Monthly Archives: October 2009

New Director for the BPMA

Dr Adrian Steel

Dr Adrian Steel

Dr Adrian Steel has been appointed as the new Director of The British Postal Museum & Archive with immediate effect. The Director will be responsible for the leadership and the strategic development and direction of the BPMA.

Brian Goodey, chairman of the Trustees of the BPMA said today “We are delighted that Adrian has taken on the role of Director. The BPMA is entering a challenging period that includes its planned move to Swindon and Adrian has very successfully led that project from the beginning.”

Dr Steel commented: “I’m delighted to be taking up the challenge of leading the BPMA in its next stage of development, building on the foundations of Tony Conder. With interest in the postal service and its heritage currently greater than ever, the next stage of our new centre’s development and fundraising to plan for, and the 2010 Festival of Stamps set to inspire the expert and the general public alike, I have plenty to do, and plenty to look forward to.”

Adrian has been with the BPMA, and its predecessor Royal Mail Heritage, since 2003. He has been Catalogue Manager, covered the post of Head of Archives and Records Management during maternity leave, and has led the BPMA’s project to create a new centre for its museum and archive collections since 2006. Following the retirement of Tony Conder in April 2009, he has been acting Chief Executive Officer.

Prior to joining BPMA, Adrian worked at the London Metropolitan Archives, Reuters Archive and the Wellcome Trust, where he was based in a project working with the archive of the Wellcome Foundation pharmaceutical firm. Adrian has a PhD in history from the University of London, where he studied party politics in the Greater London area in the 1920s. He has an MA in Archives and Records Management from University College London  and has been a Registered Member of the Society of Archivists (RMSA) since 2001.

The Post Office during the First World War

The fourth in our series of podcasts is now available and features researcher Peter Sutton speaking about the Post Office during the First World War. This talk was recorded at the Churchill Museum & Cabinet War Rooms in March as part of the exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War, which is still on a national tour.

War Graves Cemetery, The Somme as seen on a stamp in 1999

War Graves Cemetery, The Somme as seen on a stamp in 1999

At the start of 1914 the General Post Office was one of the largest employers in the world, with a workforce of more than a quarter of a million, but the Great War had a significant impact on the service. Many postal workers left to serve on the front, either as fighting men or as part of army postal and telegraph services. With its workforce massively depleted, the Post Office reduced services at home and employed women in large numbers for the first time. The Post Office also participated in a massive censorship operation and was involved in the mass distribution of items such as army recruitment forms, ration books and advertising material for war bonds.

These and many other aspects of World War 1 are covered in Peter Sutton’s talk, which can now be downloaded from http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast or iTunes.

Reds in the Bed

by Adrian Steel, Director and Acting CEO

2009 saw the 60th anniversary of the formal establishment of the Communist state in China. When it came in 1949, this added to a fear in the Western world that Communism was spreading and that its spread was inevitable. From the start of the Cold War, efforts were made to secure the United Kingdom against “the enemy within” and like many British organisations and businesses, the Post Office sought out any possible Communist infiltration intended to do it harm – the “reds in the bed”.

POST 121/357 in our archive details investigations into the communist activities of Post Office staff.

POST 121/357 in our archive details investigations into the communist activities of Post Office staff.

In fact the Post Office had its attention drawn to other potential troublemakers within its ranks by the British Government before Communism became its main focus. These were Irish Republican or Sinn Fein sympathisers, and when it is borne in mind that the Post Office covered the whole of the island of Ireland it is clear that there was a high chance it had Republican sympathisers among its staff. There were determined central efforts to look at this in the period prior to 1914, and according to records in The Royal Mail Archive between 1920 and 1922 (after the Easter Rising and during the Irish independence process) 15 staff were investigated for Republican sympathies. Only four of these were dismissed, and there was no case proven against the rest. During this same period, and against a background of industrial unrest only 10 staff were investigated for Communism, and of these three were dismissed. POST 121/357 gives the details.

Of interest is the fact that most enquiries were made as a result of police or intelligence service request. The report ‘Disloyalty in the Post Office’, written in secret in 1923, stated:

“The scope of the enquiry which it is possible to make in the cases brought under notice is usually restricted by some consideration or other. In the majority of instances the information is received from the police and is based on confidential reports from Police agents within the movement concerned. Any extensive enquiries in such cases by the Post Office might therefore result in the officer affected becoming suspicious of a leakage within the movement, and this might possibly militate against the agent’s further usefulness to the Police.” (POST 121/357, May 1923)

Evidence also shows that in 1931 “certain officers” were watched at the height of the financial crisis, under suspicion not only of Communist sympathies but also of tampering with Bankers’ mail. But it was in April 1948, with the “Reds in the Bed” scare at its height, that the Post Office Board considered “Fascists and Communists employed on Secret work” and how infiltration could be dealt with. In discussion the Director General told the board that:

“in fact the maintenance staff in London probably included a number of Communists… It was possibly fortunate that the aim was at present to prevent leakages of information rather than acts of sabotage. Sabotage of the telephone service was comparatively easy to anyone who knew his way about, and there had been one or two nasty cases in the last year or two – but unfortunately the culprits could never be traced.” (POST 69/38 meeting of 9 April 1948).

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opens

After several years work by our Curatorial team, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opened to the public yesterday. The launch of the Museum was the final stage in our project at Blists Hill Victorian Town, which saw the BPMA collaborate with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust to build a replica Victorian Post Office and a permanent exhibition exploring the history of the British postal service.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the post office.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the Post Office.

You can read all about the process of the project on this blog or by visiting our website. And for those unable to visit Blists Hills we have also produced an online version of the Post Office in the Community exhibition.

Below are some photos of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community, which is located above the Blists Hill Post Office.

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

Counter Services display

Counter Services display

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Delivering the Mail display

Delivering the Mail display

Letter Boxes display

Letter Boxes display

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

Changing Times display

Changing Times display

The first London Olympics stamps

Tomorrow Royal Mail is releasing the first ten of 30 1st class stamps which will be issued over the next three years in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The thirty stamps not only represent the 30th Olympiad but will showcase thirty different Olympic and Paralympic sports. Each stamp is designed by a different contemporary artist or illustrator, giving this issue a distinctive and modern look. 

The first of the London 2012 Olympics stamp issues

The first of the London 2012 Olympics stamp issues

But London 2012 is not London’s first Olympics and these are not Britain’s first Olympics stamps; London hosted the Games in both 1908 and 1948 (the only city apart from Athens to be awarded the Games three times) and a set of stamps was released to celebrate the 1948 Games (there were no 1908 Olympics stamps as commemoratives were not issued in Britain until 1924). Unfortunately we are unable to show pictures of the 1948 Olympics stamps, but we can tell you a little about them.

Four Olympics stamps were issued on 29th July 1948 (the day of the opening ceremony) in 2½d, 3d, 6d and 1/- denominations. The designers were S. D. Scott (of Waterlows stamp printers), Edmund Dulac, Percy Metcalfe and Abram Games. Scott’s 6d design was also selected for use on air letters, as it was suitable for both photogravure (stamp) and letterpress (air letter) printing.

The first day cover cancellations for the first London 2012 Olympics stamps

The first day cover cancellations for the first set of London 2012 Olympics stamps

A special slogan die bearing the impression of the Olympic rings set against a background of wavy obliterator lines was produced and a special stamp cancelling machine was installed at Wembley Stadium (the main Olympics venue). The Olympic rings slogan was used on all unregistered letters (provided they would pass through the machine) that were posted in specially-marked pillar boxes in the Wembley grounds or at the Olympics Games Post Office.

Overprints for use in Bahrain, Kuwait, Muscat, Morocco Agencies and Tangier were produced, but according to a press report of the time one of the Muscat overprints was faulty. On 11th August 1948 The Evening News reported that Mr J G Clive, managing director of a stamp wholesaler in Maidenhead, received an order of 9000 of the 1/- stamps overprinted 1 Rupee for Muscat. They arrived in 75 sheets of 120, and Mr Clive found that one sheet had a fault: the 1 Rupee overprint had been printed twice. Mr Clive told the Evening News that his find was worth at least £3,000 (more than £81,000 in today’s money).

In total 3.5 million sets of the 1948 Olympics issue were sold, earning the GPO £340,000 – and the stamps were much admired by the public and collectors. The magazine Stamp Collecting even published an anonymous poem on the subject in their issue dated 14th August 1948.

To the Very Refined Lady on the 1/- Olympic Stamp

Dedicated without permission, to the Postmaster General, by his humble and obedient servant a Member of the Public

She bounces on a weary world
Skittish, coy, and fat and forty.
Her wings askew, her hair is curled,
She hopes she’s looking rather naughty. 

Oh Whitehall, dashing, carefree, frisky.
How did you draw a dame so risqué?
Perhaps you wished to make us start
With admiration at your art-
Or was it just a double whisky?

References
POST 102/12 – Commemorative stamp issues, Channel Islands, Olympic Games and U K regional issues
POST 122/8232 – Postage stamps. Obliteration and sales to dealers etc.: philatelic revenue from new issues. Accountant General’s Department calculations on the Silver Wedding, Channel Islands and Olympics special issues

Wilkinson Secondary Collection and Issues of Disposal

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections) 

You may have noticed that since my last blog around 850 objects from the Wilkinson Collection have been added to our online catalogue. These are the objects that I have been cataloguing in the past months; however, these are not the full extent of the collection. In the case of the Wilkinson collection we thought that the sheer size of the collection meant that it was unlikely we would catalogue every single object. Moreover, as I have stressed throughout my blogs, the collection is very diverse and contains things that were often not directly relevant to our collecting policy. For this reason we decided to catalogue what we saw as the core of the Wilkinson collection, the model letter boxes and vehicles, which could also include some of the more ‘popular’ items such as the Postman Pat objects. Which begs the question, what have we done with the rest?

This Coronation Street tea-towel was disposed of as it is not directly relevant to the collection.

This Coronation Street tea-towel was disposed of as it is not directly relevant to the collection.

Over 1000 objects have been kept at what we are calling a ‘Secondary Collection’ level. These are objects which we do not consider are the ‘core’ of the collection, things that Ian Wilkinson began to collect later on in his life, rather than those objects that were the original inspiration for the collection. These include items such as mugs, plates, books, badges, key-rings, and ephemera such as birthday and greeting cards. All of these objects have some reference to the postal world on them, even if it was sometimes a challenge to find them!

Information is still recorded about these objects, such as a description of the object (including any defining features), measurements and their present location. However, instead of cataloguing them on the database, this material is kept in the object history file and electronically on our computer system. As a result, if anyone does want to see any of the objects in the secondary collection we can initially provide them with information about the object and, if they want to, arrange for them to view the object itself. This system gives us as a museum much more flexibility. Whilst we will obviously still care for the objects to the same standard as if they were catalogued, we can be a little freer with their use. They can, and hopefully will, be used as a handling collection, and in education sessions, to give people a wider experience of museum objects without them or us worrying as much about damage or breakages.

A model letter box that has been disposed of due to it’s condition.

A model letter box that has been disposed of due to it’s condition.

As a result, the Secondary Collection not only includes those items that are less relevant but also some objects that fall into the core groups but are not in quite as good condition. Condition of an object is an important issue to consider when cataloguing objects. Some materials can deteriorate quickly and actually affect the condition of other objects as they do so. As a result, some objects, if they were severely damaged, or deteriorating and would continue to do so at a rapid pace, would not be catalogued and would instead be disposed of.

Throughout the museum sector there is a strong presumption against disposal. However, it is recognised that in some circumstances disposal is the sensible option for the benefit of the museum collection as a whole, as well as the individual object. In the past museums have often collected anything and everything without any clear idea of why or how they can benefit the museum. This has often led to problems of space and stretched resources. Nowadays, museums are much more aware of these problems and put in place measures to ensure that nothing is collected or kept that cannot be properly cared for, or might damage other objects in the collection.

The BPMA’s ‘Acquisition and Disposal’ policy states that ‘Material will not usually be acquired if identical, or significantly similar, items already exist in the Collections’ and that ‘Existing collections [eg. Wilkinson collection] will be subject to regular professional reviews to ensure they are in line with [this] current collecting policy.’

This letter box candle was disposed of as the material – wax – could be harmful to other objects in the collection.

This letter box candle was disposed of as the material – wax – could be harmful to other objects in the collection.

It is this review process that I have been carrying out as I have catalogued the Wilkinson Collection. Many of the objects in the collection were duplicated either within the Wilkinson Collection itself, or occasionally in the wider BPMA collection. When I found a duplicated object I would get both objects out of the store to compare their condition. If one was in a worse condition than the other, for example, in the case of the model letter boxes, if one was more scratched or the paint work was peeling, then I would put that object to one side to consult with the curator what the next step should be.

Once a decision had been made as to whether an object should be disposed of, all relevant information about the item is recorded: this includes a description of the object, whether copyright is known; measurements are taken and the object is photographed. All of this information is stored physically in the Wilkinson collection’s history file, and electronically on our computers, like the Secondary Collection. As you can see, the disposal process is very similar to the cataloguing one. This way, we still have a lot of the information about the object but the condition and/or material of the object is not a threat to the collection.

Barnett Freedman, Stephen Tallents and the making of the Jubilee Stamp

by Scott Anthony 

Historians often remember King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 as a jamboree, a day when the British collectively bunked off from the economic, political and social strife that beset the nation between the wars.

The Silver Jubilee stamp designed by Barnett Freedman was central to the popular celebrations. Philately played a large part in King George V’s popular appeal, and by an odd twist of fate Jubilee day fell on the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Penny Black. It was apt that King George’s Jubilee stamp would become one of a long 20th century line of everyday collectables.

Less appreciated now is Freedman’s extraordinary artistic ambition. Freedman’s design utilised then cutting-edge printing techniques to give the stamp something approaching a three dimensional texture, while his use of shading was designed to make it appear as if light was emanating from the King’s head. As well as a sentimental appeal, for contemporaries the stamp had an almost sci-fi attraction that attracted a degree of controversy.

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

“By taking full advantage of the photogravure process and getting a brilliance of effect hitherto unknown in our stamps”, sniffed The Manchester Guardian, “Freedman has sacrificed what is to some an essential quality of design.” In short, when it came to stamps, the newspaper critics of the day where stuck firmly in the flat earth camp.

However, the popular success of the Jubilee stamp marked an important step towards resurrecting the reputation of the lithograph. Artists like Freedman along with Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland believed that the lithograph enabled mass production while keeping the artist in close personal touch with his audience. Something of Freedman’s working methods can be seen in the GPO Film The King’s Stamp. As the rhetoric of the day went, “in the modern age good art should not be the exclusive property of museums”.

Under the direction of Sir Stephen Tallents, Britain’s first public relations officer, the General Post Office had similarly sought to imbue everyday objects with rare aesthetic value. From Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s Day Telegram to Giles Gilbert Scott’s Jubilee Telephone Kiosk to the bright bakelite phones Tallents placed in Victor Saville musicals, Freedman’s stamp was part of a wider upsurge of what might be best described as a brief moment of Civil Service idealism.

Tallents’ triumphant commissions had also finally secured Freedman’s public reputation. Born of Jewish Russian émigrés in the East End of London, Freedman had begun attending night school at St Martins aged 15, while by day working on the design of tombstones (for a stone mason) and then war memorials (for an architect). After winning a London County Council arts scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, Freedman eeked out an existence teaching and designing book covers. Notable successes included Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoir of an Infantryman and several books by Tallents’ friend Walter de la Mere. Indeed, Freedman would later design the Tallents family Christmas card.

The Post Office’s commissions brought Freedman’s methods to a mass national audience and secured the 33 year-old employment from the most far-sighted and prestigious corporate sponsors of modern art in 1930s Britain; London Transport, Shell and Crawford’s advertising agency. Freedman’s exacting style now playfully emphasised the importance of road safety, modern agricultural methods and the importance of beer drinking to sporting success. He also found minor celebrity as the violin player providing the musical accompaniment to William Simonds’ puppet show.

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

Most importantly, Tallents professional patronage sealed an ongoing personal relationship with Freedman. Both were part of a generation for whom the 1935 Jubilee was indeed a rare jamboree, as Britain was buffeted by successive wars and economic crisis. Post-war austerity required Freedman’s acceptance of an ever greater teaching load, the pressures of overwork, stress and relative poverty contributing to his untimely death at the age of 57.

Tallents and Freedman shared an interest in Alfred Stevens, a cult hero of British art typically held up at the time as a victim of Victorian vulgarity and short-sightedness. Amongst their last letters Tallents pointed out to Freedman that the flat (in Canning Place, Kensington) where he designed The Jubilee Stamp was adjacent to the one in which Stevens had designed his ill-fated Wellington monument.

It was a quirky and amused exchange, but Freedman could have been forgiven for thinking that not all the comparisons with the “British Michaelangelo from Blandford Forum” were entirely happy ones.

Many thanks to Jeremy Parrett at the Sir Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University for his assistance with this article.

Scott Anthony is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and author of the BFI Film Classic Night Mail. On 29th October he will be talking about the GPO’s patronage of art, design and film under Tallents at the BPMA.

Designs on Delivery launch

On Tuesday night we held a launch party for our exhibition Designs on Delivery, now open in the Well Gallery, London College of Communication.

Designs on Delivery exhibition

Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters 1930 to 1960

Posters on display as part of Designs on Delivery

Posters on display

Guests mingle at the launch

Guests mingle at the launch

Chairman of the BPMA Trustees Professor Brian Goodey opens the exhibition

Chairman of the BPMA Trustees Professor Brian Goodey opens the exhibition

Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in the School of Graphic Designs at Central St Martins, speaks

Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in the School of Graphic Designs at Central St Martins, speaks

To find out more about Designs on Delivery see our online exhibition.

Selling the Air Mail service

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

With the rapid development of Air Mail services from the 1920s onwards, the Post Office was faced with the challenge of marketing the concept to the British public. Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson, Director of Postal Services, summed up the problem in a lecture to the Post Office Telephone and Telegraph Society of London in November 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14): “the British user of the Postal service is extremely conservative” “it takes a long time and a considerable amount of persuasion to induce him to take up readily or on a large scale any new service” “what is essential in a new service such as this is to bring its advantages under the notice of those who are likely to use it”.

The question of appropriate publicity for the developing service was one of the major items for discussion by a specially appointed ‘Air Mail Committee’ at this time; as early as March 1930 Air Mail labels were issued in the three shilling stamp book, services were also advertised in a special leaflet and in the Post Office Daily List, but take up was slow.

Publicity ideas developed over time; a suggestion for the use of advertising posters on mail vans in December 1930 was dismissed as “undesirable” (POST 33/2912A file 16), but by 1933 a Post Office Circular dated 31 May (p 208) announced that a poster on the subject of air mail services was to be displayed on mail vans until the end of August (a copy of this poster can be found in POST 33/2912A file 22). The display of this poster tied in with the launch of a successful press campaign which helped to achieve a “growth of something like half a million Air Mail letters” (POST 50/24, p 14).

Building on this achievement, the newly formed Public Relations department produced a number of posters designed to sell the service, some of which can be seen in the exhibition: Designs on delivery: GPO posters from 1930 to 1960.
 
Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson suggested back in 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14) that it would be a good idea to “familiarise the youthful mind with the possibilities of air services”; accordingly two key posters from the 1930s were produced for use in schools. One of these formed part of a series on the theme of ‘Overseas Communications’, it shows airmails for the empire being loaded at Croydon in 1934 (PRD 142, POST 110/3174C).

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

The second displays a map of ‘Air Mail routes’ and was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer in 1937 (PRD 146, POST 110/3177). 

Airmail routes

Airmail routes designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer was also responsible for designing a poster to be displayed in Post Offices in 1935; this poster emphasised the speed of the service (PRD 111, POST 110/2488).

Quickest Way by Air

Quickest Way by Air

Another poster introduced in this year, designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott, showed the upward trend in air mail traffic between the years 1927 and 1933 (PRD 78, POST 110/2487).

Into the Air

Into the Air

Posters for display on mail vans were also produced along with a series of leaflets publicising the expansion of available services; these were meant to further stimulate the appetite of a public, who were increasingly excited by the prospect of a more speedy service for their overseas mail.

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Speed the Air Mails

Speed the Air Mails

South African Air Mail

South African Air Mail

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Designs on Delivery
Well Gallery, London College of Communication
7th October to 4th November
- Online ExhibitionFlickrArchives Hub -  The Guardian

40th Anniversary of the Post Office Act 1969

On Tuesday 13th October we will be welcoming author and historian Duncan Campbell-Smith to the BPMA to deliver a talk on the Post Office Act 1969. Duncan Campbell-Smith is well placed to speak on this topic as he is currently researching an authorised history of the British Post Office, due to be published in 2011.

The logo of the General Post Office

The logo of the General Post Office

The Post Office Act 1969 brought about one of the most momentous changes to the Post Office since Charles I allowed his subjects to use the postal service (or Royal Mail) in 1635. The 1969 Act meant that the General Post Office ceased to be a government department and became a statutory corporation. The office of Postmaster General was replaced by a Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and the word “General” was dropped from the organisation’s name. At the same time telecommunications were split from postal services, resulting in two separate entities with two separate budgets – Post Office Telecommunications and the Post Office – allowing each organisation to focus on its area of specialty.

Over the next four decades there were further structural and names changes, one of the most significant being that in 1981 postal and telecommunications services were separated entirely, resulting in British Telecommunications and Royal Mail (responsible for post and parcels, Post Office counters and National Giro). This complicated business history and the reasons behind it will no doubt be fully examined in both Duncan Campbell-Smith’s talk on the Post Office Act 1969 and his upcoming book.

To book for the talk 40th Anniversary of the Post Office Act 1969 please see our website.