Monthly Archives: February 2012

Britons of Distinction

Royal Mail is celebrating the lives and work of ten prominent Britons with a new set of stamps launched today. The Britons of Distinction stamps celebrate ten distinguished individuals from the realms of science and technology, architecture, politics and the arts who have all made a major contribution to British society.

The ten 1st Class stamps feature a mixture of portraits and images of these individuals and their achievements.

1st Class – Sir Basil Spence – architect of Coventry Cathedral

Knighted for services to architecture, particularly his designs for the new Coventry Cathedral, opened in 1962, after the original was bombed. The image shows Coventry Cathedral.

1st Class – Frederick Delius – opera, choral and orchestral composer

The First Cuckoo stamp, British Composers, issued 14 May 1985

The First Cuckoo stamp, British Composers, issued 14 May 1985

Yorkshire-born composer of choral and orchestral works. Born in 1862 and most renowned for music evoking a timeless English pastoral idyll. Delius’ The First Cuckoo was commemorated on a stamp in 1985 (pictured right).

1st Class – Mary ‘May’ Morris – designer and textile artist

Textile artist and designer celebrated for her embroidery; daughter of the artist and thinker William Morris (whose work was featured on stamps last year). The image shows Orange Tree, designed and embroidered by May Morris.

1st Class – Odette Hallowes – SOE agent in occupied France

French-born British secret agent in wartime France, who survived solitary confinement in German concentration camps.

1st Class – Thomas Newcomen – inventor of the atmospheric steam engine

Devon ironmonger, engineer and inventor of the atmospheric steam engine, which helped power the Industrial Revolution. His first working engine was installed at a coalmine near Dudley Castle in Staffordshire in 1712.

1st Class – Kathleen Ferrier – contralto performer of opera and song

Lancashire-born contralto whose international opera and song career was prematurely ended by her death from cancer. Ferrier worked for the GPO as a telephonist on two occasions, and you can view her nomination papers for 1930 and 1934 on the Ancestry website.

1st Class – Augustus Pugin – Gothic revival architect and designer

Architect, designer and advocate of the Gothic style whose commissions included the interiors of the Palace of Westminster. The stamp shows Pugin’s interior of the Palace of Westminster.

1st Class – Montague Rhodes James – scholar and author of ghost stories

Cambridge academic and author of chilling ghost stories, originally written as entertainments for his friends.

1st Class – Alan Turing – mathematician and code breaker

Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers), Millennium Series. The Investors' Tale, issued 1999

Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers), Millennium Series. The Investors' Tale, issued 1999

Mathematician and computer scientist, whose work with the code breakers at Bletchley Park helped to speed up the end of the Second World War. The stamp shows Turing’s Bombe code breaking machine at Bletchley Park. Turing previously featured on a stamp in 1999 (pictured right).

1st Class – Joan Mary Fry – Quaker relief worker and social reformer

Quaker campaigner for pacifism and social reform, who organised food relief in Germany after the First World War, and then in Wales

Two different pictorial first day of issue postmarks are available.

Britons of Distinction first day of issue handstamps

Britons of Distinction first day of issue handstamps

Stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/stamps, the Royal Mail eBay shop and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Mail Trains

Last year our Curator Julian Stray gave a public talk on Mail Trains; this is now available to download as a podcast. The talk looks at the long and often strained association between the Post Office and the rail companies.

Interior of Travelling Post Office, by George Charlton, 1935 (POST 109/375)

Interior of Travelling Post Office, by George Charlton, 1935 (POST 109/375)

Both underground and over, in sealed vans and Travelling Post Offices, mails have been conveyed, sorted and accelerated since 1830. Suffering the occasional mishap or celebrated by film makers (such as in the film Night Mail), the carriage of mail is considerably reduced today. Julian Stray’s talk touches on what went wrong, what changed, and why.

The talk is based on extensive primary research completed for the upcoming joint BPMA/Shire publication Mail Trains.

Download or subscribe to the BPMA podcast by visiting our website or through iTunes.

Visit our website to view a selection of items from our collection on the theme of Mail by Rail.

Spring Stampex 2012

As the days are getting longer, there are also more and more events to look forward to – including Spring Stampex, from 22-25 February at the Business Design Centre (BDC) in Islington. Come and visit the Friends of the BPMA at stand 20 and learn more about upcoming BPMA events and exhibitions, get the latest postal heritage products or simply have a chat about some exciting finds at the stamp show.

Stampex at the Business Design Centre

Stampex at the Business Design Centre

Use your visit to Stampex to get more information about our new Diamond Jubilee exhibition which will offer an exclusive insight into the variety of the stamps released to mark the occasion. It will be on display at the BPMA Archive Search Room from 10 May 2012. One of the world’s greatest collections of stamps is the subject of a talk by Michael Sefi, Keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, on 23 February 2012 at the Phoenix Centre, for which you will be able to buy tickets at the stand, too. Another highlight of the postal heritage events calendar is the launch of The Post Office in Pictures exhibition at its exciting new touring venue. The exhibition (along with a host of activities) will be at the Lumen URC, London, from 19 May to the end of August 2012.

Among many popular BPMA products, we will offer a new postcard pack of six Mail Rail themed images at Stampex. On the occasion of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee there will also be a beautiful collector’s item for sale at the stand: a Wedgwood Jasperware plate featuring one of the most famous portraits of Queen Elizabeth II – the ‘Machin head’.

Mail Rail postcard pack

Mail Rail postcard pack

Royal Mail will again have a substantial presence and offer the full range of current stamp issues and provide posting boxes for collectors to post covers for the special Stampex handstamps. On Thursday, 23 February, Royal Mail will launch the Britons of Distinction stamps and the following day will see the issue of new pictorial Post and Go Stamps featuring British sheep. As usual, admission is free and the exhibition opens 11.30am-7pm on Wednesday, 10am-6pm on Thursday and Friday, and 10am-5pm on Saturday.

The Friends of the BPMA are looking forward to meeting you there!

Valentines Day

Throughout the ages people have exchanged love tokens, from bunches of flowers to text messages. Within our collections we hold examples of written and artistic love tokens which have been sent through the post, including Valentines Cards, letters and even special greetings telegrams. Today in honour of St Valentine we have uploaded some of these to Flickr and our new Pinterest profile.

Double cobweb valentine card. French. A chromolithograph card with a gilt border.Tassel pulls to reveal lovers and bride and groom. Message reads 'Pense a moi'. 19th century (OB1996.86)

Double cobweb valentine card. French. A chromolithograph card with a gilt border.Tassel pulls to reveal lovers and bride and groom. Message reads ‘Pense a moi’. 19th century (OB1996.86)

In addition to the newly uploaded images we have plenty more about Valentines Day and Valentines Cards online. Further images of Valentines Cards, including some made in our Victorian Valentines workshops, have been collected on Flickr. And you can read more on the story of Valentines Cards and greetings in our online exhibition Valentines Day: Passion Through the Post or in The Peoples Post: Love Letters.

The postman who was a serial killer

Few people would think that this could be so. Yet John Reginald Halliday Christie of 10 Rillington Place, one of the twentieth century’s most notorious serial killers had worked for the Post Office on two occasions.

The first instance was shortly after he returned to his home town of Halifax after military service in the First World War. On 10 January 1921, Christie was enrolled as a temporary postman there, and was paid £2 18s 2d per week. His life took a turn for the worse on Tuesday 5 April 1921, when he appeared at Halifax Magistrates’ Court. Detective Inspector Sykes provided evidence to the effect that on 20 February, two postal orders had been stolen.

Convictions and dismissals of Post Office employees, 1916-1922. Record pertaining to John Christie highlighted. (POST 120/160)

Convictions and dismissals of Post Office employees, 1916-1922. Record pertaining to John Christie highlighted. (POST 120/160)

Questions had arisen because letters were going missing from Halifax Post Office and a Mr Drennan had been called upon to make enquiries. On 4 April he had found a letter in a public lavatory at Crossley Street, Halifax. This was a letter which Christie should have delivered. Drennan then followed Christie home and had a detective search him. He found four postal orders on his person. He also found several other postal orders, together with cheques and dividends at the house. They totalled several hundred pounds, including a £100 Bank of England warrant, cheques to the value of £600 and money orders worth £14 10s.

The defence rested on the prisoner’s previously exemplary character. The verdict, though, was that Christie was guilty and he was sentenced to three months in prison at Manchester. It is uncertain why he committed these crimes because he did not need the money; yet ex-servicemen with good war records had been known to go off the rails when their lives were no longer governed by external discipline.

Two decades later, just after another World War, on 21 May 1946 he rejoined the Post Office. He was employed as a Grade 2 clerk in the Post Office Savings Bank at Blythe Road, Shepherd’s Bush.

Exterior of the Post Office Savings Bank, Blythe Road, Shepherd’s Bush (POST 118/248)

Exterior of the Post Office Savings Bank, Blythe Road, Shepherd’s Bush (POST 118/248)

In August 1947 he was employed as a clerk at the Post Office Savings Bank at Kew and was in the First Aid party there.

Post Office Savings Bank, clerks at work (POST 118/269)

Post Office Savings Bank, clerks at work (POST 118/269)

His job at the Post Office came to an end on 4 April 1950, twenty nine years to the day he had left it previously. Christie claimed he had been ill, and off work and that on his return he was escorted from the premises by two investigating officers. It is often asserted that his employers discovered that, at the trial of Timothy Evans in January 1950, where Christie was the key Crown witness, he had a criminal record, as disclosed by the defence. Yet the dismissal book in the Post Office archives enigmatically states that the reason for his dismissal was ‘changes affecting the character’.

Convictions and Dismissals of Post Office Employees, 1949-1951. Record pertaining to John Christie highlighted. (POST 120/170)

Convictions and Dismissals of Post Office Employees, 1949-1951. Record pertaining to John Christie highlighted. (POST 120/170)

Three years later, Christie’s murders were revealed and he was hanged for murder. Ironically the investigating officer at the Post Office in 1950 was a man with the surname Death.

- Jonathan Oates, author of the upcoming book John Christie of Rillington Place: Biography of a Serial Killer, published by Pen and Sword, 2012.

Dickens Coaching Prints

Today marks 200 years since the birth of Charles John Huffam Dickens, Victorian novelist and arguably one of the earliest ‘literary celebrities’. Dickens’ works remain popular today for their colourful characters, intricate plots and social commentary, and the anniversary allows me to highlight a couple of items from the BPMA’s collection; namely two hand coloured prints of Dickens coaching scenes.

The prints show scenes from two of Dickens’ novels; David Copperfield and Great Expectations. The artist, Albert Ludovici Jr. (1852-1932), had a particular fondness for the English ‘coaching age’ and these prints are part of a larger series of coaching scenes, probably made in the late 1800’s, featuring episodes from Dickens novels. At least 16 of Ludovici’s Dickens Coaching series were later acquired by R. Tuck and Sons of Bishopsgate, London who produced the prints in the BPMA collection.

David Copperfield arrives in London (2009-0055/1)

David Copperfield arrives in London (2009-0055/1)

In ‘David Copperfield Arrives in London’ the young David can bee seen standing at the back of a mail coach which has stopped in the street outside ‘The Blue Boar/ Posting Establishment’. The coach has a sign at back giving the main stops along the route – in this instance London, Ipswich and Yarmouth. The artist has captured the liveliness of the scene, including some suitably ‘Dickensian’ characters such as a dapper gentleman with an eye patch and an old woman getting off the coach by ladder.

‘The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard’ shows the adult Pip and Estella standing outside ‘The Crosskeys/ Coffee House’. Again, a red and black mail coach form part of the background for the scene.

The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard (2009-0055/2)

The Meeting of Pip & Estella in the Inn Yard (2009-0055/2)

Although today the term ‘Dickensian’ is often used to reflect the Victorian era in general, many of Dickens’ novels, including the two depicted here, are set somewhat earlier, before the development of the railways led to the end of the mail coach service. Certainly, the romance of the mail coach outlasted the service itself, as reflected in the artist’s comments about the series in his memoirs An Artists’ Life in London and Paris:

I cannot help feeling sorry for the present generation, who have no idea of these good old times, and my only regret is that I did not live in the coaching days, which I have so often tried to depict in my Charles Dickens coaching series of pictures.

Both prints have a copyright notice dated 1903 and their clarity suggests that they may possibly be facsimiles of the originals. The prints are lovely items in themselves, and it is arguable that continued reproductions of the images in the early 20th Century simply reflect the enduring popular appeal of many of Dickens’ well-loved characters.

- Sarah Jenkins, Assistant Cataloguer (Collections)

See larger version of these two prints on our Flickr site. Find out more about Mail Coaches on our website, where you can also see items from our collection related to Horse-Drawn Mail.

The Diamond Jubilee Miniature Sheet

The Diamond Jubilee Miniature Sheet is available from today; it marks the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty The Queen’s accession to the Throne. The new 1st Class stamps on the sheet feature iconic images of Queen Elizabeth II from stamps, notes and coins issued throughout Her 60-year reign.

The Diamond Jubilee Miniature Stamp Sheet

The Diamond Jubilee Miniature Stamp Sheet

Included among the six stamps is a brand new 1st Class diamond blue definitive stamp, millions of which will replace the current standard gold definitive in Post Offices during 2012.

The first stamp on the new definitive sheet is inspired by the very first stamp issued during Her Majesty The Queen’s reign. This 1952 stamp featured a classic photograph by society photographer Dorothy Wildling. The set also includes portraits taken from a £1 banknote first issued in 1960, and a £5 note issued in 1971. The images used which are taken from coins include a pre-decimal portrait first issued in 1953, on a coin minted the same year, and an image from a 1971 decimal coin which featured a portrait created by Arnold Machin.

The new diamond blue Machin stamp completes the set and features Arnold Machin’s iconic image on a blue background that highlights the words ‘Diamond Jubilee’ in iridescent ink. Since it first appeared in 1967, this timeless image has been reproduced on more than 220 billion of Royal Mail’s definitive stamps.

The fully illustrated presentation pack of The Diamond Jubilee Miniature Sheet is written by Douglas Muir, Curator, Philately, of the British Postal Museum and Archive. He takes a look at the history and iconography of Queen Elizabeth II portraiture on stamps, coins and banknotes. The pack was designed by Studio Dempsey, and printed by Walsall Security Printers.

First Day of Issue Postmarks

First Day of Issue Postmarks

The Stamp Sheet and the new Diamond Jubilee 1st Class Definitive stamps as well as additional philatelic products are available at all Post Office branches, from Royal Mail website, the Royal Mail eBay shop and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

The BPMA Shop now offers a beautiful collector’s item to celebrate this year’s Diamond Jubilee: a Wedgwood Jasperware plate in Portland Blue with the white cameo relief of Her Majesty The Queen by Arnold Machin which was the basis of the classic definitive portrait.

A Diamond Jubilee display will be launched in the Royal Mail Archive Search Room in May.