson Collection is also possibly one of the largest collections of letter box material in the country.
Ian Wilkinson began collecting when he was a small boy, being attracted by anything from stamps to Dinky Toys. Unfortunately, his childhood collection was destroyed during a bombing raid in World War Two and he did not resume serious collecting until the 1960s, when a shop proprietor agreed to look out for any items related to Chesham (where Wilkinson lived). The first item purchased as a result of this agreement was a small tin money box shaped like a letter box, similar to one Wilkinson had had as a boy. From this object an entire collection spread and grew and, in 1976, Wilkinson and fellow collectors formed The Letter Box Study Group, which is still going strong with around 800 members.
The Wilkinson Collection shows how collecting can be an exciting and strange experience. It can lead in many different directions, both for the collection and the collector. Maybe it will encourage others to start their own collections. In future blogs I shall be focussing on how once a collection enters a museum, another phase of its life begins.
To find out more about The Letter Box Study Group visit their website at www.lbsg.org.
 ‘The Wilkinson Collection’ in National Postal Museum’s The Philatelic Year 1989, ed. Douglas Muir, p.11.