Category Archives: Postal History

Guest post: Why “Traditional” is often better than “Digital”

After working at The Guardian Newspaper for 5 years Nick Huxsted is now a freelance digital marketing specialist working with a number of large and small organisations across the UK. He has featured on a number of blogs including The Guardian, Hip & Healthy and is a regular contributor of Weekend Notes. When not glued to his laptop Nick likes to relax by staying glued to his iPad.

The Post Office handles 23,000,000 letters a day, 1947. Designer: G R Morris (POST 109/195)

Designer: G R Morris (POST 109/195)

Cramp is usually associated with prolonged periods of exercise. Typically reserved for the legs and arms after a vigorous game of tennis or competing in an often under prepared fun run. It certainly wasn’t expected half way down a sheet of A4 when composing a letter to my grandmother. My hands, that while at school were accustomed to such seemingly simple tasks; had become weak, withered, useless writing implements unable to cope with the herculean effort of writing a short letter. The digital world with its endless button pushing and mouse clicking, had robbed my hands of its calligraphic strength. Instead of the fluid, elegant letter I had imagined the end results was an almost illegible scrawl that only the most gifted or graphologists would be able to decipher. Although extremely touched that I’d gone to the effort of sending her a letter, my grandmother had to call to ask what the content of my letter contained. So in an attempt to toughen up my hands I’ve recently been writing more letters, and the response I’ve received from the numerous recipients has been very surprising indeed. In an age where text speak, emails and social media has become all too common, hand-written letters it would appear not only stand out from the crowd, but have a much more emotional reaction from the recipient. In an attempt to bring back traditional forms of communication, here are some of the reasons why people tend to love receiving a hand written, illegible letter. Showing you care It takes almost no effort to send an email. We perform the daily ritual without ever giving it a moment’s notice, bashing out our message and relying on auto-correct and the delete button to compose a suitable message. Taking the time to consider, plan and compose a personal letter means you actually start to think about what you want to say. It will always be more descriptive, honest and thoughtful. Much more compelling than a text message with a smiley face attached to the end of it. The effort will surely not be lost on the lucky recipient. Memories When we move house, spring clean our wardrobe or clean under the bed, we often come across the boxes that contain many of our memories. The diaries, school essays and letters from loved ones frequently evoke a sense of nostalgia that are tactile, physical reminders of our past. The musty smell and slight brown tinge all promote a sense of nostalgia that is difficult to replicate by searching our old email archives. A message sandwiched between a reminder about PPI Insurance and Gym membership doesn’t really have the same sentimental value. Traditional letters provide a much more emotive glimpse into our past and history. Stand out from the crowd It’s common practice nowadays to send a “thank you” email after a meeting, a job application or attending a social event like a wedding. The sheer volume of messages we receive on a daily basis can either be physically lost in Mr Spam, or become the same standard blurb that we’ve all read a thousand times before. It’s much more likely that you’ll make an impression and stand out from the crowd if you’ve taken the time to send personal thank you. With the job market proving to become increasingly competitive, any advantage you can gain over other candidates is surely worthwhile. What would 60 million stamp collectors do? With such a large number of stamp collectors in the world the postal service is a constant source of culture and tradition that has seen John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and Maria Sharapova join the stamp collecting ranks. With the British Guiana 1c magenta selling for a cool £4.66m and the most expensive item in weight and volume ever known, the postal service has helped sustain the hobby of millions who take joy in looking after and collecting valuable stamps. Romance Whenever Hollywood decides to break out the hankies and craft a new romance movie, you can rest assured that there will always be a scene where the boy woo’s the girl with a romantic letter, expressing his complicated but soon to be overcome obstacles of affection. “My friend really likes you” messages on Facebook really don’t cut the mustard in comparison. So the next time you want to send someone a message, have a think about how important his or her reply is to you. It may just be worthwhile enduring the temporary affects of cramp.

Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica at The Polar Museum, Cambridge

With a population of just 250, The British Antarctic Territory, which covers 660,000 square miles of Antarctica from offshore islands to the South Pole itself, doesn’t necessarily seem like somewhere that the postal service would need to operate. But, despite the low number of permanent residents, the Territory issues both its own postage stamps and coins and even has an Antarctic Postman, based in Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands, who visits the outlying research bases by ship.

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With such a fascinating story to tell, it’s no surprise that there is now an exhibition devoted to the postage stamps of this remote territory. Last Thursday The Polar Museum in Cambridge launched the captivating Delivery by Design: Stamps in Antarctica exhibition. With the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Scott Polar Research Institute the exhibition uses stamps, printing proofs and original artworks to shed light on this little known corner of the globe, from native wildlife including Emperor Penguins and Huskies to ships ploughing through ice and planes flying over the frozen sea, commemorating British expeditions to the Antarctic throughout history.

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The exhibition at The Polar Museum is a wonderful example of how stamps are much more than just a means of sending a letter from A to B. They are a window into history giving a snapshot of the social, cultural and design influences of any given period across every region of our planet. With every stamp from the Penny Black to the present day and all stamp artwork, both adopted and unadopted (including from such famous artists as Paul Nash, Terence Cuneo and David Gentleman) in our collections, we know that there are hundreds if not thousands of interesting stories just waiting to be told. It’s great to see exhibitions such as that at The Polar Museum bringing these stories into the public domain and I hope you will take the opportunity to pay it a visit.

Adrian Steel – Director

The exhibition will be running at The Polar Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge until 6 September 2014. Entry is free and the museum is open 10-4 Tuesday to Saturday. www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum

New year, new records on the BPMA online catalogue

In mid-January we did one of our periodic uploads of new material onto the online catalogue.  These happen, broadly speaking, every three months, and more than 4,000 records went on this time. This is the largest upload of new records and much credit is due to the cataloguers, both full time staff and volunteers.

The new records include 455 registration sheets from the Queen Elizabeth II pre-decimal era.  Each entry includes a full detailed catalogue description including unique cylinder and sheet numbers, the registration date, and a scanned corner section of the sheet.  This work completes registration sheets from the pre-decimal era.

QEII 4d olive-sepia Wilding Isle of Man Regional definitive, Reg Date: 1968 Aug 14

QEII 4d olive-sepia Wilding Isle of Man Regional definitive, Reg Date: 1968 Aug 14

Artwork, including first designs, proofs, essays and first day covers, was uploaded for twelve stamp artwork issues from the period 1972-1976, including Christmas issues, the 1973 Royal Wedding, 1975 European Architectural Heritage Year, and the 1976 Telephone Centenary.

QEII-106-16, 1973 400th Anniversary of Inigo Jones, preliminary sketch by Rosalind Dease

QEII-106-16, 1973 400th Anniversary of Inigo Jones, preliminary sketch by Rosalind Dease

913 Post Office and Royal Mail Headquarters records (POST 72) were uploaded ( c.1780-2000). These include minutes, reports and correspondence of various headquarter departments and numerous reports relating to Post Office reforms from 1797 to the 1990s.

Reassigning of Post Office PR and marketing files

After four months’ work by a Project Archivist and a volunteer, we’ve completely appraised and catalogued the backlog of files assigned to POST 108 (the Post Office Public Relations Department), freeing up half a bay of our repository shelving! This great material includes Post Office PR and marketing campaigns, from the ‘Meet Your Postal Service’ campaigns of the 1970s to the controversial ‘Consignia’ rebrand in 2001, as well as promotional films, corporate design guidelines and public opinion surveys.

Many of the files assigned to POST 108 eventually found homes elsewhere in the catalogue. Substantial amounts were added to POST 63 (training guidebooks), POST 68 (staff briefing packs) and POST 109 (designs for press advertisements). We also weeded, catalogued and repackaged thousands of photographs collected during the publication of the Courier staff magazine in the 1970s and 1980s (POST 118).

Cataloguing of Photographs of Post Office facades

Our volunteer, Julian Osley, scanned, re-housed and catalogued a series of photographs showing the facades of post offices across the country from 1984. The identity of the photographer is currently unknown, as is the purpose of the photographs. They were transferred into the archive as part of the Post Office photograph library at the beginning of this century.

POST 118/PF0243 - Exterior view, Post Office, Llanrwst

POST 118/PF0243 – Exterior view, Post Office, Llanrwst

For each post office, there is often a photograph showing the hours of business notice and these were used by Julian to identify each location. For post offices without hours of business notices, Julian had to use his knowledge of post office architectural history and Google’s Streetview to identify locations. This series now offers a fascinating snapshot of post offices prior to the significant reduction of their network in the last thirty years.

Some of Julian’s finds have also been posted to the BPMA’s Historypin channel, giving viewers a chance to see photographs pinned against modern day Google Streetviews.

Annual opening of files under 20-year rule

I also did the annual opening of files under the 20-year rule transition timetable. More than 600 files which contain material dated up to 1984 and 1985 have become available covering a huge number of topics from Board papers to individual mechanised letter office operational efficiency audit reports.

- Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

The Royal Mail Archive is open to the public, find opening hours and visitor information on our website.

BPMA at the V&A – First World War: Stories of the Empire event

This Friday (24 January), from 6-9pm, the BPMA are taking part in the free drop-in event: First World War: Stories of the Empire. The event has been organised by the Heritage Lottery Fund in collaboration with the V&A and is being held at the V&A’s Sackler Gallery.

A large number of museums and organisations are taking part with a variety of engaging  stands and displays. The purpose of the evening is to encourage greater understanding of the First World War and the role of Black and Asian soldiers from the Empire.

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam, at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916 © IWM (Q 692)

Lieutenant-General Sir Pratap Singh and the Rajah of Ratlam, at Sir Douglas Haig’s Chateau in Montreuil, 17th June 1916 © IWM (Q 692)

Volumes of mail in the First World War were huge. Exceptional organisation and logistical control was required to ensure mail reached the front lines as quickly as possible. From October to December 1914 alone, over 1.2 million parcels were sent to the troops. All troops were able to send letters home free of charge.

Australian mail storage in Kew (POST 56/6)

Australian mail storage in Kew (POST 56/6)

The BPMA stand will consist of the touring version of Last Post: Remembering the First World War, plus two new additional panels focusing on the wider delivery of mail across the world during the First World War. Panel research for the new panels was undertaken by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD student Victoria Davis. Additional research has been completed by Dr Pete Sutton. We will have plenty of other material available on the night and also have a number of First World War handling items available for visitors.

The shipping of mails (POST 56/6)

The shipping of mails (POST 56/6)

The evening is a drop-in event and begins with a drinks reception at 6pm, open to all. Activities and stands will be available throughout the evening. A panel discussion begins in the auditorium at 7.45pm.

The BPMA stand will be situated downstairs in the V&A Sackler Centre, directly behind the Sackler Centre Reception desk.  We look forward to seeing you on the night!

Check out our Flickr set on the First World War. We will be updating it regularly with images from our archive relating to postal history and the war.

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Two BPMA touring exhibitions open in Aberystwyth

Two of our touring exhibitions (Designs on Delivery and The Post Office in Pictures) are both on display at Aberystwyth Arts Centre starting tomorrow (18 January) until early March.

Designs on Delivery

Design played a crucial role in promoting social progress and technological change across Britain between 1930 and 1960. General Post Office (GPO) posters were commissioned in the context of specific channels of communication. Posters were designed for Post Office walls, pillar boxes and transport vehicles.

POST1103184

Post your letters before noon, Jan Lewitt and George Him, 1941 (POST 110/3184).

The exhibition posters offer a variety of visual language adopted to meet these different needs. GPO posters included work by those associated with both fine art and graphic design, demonstrating the blurring of the boundaries between high art and popular culture that poster design encouraged.

This exhibition showcases 25 of the best of these posters.

POST110_3177

Air Mail Routes, Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1937 (POST 110/3177) .

The Post Office in Pictures

The Post Office in Pictures is an exhibition showcasing a selection of inspiring images sourced from the BPMA’s vast collections.

Photography was one of the key tools used by the GPO PR Department (est. 1934) to reach and engage with the general public. In order to supply its fledgling Post Office Magazine with professionally-produced photographs, members of the GPO Photographic Unit began to accompany the magazine’s journalists.

Down Wapping Way, 1935 (POST 118/252).

Down Wapping Way, 1935 (POST 118/252).

The exhibition showcases 30 outstanding photographs from the 1930’s to the 1980’s. Also available to read alongside the exhibitions will be copies of the Post Office Magazines, from which many of these photographs are drawn.

The Post Office in Pictures and Designs on Delivery both open on Saturday 18 January at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and run until Saturday 8 March. Entry is free of charge and open to all.

Please let us know if you do visit the exhibitions, on dominique.gardner@postalheritage.org.uk, 0207 354 7287, or @postalheritage. We hope you enjoy your visit!

– Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Mail Coach welcomed back to BPMA

This morning we welcomed back our mail coach following its long term loan (4 years) to Grampian Transport Museum. This is part of the wider annual curatorial audit and stocktake happening this week.

Return of Mail Coach 14-01-2014

BPMA volunteer Don Bell, Mark Speirs (Car Storage Scotland) and Senior Curator Julian Stray steer the coach safely into storage at Debden, Essex

Our mail coach was restored from several broken elements that were found in a farmyard, using the original 18th-century undercarriage. We believe that our mail coach transported mail between London and Bristol.

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Photographic lantern slide of a Royal Mail horse-drawn mail van with a ‘GR’ cypher (c. 1910).

Mail coaches required quick changes of horses every ten miles.  Mail coaches transported mail from London from 1784 till 1846. Check out our online catalogue for more information on our mail coach and mail coach history.

Tenth Anniversary of the Final Traveling Post Office Journeys

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Men stand in front of the first train coach used to sort mail on the North Eastern Railway.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the last journeys of Royal Mail’s Travelling Post Offices. First used in 1838, they revolutionised the way mail was moved across the country. From romantic images of steam engines to the brutal realities of the Great Train Robbery, TPOs were an instantly recognisable part of the national fabric until they were phased out in 2004.

To mark this anniversary, BPMA has written a guest blog for the National Railway Museum which can be found here. An online version of our Great Train Robbery exhibition, The Great Train Robbery, the aftermath and the Investigations: A Story from the Archive, marking the most infamous episode in the history of the TPO can be viewed on Google Cultural Institute’s website.