Monthly Archives: July 2011

Royal Mail’s exhibition sheet for Philanippon 2011

The Philanippon 2011 world stamp exhibition starts today in Yokohama, Japan. In celebration, Royal Mail have produced this delightful sheet featuring origami objects representing Japanese culture.

Philanippon Stamp Sheet

The designer of the sheet is David Kimpton, an independent designer formerly of Hat-trick. Hat-trick have worked on a number of recent Royal Mail stamp issues including The Royal Society 350 Years.

The sheet is printed in lithography by Cartor Security Print and features 20 Hello stamps.

Final Olympics stamps

The final set of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games stamps have been issued today, exactly one year before the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. This is the third set of ten London 2012 stamps issued by Royal Mail in the lead-up to the Games; previous sets of ten stamps were issued in 2009 and 2010.

Final set of London 2012 stamps

Final set of London 2012 stamps

The London 2012 stamps are Royal Mail’s largest stamp commission since the Millennium series, which saw more than 100 stamps issued during 1999-2001. 30 UK artists and image makers have designed stamps for the London 2012 sets, many of whom were first time stamp designers.

Paralympic Sailing, Athletics, Volleyball, Wheelchair Rugby, Wrestling, Wheelchair Tennis, Fencing, Gymnastics, Triathlon and Handball feature on this final set of 10 stamps, which is subtitled ‘Get Ready for 2012’. Three first day of issue postmarks have been produced to accompany this set.

First day of issue postmarks

First day of issue postmarks

In addition to the usual range of philatelic products, Royal Mail has produced a composite stamp sheet which features all 30 stamps from the three Olympic and Paralympic stamp issues on a single sheet.

The stamps, first day covers and other products are available from the Royal Mail website.

Volunteers’ Event 2011

BPMA invited all its volunteers to an evening reception on Wednesday 13 July to say ‘thank you’ for all the hours of time and effort given to help in our work. The evening was kindly sponsored by UniversalMail UK.

Our volunteers

Our volunteers

We have a total of 19 volunteers, and they have contributed 500 hours of their own time in the year since our first volunteer celebration last July.

Although our volunteers work without financial recompense, we hope that each of them gets a high level of satisfaction from working with and for us. Some learn new skills or use the opportunity as career development. For others, volunteering at BPMA is a chance to do something different from their day job, or to use specialist skills and knowledge developed at work. And for our philatelic volunteers, working at BPMA is about simple enjoyment, the pleasure of meeting people or working on a subject they love.

Whatever their motivation, our volunteers have made splendid contributions to the BPMA in the past year. These have ranged from helping us be present at events we couldn’t otherwise attend, to working with schoolchildren, undertaking specialist cataloguing and digitisation, and hands-on work with objects and preservation.

As a token of our thanks, Helen Forde, Chair of the BPMA Trustees, presented a gift and ‘thank you’ certificate to everyone attending on the evening.

Sarah Cooper

Sarah Cooper

Sarah Cooper joined us as an enthusiastic ten week intern. She is helping across a wide spectrum of typical curatorial work. She is gaining experience in numerous areas, including object handling, documentation, movement control and storage issues. We have provided training in a small number of areas such as IPM (Pest Management), Oral History summarisation technique and Family History research. Sarah has also written several blogs for us, including last Friday’s piece on George Romney.

Alexia Lazou

Alexia Lazou

Alexia Lazou worked on the lantern slide collections review and cataloguing project doing background research into the lantern slides and the slide manufacturers. She also assisted in the sorting and repackaging of the lantern slides, contributing to their long-term preservation.

Don Staddon

Don Staddon

Don Staddon has been working on special stamp issues from 1985 to date, mounting the issued material. This is part of a large project to amalgamate all the material from each issue to tell that issue’s story in order, and is in preparation for the material eventually going online.

Tom Norgate

Tom Norgate

Tom Norgate has been working on creating listings of airmail and railway letters which will again eventually be added to the online catalogue. He also keeps our present day postal mechanisation up to date in consultation with Royal Mail engineers and others.

Julian Osley

Julian Osley

Julian Osley has been scanning and describing the H-series photographs from archive class POST 118 since October 2010. He has listed 540 photographs – assigned finding numbers and created descriptions on our collections management database; scanned 387 photographs and material dating from the 1960s-1970s, and attached images to the records.

Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson kicked the hornets nest when he agreed to take on the back-log of our ‘snap-shot’ mail collection. He has proactively managed the acquisition of new material; a job that Curatorial never had the time to commit to. He has also increased partner heritage organisations awareness of BPMA, and has improved storage, description and catalogue records of this collection.

Glenn Morgan

Glenn Morgan

Glenn Morgan, having almost completed the ‘keys’ project that formed much of his volunteering work last year, is now regularly helping the Curatorial team with collections management at Debden. He is giving the interior of our vehicles a clean out on a rota basis and pumping tyres, as well as looking at cycle storage and providing recommendations for the latter. This bench marking project will (hopefully) allow us to improve our storage of a ‘difficult’ group of objects, aiding us in completing a job that we do not have time for, and will prevent further damage to his part of the collection.

Ron Clarke

Ron Clarke

Ron Clarke attends many of the BPMA’s regular open afternoons at the Museum Store, Debden. He runs the shop for us and assists with the tours. He also takes responsibility for welcoming visitors as they arrive and helping to explain basic housekeeping. During tours he helps ensure visitors keep together and attends to any late comers. During the break in the tours Ron does a fantastic job looking after the BPMA shop, sales for stock are always higher when he is on duty!

Sarah Jenkins

Sarah Jenkins

Sarah Jenkins made significant headway on creating our printed and bound Accession Registers by creating and proofing the 2009 register. At 615 pages long at last count, this was no mean feat! Thanks to Sarah’s work, we were able to begin to meet the commitment we made to create these registers as part of our Museum Accreditation application. Sarah also assisted with some Saturday openings of the archive in the autumn. Sarah, a Museum Studies graduate currently working in the educational grants sector, much appreciated the opportunity to gain current experience with collections and collection management systems at the BPMA. She hopes it will help her gain a museum post after the end of her current contract, in September 2011.

To find out more about volunteering opportunities at the BPMA please see the volunteers page on our website.

How the Post Office Can Take You from Struggling Artist to Famous Society Portraitist!

Or at least this is just what it did for renowned artist George Romney in the 1760’s. Romney was one of the most popular portraitists in London during the second half of the 18th century, competing with the likes of Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds for commissions and patrons. He painted many leading society figures of his day—most notably Lady Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Horatio Nelson, who was Romney’s muse and appeared in over sixty of his paintings.

But Romney was not always the famous society artist that we know him as today. Born in Dalton-on-Furness on December 26, 1734, the son of a cabinet maker, Romney began his artistic career in Kendal at the age of twenty-one, apprenticed to a local artist. He was married in 1756 to Mary Abbott, but they were almost instantly separated after their marriage and remained apart for the better part of Romney’s life. He then moved to London in 1762, but continued to struggle financially and never found any great success, as Romney had very few acquaintances in London, which made it difficult to find commissions. However, this changed somewhat when Romney befriended Daniel Braithwaite, the clerk to the Postmaster General, who introduced him into the middle-class professional circles, an important society group eager to commission portraits. You can see Mr. Braithwaite’s appointment records in the Post Office below, in 1765 and 1768, which hail from the BPMA archives (POST 58/1).

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1765 (POST 58/1)

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1765 (POST 58/1)

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1768 (POST 58/1)

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1768 (POST 58/1)

After experiencing this success and finally earning some money as a portraitist, Romney then travelled to Paris in 1764 and Italy in 1772 to complete his training and study the works of the Old Masters, as most aspiring artists did in those days. He returned to London in great debt in 1775, but his new found training and his old success in the city helped him to win many important commissions, and Romney’s success as a portraitist was finally secured. It was during this wave of newfound popularity that Romney painted his portrait of Anthony Todd, the Postmaster General from 1762-65 and 1768-1798, whom he possibly had contact to through his friendship with Daniel Braithwaite.

Anthony Todd, George Romney, British Postal Museum & Archive Collection, c. 1779

Anthony Todd, George Romney, British Postal Museum & Archive Collection, c. 1779

Three years after painting the Postmaster General, in April 1782 at the height of his popularity, Romney met Emma Hamilton, then Emma Hart, only seventeen years old to his forty eight years, who he began to paint obsessively, in the form of real-life portraits, allegorical portraits and history paintings. This marked a change in his career, as he was so enamoured by his muse that he found it difficult to take on regular commissions, altering his portrait practice. Despite this change, with the deaths of Gainsborough in 1788 and Reynolds in 1792, George Romney still became the leading portraitist in London. He was continually overwhelmed with commissions until he was forced to return to Kendal and his estranged wife in 1799 as a result of his failing health. Romney died on 15 November 1802 in Kendal at age 68 as one of the most prolific and renowned portraitists of his time—a reputation he earned with the help of his early friends in the Post Office.

- Sarah Cooper, Intern

Postal appointment books now available online via Ancestry

by Gavin McGuffie, Acting Head of Archives and Records Management

Today, the BPMA in partnership with the popular family history website Ancestry.co.uk launched the first name searchable online genealogy resource featuring our material. The Post Office Appointment Books, 1737-1969, listing the men and women appointed to roles within the service over these years includes approximately 1.4 million individual entries.

Postman driver collecting at Shotwick, Cheshire. Women and children queueing in the street to hand over mail. (POST 118/1866)

Postman driver collecting at Shotwick, Cheshire. Women and children queueing in the street to hand over mail. (POST 118/1866)

The source of this data is archive class POST 58 (staff nomination and appointment records) which includes the appointment books from 1831 to 1960, these provide the majority of information for this publication. Prior to 1831 appointment records were not kept uniformly over the country and separate series were produced. In 1831 centralised employment records were first created by the Post Office by copying the relevant minute numbers and brief details relating to appointment, transfer, dismissal, resignation, retirement, or death.

The BPMA signed an agreement with the Generations Network Ltd, the company behind ancestry.co.uk, in March 2009. We already had this series microfilmed. In April 2009 two large boxes of microfilm were transported from Freeling House to Provo, Utah, where Ancestry’s headquarters and scanning unit are based. The material was duly copied and returned to us in September. In November 2009 the indexing (transcribing handwritten names) of the documents by Ancestry’s World Archives Project volunteers began. The results of all this work are now available for anyone with internet access to search.

Some people may have questions about how we have made this data available. There will be issues with accuracy and omissions; both in the original source document and the Ancestry indexing. More significantly people might ask why the BPMA hasn’t done the online publication itself and instead worked with a commercial partner like Ancestry.

The reality here is that the BPMA would not have had the resources to co-ordinate the indexing of over a million entries. Secondly searching for names is free, you only have to pay to access the digital copy of the original record. Finally this material is still available on microfilm (and occasionally original paper where we don’t have a surrogate available) at the BPMA for researchers to use (who can also access the ancestry website at Freeling House); charges will of course still apply for providing copies from microfilm.

Now all this data is online, I’ve been doing a little playing with the database and am pleased to say that out of my random five person search all have proved correct. Please let Ancestry know if you come across any errors.

Ancestry’s publicity emphasises the number of Patricias and Pats who worked for the Post Office. I thought I’d track down some other interesting names. There are eight instances of postal workers (sometimes a new appointment for the same person) named Letter, nine named Parcel (or Parcell), thirteen named Post, five named Van, a hundred or so Stamps, more than 850 Mans (mostly Manns!). I also checked my own name and found twelve McGuffies including Thomas McGuffie’s appointment as a letter carrier at Aberdeen in April 1847.

To all those who use this great resource in the next few weeks and months, good luck searching!

Search the Appointment Books on Ancestry.co.uk.

New found relative of Alfred Knight VC

by Chris Taft, Curator

One of the most useful and interesting aspects of any museum collection is how objects relate to people. Many of the most popular stories that can be told through the collections of the BPMA are those that link to people.

With the current increased interest in tracing family history another fascinating aspect is finding objects that provide a physical link to past members of a family.

One of the most personal objects in the BPMA collection are the medals awarded to Alfred Knight during the First World War. They have featured in a number of BPMA exhibitions including Last Post: Remembering the First World War back in 2008 and more recently Empire Mail: George V and the GPO in 2010.

In the past the BPMA have been in touch with a number of members of Knight’s family but recently we were contacted by Marcus Knight, a relative in another branch of the family.

Marcus Knight viewing Alfred Knight's medals

Marcus Knight viewing Alfred Knight's medals

Marcus had only recently learnt of his link with Alfred Knight and the fact that the former Post Office worker had received the Victoria Cross during the war.

The BPMA were delighted to be able to give Marcus the opportunity to view at first hand the medals awarded to his relative.

Find out more about Alfred Knight on our website. A touring version of our exhibition Last Post: Remembering the First World War is currently at The Royal Engineers Museum, Kent – see our website for details.

Photography competition

We are offering amateur photographers the chance to win a superb camera, as well as the opportunity to be a part of our upcoming photography exhibition The Post Office in Pictures.

The theme for the competition is ‘the Post Office in the UK’. Entrants are invited to submit an image that illustrates the theme, inspires the viewer, and evokes curiosity to find out more about what is pictured in the photo.

Among the Oasthouses, Kent, 1935 (POST 118/1151)

Among the Oasthouses, Kent, 1935 (POST 118/1151)

Finalists in each of the two categories (under and over 16 years old) will be displayed on the BPMA website, in selected media outlets, and during The Post Office in Pictures photo exhibition.

A panel of judges will select a Winner in both categories, who will receive:

Under-16 Winner: a Nikon Coolpix P500 camera *

Nikon Coolpix P500 camera

Over-16 Winner: a Nikon D3100 camera *

Nikon D3100 camera

These amazing prizes are provided courtesy of audiovisual retailer Sight 2 Sound.

For full details of the competition including guidance on eligibility and instructions for submission of entries please visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/photocomp.

To find out more about The Post Office in Pictures exhibition, which is a collaboration between the BPMA and Swindon-based artists from Artsite Ltd, visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/inpictures.

* A voucher alternative to each camera will be available on request.

The Post Office in Pictures

In October our new exhibition, The Post Office in Pictures, will open in Swindon. The exhibition will showcase a selection of inspiring images sourced from our vast collections.

In 1933 Sir Stephen Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer to the General Post Office (GPO), and so began a major project to promote the range of postal services to the British public. One initiative was the establishment of The Post Office Magazine, intended to give a sense of shared community, camaraderie and endeavour. In order to do this, the GPO employed photographers to create beautiful, informative and often humorous photographs of the Post Office at work.

From strange creatures sent through the post, to the daily deliveries by land, sea
and air to every corner of the country, the photos featured in The Post Office in Pictures offer a fascinating set of windows on Britain from the 1930s to 80s – including some of the more unusual, unexpected and unseen activities of The Post Office and its people.

One of the images to be featured is ‘Basket Delivery’, a striking image from 1938 showing a postman at Greenock Promenade in Scotland. The postman’s basket contained mail from the Canadian Pacific Railways liner, the Duchess of Bedford. Beginning its journey in places such as New Zealand and China, the mail once unloaded was then sorted in the open air ‘sorting office’ of the Princes Pier before being despatched for delivery across the United Kingdom. We love the composition of the image and the beautiful cloudy sky.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, Greenock.

A postman pushes a hand cart with a large GPO basket on it along a promenade, Greenock. (POST 118/851)

To accompany the exhibition, the BPMA has produced a fantastic range of greetings cards featuring iconic black and white photographs from our archives, including ‘Basket Delivery’. The cards are now available from our online shop.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition is open at the Post Modern in Swindon between 6 October and 5 November 2011. Find out more on our website.

What would you do with £1,053,090?

… Buy a stamp, of course! This phenomenal price tag is how much an anonymous telephone bidder paid on June 28, 2011 for the coveted ‘Post Office Mauritius’ two penny blue stamp during a sale at Spink Auctioneers, making it the most valuable stamp ever sold in the UK. The stamp hails from the impressive Chartwell Collection, which contains over 80 stamp albums, collected by Sir Cyril Humphrey Cripps.

Example of the 'Post Office' Mauritius in the Royal Philatelic Collection

Example of the 'Post Office' Mauritius in the Royal Philatelic Collection

Sir Humphrey (1915-2000) was a successful English businessman and philanthropist. He began collecting stamps almost by chance in the 1950’s, picking the hobby up from his son, Robert. Robert eventually lost interest in stamp collecting as he returned to school, but his son’s fleeting interest in the hobby transformed itself into a life-long passion for Sir Humphrey. He studied philately and the existing marketplace, focusing on Great Britain and the British
Empire. In 1972, he purchased the ‘Post Office Mauritius’ 2d. blue for £29,000, which was quite expensive at the time. He was later offered an even greater sum for the stamp, but Sir Humphrey rejected it—proving that his love was the act of collecting and the collection itself, rather than the monetary value of what it contained. This extraordinary stamp became a part of his British Empire Collection, which contained stamps from primarily Bermuda, Mauritius, the Virgin Islands, as well as Canada, New Zealand and theTurks Islands.

The stamp collection also included the Great Britain Collection, from which hails other big items in Spink’s ongoing auction of Sir Humphrey’s stamps, which included several examples of 1840 Penny Black plates and an accepted die proof for the ‘One Penny Stamp’. You can see some related items from the BPMA collection: lantern slides of a proof sheet of the 1840 Penny Black and the original die used for the 1840 Penny Black’s production.

‘Proof Sheet of the 1840 Penny Black’ – Lantern Slide (2010-0411)

‘Proof Sheet of the 1840 Penny Black’ – Lantern Slide (2010-0411)

The Original Die Used For Production of the 1840 Penny Black (BPMA collection)

The Original Die Used For Production of the 1840 Penny Black (BPMA collection)

Sir Humphrey’s collection is said to be one of the finest British stamp collections in private hands, a statement only reinforced by the estimated £20 million that the collection is expected to bring in over the course of its auction within the next 18 months. But what is possibly more fascinating than the price that the Mauritius stamp fetched and the value of the objects within the collection is Sir Humphrey’s evident love of stamp collecting, a passion that has assisted with the preservation of Britain’s postal heritage.

If you’d like to have a further look at the above items from the BPMA Collection, feel free to have a look at our website or catalogue. For Spink Auctioneers and Daily Mail articles on the sale of the Mauritius stamp, you can find them here and here.

- Sarah Cooper, Intern

Retrieval of Post Office underground railway cars

by Chris Taft, Curator

After 85 years underground in a now closed workshop Friday 27May 2011 saw the only known surviving example from the original rolling stock used on the Post Office Railway see the light of day. Shackled to a mini crane and hoisted vertical from the car depot of Royal Mail’s underground railway network the dark green metal rail car was brought to the surface ready to enter the BPMA collection. After much planning, coordinating of dates and a few logistical nightmares the day had finally arrived when two train units were to be removed from the railway.

Chris Taft with the car in the Mail Rail yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London.

Chris Taft with the car in the Mail Rail yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London.

The now closed underground railway, officially known as Mail Rail, first opened in 1927 to move mail between central London sorting offices and two mainline railway stations, Liverpool Street and Paddington. The line finally ceased operation in 2003 when the levels of use had declined, in part due to the closure of some of the offices and in part also as the mainline stations aboveground were no longer being used as termini of the mainline mail carrying trains.

Since its closure the BPMA have been working closely with Royal Mail to ensure the important aspects of its history are collected and that its story can be told through the BPMA’s collection. The BPMA’s collection relating to Mail Rail was always reasonable, but a notable gap was the original mail carrying vehicle from 1927, which was preserved in the network after some restoration in the 1970s, and a decent example of a 1930 train that replaced this first type of unit.

The operation to hoist the two trains from underground went very smoothly. Professional art freight movers Mtec were employed to carry out the uplift, assisted by the Royal Mail engineers who maintain the network, and me on behalf of the BPMA. The trains were pushed along tracks to the bottom of a shaft providing the only access above ground for any sizable equipment. They were then shackled to a mini crane brought onto site especially for the job and hoisted to the yard at Mount Pleasant. The 1930 train was lifted first, being taken up in three parts and placed on the ground. This was followed by the 1927 car which lifted straight up the access shaft where it would have descended 85 years previously.

The first of two 1930 motive units being lowered in to the yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

The first of two 1930 motive units being lowered in to the yard at Mount Pleasant Mail Centre, London

From there the two trains, one still in three parts were lifted over a storage building and onto a waiting lorry. This last stage caused a little disruption within the Mail Centre while 40 tonne lorry blocked one of the access roads in Mount Pleasant but the job was quickly accomplished. Everything was then secured in place ready for the journey to the BPMA Museum Store.

Upon arrival at the Museum Store in Debden a HIAB crane was then used lift the trains directly into the store. The 1930 train was then coupled back together with the help of a pallet truck, machine skates and the obligatory couple of bits of wood and was pushed into position within the store. The rigid bodied 1927 car was pushed much more easily into position.

The two trains now join the rest of the BPMA’s collection, including the 1980 stock train which the BPMA now intend to have conserved. It is very important that these important pieces are stabilised to prevent deterioration and allow them to be used and displayed in the future. Our next job is to have a full survey completed. From there we shall have a much better idea of the costs involved and will be able to launch a fundraising campaign to raise the funds necessary to have this important conservation work complete. As this project progresses those interested will be able to monitor progress online, and by visiting the Store will even have opportunity of seeing the trains and any subsequent conservation work.

You can see more images of the Mail Rail retrieval on Flickr.