Monthly Archives: August 2010

A weekend at Bletchley

Several BPMA staff and Friends had a very enjoyable two days at Bletchley Park over the Bank Holiday weekend.  We were there as part of the Post Office at War weekend, an event organised as part of the London 2010 Festival of Stamps.

BPMA Friend Richard West and Exhibitions Officer Alison Norris staff the BPMA table

BPMA Friend Richard West and Exhibitions Officer Alison Norris staff the BPMA table

The BPMA had a table where we could meet visitors to Bletchley Park and let them know about the BPMA and its collections. Several of the BPMA Friends made a much valued contribution, helping to promote us and sharing their personal expertise on a number of different topics with visitors. 

They also helped us sell a variety of BPMA products, including books and postcards.  The new Shire Post Offices book by our curator, Julian Stray, was particularly sought after, selling out on the second day.

Some of the creative designs for stamps

Some of the creative designs for stamps

Our activities for younger visitors proved very popular, particularly designing your own stamp and making secret codes.

Curator Vyki Sparkes gave a well received talk about the vital and difficult work of the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad during the Second World War.  They salvage squad had the responsibility of rescuing mail from pillar boxes that had been damaged or buried by enemy air raids.

Visitors enjoying the BPMA display

Visitors enjoying the BPMA display

It was standing room only in the cinema at Bletchley Park where films were being shown from our third collection of GPO films – If War Should Come.  We also took a graphic display of ten panels illustrating the essential work of the GPO on the home front during the Second World War.

1940s postman, complete with authentic bicycle

1940s postman, complete with authentic bicycle

There was much else going on during the weekend including tours, WW2 re-enactors, several other talks (including Christine Earle’s ‘The Post Office Went to War’) some rarely seen items from the Royal Philatelic Collection and other children’s activities, including letter writing and games with a former evacuee.

Bletchley Park is well worth a visit and your ticket allows admission for a whole year.

The Notting Hill Carnival on stamps

The Notting Hill Carnival takes place this Sunday and Monday in West London. Carnival was originally staged in 1959 as a response to the state of race relations in Britain at that time. A decade earlier immigrants from the Caribbean began to arrive in large numbers to fill post-war labour shortages, but this caused resentment amongst some white Britons. Throughout the 1950s white racists and West Indian immigrants clashed, with riots taking place in Notting Hill for four days and nights during the Bank Holiday weekend in 1958.

Four stamps issued in 1998 commemorating the Notting Hill Carnival

Four stamps issued in 1998 commemorating the Notting Hill Carnival

Claudia Jones appeared on a stamp as part of the Women of Distinction issue, 2008

Claudia Jones appeared on a stamp as part of the Women of Distinction issue, 2008

In response, Claudia Jones, a Trindad-born, New York-raised black activist and political campaigner, decided to organise a festival through which white and black Britons could understand each other’s cultures. Originally called Mardi Gras and staged in St Pancras Town Hall, the event moved to the streets of Notting Hill in 1964.

Carnival showcases the music and performance culture of the Caribbean, and in particular that of Trinidad & Tobago. Local African-Caribbean groups form carnival bands and play mas (or masquerade) through the streets of Notting Hill, accompanied by music.

Special First Day of Issue Postmarks which accompanied the Notting Hill Carnival stamps. They show Djembe drums and a Steel drum

Special First Day of Issue Postmarks which accompanied the Notting Hill Carnival stamps. They show Djembe drums and a Steel drum

According to the website of Fox Carnival Band, mas is a performance tradition which dates from the time of slavery:

For the six weeks of the European Carnival, slaves were permitted to dress up and play musical instruments – and they developed clever ways to satirize both their condition and its perpetrators.

Because of this history, the mas is flavoured by memories and traditions from Africa. But it also incorporates elements from Western celebrations, such as Christmas, that African slaves encountered. When East Indians were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers, they too imported their own cultural ingredients.

The sources for our modern mas have come from all over the world! Therefore, playing mas involves different kinds of celebration. Historically, it commemorates the liberation from slavery. Today it celebrates our multi-racial, multi-cultural world. Playing mas also honours both teamwork and self-expression.

To play mas, bands of people don costumes or paint their bodies. They dance in the streets to the musics of calypso, soca, reggae and sound systems. The biggest mas bands offer lavish presentations, each of which revolves around a chosen theme. A mas may celebrate heroic feats from history, offer satire or make political commentary. Or it may simply try to be the most beautiful.

Trinidad Carnival Dancers on a stamp issued to commemorate the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965. (Designers: David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease)

Trinidad Carnival Dancers on a stamp issued to commemorate the Commonwealth Arts Festival, 1965. (Designers: David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease)

Claudia Jones died in 1964 but her work in creating greater understanding between native and immigrant cultures in Britain was a resounding success. Carnival is now one of the biggest events held in Europe, attracting more than a million visitors each year.

Edward McKnight Kauffer – Outposts of Britain

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890 – 1954) was one of the most significant designers of the 20th century, noted for a unique style which embraced a number of different influences and techniques: his work drew on impressionism, cubism and vorticism amongst a number of other movements and ideas. Kauffer was one of the leading exponents of what became known as graphic design, combining typography, abstraction and photographic elements, and utilising techniques like photomontage and airbrushing in his designs.

Outposts of Britain - Posting box at Lands End

Born in Great Falls, Montana, USA, he moved to San Francisco where he studied at art school in the evenings. Eventually his paintings caught the attention of Joseph McKnight, a professor at Utah University, who offered to sponsor him – Kauffer took the middle name of ‘McKnight’ as a mark of gratitude. He studied at the Academie Moderne in Paris before moving to London at the start of the First World War where he produced successful posters for, amongst others, the GPO (General Post Office), London Transport, and Shell, and in 1924 wrote a book, The Art of the Poster. He was also one of 20 artists invited to submit designs for the 1940 stamp centenary issue, but declined, due to the pressure of other obligations. Moving to New York at the onset of the Second World War, he was commissioned by MOMA and American Airlines as well as several institutional clients; and continued to work up until his death in 1954.

Outposts of Britain - A postman in the pool of London

Amongst the posters he produced for the GPO, the 1937 series of educational posters entitled ‘Outposts of Britain’ are probably the most well-known, each poster focussing on a different region of Britain to demonstrate how the postal service could traverse distance to deliver the mail. The posters combine black and white photographs with bright painted elements – a first in GPO poster design – and also include typography as a key component of the overall image. They were created as part of a free posters for schools scheme, which also included designs by Harold Sandys Williamson, John Armstrong, and John Vickery, and their issue was publicised in the Post Office Circular of October 1937.

Outposts of Britain - A postman in northern Scotland

Ever popular, all four posters in the ‘Outposts of Britain’ series are now available to purchase as prints on our poster website.

Outposts of Britain - A postman in Northern Ireland

The National Philatelic Society Library at the BPMA

by Mike Bramwell, Hon NPS Librarian

National Philatelic Society LibraryObservant visitors to the Search Room at the British Postal Museum & Archive will have noticed that the classification labels on the books round the walls change from numerical to alphabetic in the corner of the room near the microfiche viewers.  This is where books from the BPMA Library meet items from the NPS Library.  In the Search Room are four bays holding our general and specialised stamp catalogues and our books on Great Britain and Commonwealth philately.  Work has been going on to reduce the inevitable duplication of the stock belonging to the two libraries held in the Search Room.  There is also a bay where we keep over 150 current volumes of philatelic journals in both English and a range of foreign languages.  These items can be used by all visitors to the BPMA, although only NPS members can borrow them.

National Philatelic Society LibraryIn fact the whole of the NPS Library occupies nearly a quarter of a mile of shelving in two sites, each with two locations.  The two libraries are complementary to each other, although both have substantial holdings of books and journals on British philately. 

Behind the scenes, in another room in the Mount Pleasant complex we have the remainder of our books, which total more than 7500 and runs of English language journals going back some 20 years shelved in rolling stacks. 

National Philatelic Society LibraryThe remainder of our material, which is in fact by far the larger part, is stored in our out of town depository near Wokingham.  The older journals, both English and foreign language, are kept in what was the Coach House of farm specialising in Race horses.  Our material relating to philatelic exhibitions together with extensive holdings of auction catalogues from the major British auction houses and bureau material, i.e. the descriptive leaflets produced by stamp issuing countries which describe new stamps in detail are kept in a barn in the same site.

The library is staffed by volunteers between 11am and 3pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and we will be pleased to talk to visitors to Freeling House, although that will sometimes require a phone call to the ‘stack room’.

Great British Railways

Are trains and railways the most covered topic on British commemorative stamps? A survey of the topic certainly suggests as much. We counted 19 British stamp issues which feature something related to the railways – toy trains, famous trains, railway stations and infrastructure, the invention of steam power and the locomotive, even a pub sign with a train on it. Now a 20th issue – Great British Railways – can join the list.

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways, issued today, celebrates the ‘Big Four’ railway companies and features some of the classic locomotives manufactured and used in the UK. The stamps also mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the last UK steam locomotive, British Rail’s Evening Star.

By the end of the 19th century, numerous private railway companies competed fiercely across the British Isles, but by 1923, with profits waning due to the increasing competition from cars, buses and lorries, over 120 private railway companies were merged into the Big Four.

These comprised of the London, Midland & Scottish (including the Northern Counties Committee in Northern Ireland), the London & North Eastern, the Great Western – which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year – and the Southern Railways.

After the Second World War the Big Four became British Railways in 1948, and in March 1960, Evening Star brought to an end over 130 years of steam-locomotive building for Britain’s mainline railways, leaving Swindon Works in a blaze of publicity in 1960.

The nostalgia for classic locomotives and trains perhaps explains why the railways have featured so frequently on stamps, along with the historic importance of the railway network to the British postal service. Below are some of the best-known British stamp issues to feature trains, which is your favourite?

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975. This issue came about partly as a result of interest amongst philatelists and railway enthusiasts for a set of stamps featuring trains.

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980. Designed by David Gentleman, these stamps commemorate the world’s first timetabled intercity railway.

Famous Trains, 1985

Famous Trains, 1985. This set was issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway Company.

The Age of Steam, 1994.

The Age of Steam, 1994. A celebration of the railways using archival black and white photographs.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Classic Locomotives, 2004

Classic Locomotives, 2004. These stamps commemorate some of the UK’s finest preserved steam locomotives.

The Great British Railways stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps & Collecting.

80 years of the airmail etiquette

Airmail etiquettes reading “By Air Mail / Par Avion” were first used in Britain in mid-August 1920, making them 80 years old this month. Their introduction came less than a year after the first international scheduled public airmail service, from London to Paris, started and almost exactly two years after the French had first applied airmail etiquettes reading “Par Avion” to their airmails, on the inaugural Paris to Saint-Nazaire flight.

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Before the airmail etiquette was introduced in Britain senders would hand write “By Air Mail” on their letters, or a cachet reading “Air Mail Express” would be applied. But the French model of etiquettes, to be attached by the sender, was a more efficient option.

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

The first British airmail etiquettes were light blue in colour, while the first French airmail etiquettes had black text on a dark red background, but at the 1929 Postal Union Congress it was agreed that airmail etiquettes from all nations would be blue.

By the 1930s it was also common practice to include “Par Avion” or “By Air Mail” – or both – on an airmail etiquette, with some countries including up to four languages on theirs. “Par Avion” was added to British airmail etiquettes by 1928, as can be seen on this commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi in 1929.

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

The airmail etiquette also became a way of advertising the airmail service, which was being heavily promoted by the Post Office in the 1930s. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s airmail wings, prominent on airmail publicity at this time, even appeared on the etiquettes of the period.

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

What is perhaps most notable about the airmail etiquette, 80 years on, is how little the design has changed. Today’s airmail etiquettes are still roughly the same shade of blue as in the 1920s, and the wording and design is also very similar – the greatest change has been in the technology, with most of today’s etiquettes being self-adhesive.

Bibliography
Etiquettes: Par Avion by Air Mail, by Frank G. Jones, 1992
George V & the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity, by Douglas N. Muir, 2010

The ‘Rescue Man’ and the ‘Danger Squad’: Frederick G. Gurr and the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad

This coming Bank Holiday Monday, Vyki Sparkes, Assistant Curator at the BPMA will give a short talk at Bletchley Park on a little known story of heroism and bravery: Frederick G. Gurr and the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. The talk is one of many activities taking place at Bletchley Park as part of the Post Office at War weekend.

During the Blitz in the Second World War the Salvage Squad were featured in newspapers, a radio broadcast, and Gurr, their overseer, was awarded the British Empire Medal by King George VI for his heroism. Despite these accolades, this small but important group fell into obscurity – until the recent discovery of a collection of scrapbooks and photographs in our museum collection.

A newspaper article in Gurr's scrapbook about the Salvage Squad meeting George VI

A newspaper article in Gurr's scrapbook about the Salvage Squad meeting George VI

Delayed by Enemy Action handstamp impression

Delayed by Enemy Action handstamp impression

Correspondence was of crucial importance during the Second World War, not only for military or governmental purposes but to maintain social morale. During the War, the Post Office’s intention was that no letter should be delayed more than 48 hours due to enemy action.

From 1940 with the continuous heavy bombardment of London, as well as other parts of the UK, this aim became even more challenging. Frederick G. Gurr, a postman close to retirement in the City of London, was concerned that ordinary Salvage squads did not recognise the importance of the mail, and set up the GPO Rescue and Salvage Squad. Their purpose: to rescue the mail, money and supplies from Post Offices and letterboxes bombed in the City of London. Gurr kept newspaper cuttings and photographs relating to the squad in a homemade scrapbook, all carefully annotated with his own handwritten accounts.

A newspaper article in the scrapbook showing how Gurr's team rescued £40,000 from a safe

A newspaper article in the scrapbook showing how Gurr's team rescued £40,000 from a safe

The talk at Bletchley Park will feature key moments of the 1940-41 Blitz, told through the pages of this scrapbook and accompanying photographs. All are welcome, and the talk is free, to those who have a valid entry ticket to Bletchley Park.

For those who cannot make it to the Bletchley event, Gurr’s wartime scrapbook is currently on display in the Treasures of the Archive exhibition, in our Search Room.