Tag Archives: design

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes

We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.

2014_0038_103

2014-0038/103

The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch

Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.

Tolhurst signature, 2014_0038_110

The artist’s initials

The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.

with love from mama and papa 2014_0038_112_back

The evidence that steered our search

We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)

I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.

My attempt at mail art

My attempt at mail art

Joanna Espin, Curator

Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means: Abram Games at the Jewish Museum London

During the Golden Age of GPO public relations under Stephen Tallents many prominent designers were employed to create posters for everything from ‘Post early’ Christmas campaigns to staff unions. One such designer was Abram Games who In March this year Royal Mail selected along with nine other distinguished subjects born in 1914, to feature on a stamp for its Remarkable Lives series.

1941

It’s fitting that in this centenary year, the Jewish Museum, London is celebrating the life and work of this iconic graphic designer in a major new exhibition; Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games (until 4 January 2015)

Games was the leading graphic designer of the postwar years and during his 60 year career was awarded numerous prestigious public commissions, including being appointed Official War Poster Artist during World War Two and designing the first animated BBC ident. He worked extensively with London Transport and his 1976 poster for London Zoo was recently chosen by Londoners as their second favourite poster for London Underground.

26

Games’s war posters included the popular but controversial Join the ATS recruiting poster (1941), whose alluring female subject earned it the nickname ‘Blonde Bombshell’ and the condemnation of the House of Commons.

By the 1950s, Games was the foremost designer working in Britain and had carried out commissions for the General Post Office, the BBC and London Transport. In 1948, Games was commissioned by the General Post Office to design the official Olympic Games stamp and in 1951 he was awarded the commission to design the emblem for the Festival of Britain, one of the most significant designs of his career.

PRD0172_2_

Don’t miss your chance to see this major exhibition and discover more about the life and work of Abram Games as well as his celebrated theory which provided the framework for all of his compositions; ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’.

October uploads to the online catalogue

With almost 120,000 records now available on our online catalogue our Archive Catalogue & Project Manager Gavin McGuffie tells us about some of these exciting documents.

Last Thursday we uploaded nearly 2,500 new records to our online catalogue, mostly publicity posters (POST 110) and legal cases and opinions (POST 74).

We now have images of almost 2,500 GPO posters available to view on our online catalogue [since there are about 6,000 poster descriptions on the catalogue] spanning the advent of Post Office Poster design, through the golden age of the GPO Public relations department from 1933-1960, right through to the present day Over the years the GPO commissioned some of the biggest names in graphic design to produce work for them including Edward McKnight Kauffer, Barnett Freedman, Frank Newbould, Austin Cooper and the partnership Lewitt-Him.

The posters cover a whole range of subjects including the Post Early campaign, the sending of airgraphs during the Second World War, the Post Office Savings Bank, airmail, and a number of internal staff advisory posters.

 

POST 110/3215 Tom Eckersley, 1952 (PRD 0675)

POST 110/3215 Tom Eckersley, 1952 (PRD 0675)

 

POST 110/1310 George Brzezinski Karo, 1954 (PRD 0731)

POST 110/1310 George Brzezinski Karo, 1954 (PRD 0731)

The Cases and Opinions also provide a fascinating insight into the history of the Post Office. “Cases” were requests for legal advice written by members of the General Post Office’s Solicitor’s Department to external legal chambers and the “opinions” were the advice provided. The contents of these correspondences include road tolls, franking, explosive articles contained in letters, and bankrupts’ letters, giving us a window into the types of legal matters the Post Office was concerned with at various periods during its history, which very often reflected greater social issues.

The upload completes the cataloguing of Cases and Opinions, which was begun in 2012 by a University College London student. This work has been made possible by our volunteers who have listed record titles, which form the basis of the catalogue entries, while cleaning, repacking and re-housing materials for our forthcoming move.

A re-housed POST 74 box

A re-housed POST 74 box

The online catalogue is now fully up and running, but we will continue to add new records and amend existing ones over the coming months to ensure that it is as easy as possible to use. However if you spot any problems whilst using it please let us know by emailing catalogue@postalheritage.org.uk

-Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue & Project Manager

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.

Image

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.

Image

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

Auditing the Stamp Artwork Collection

The Philatelic team is busy auditing the BPMA’s post 1985 stamp artwork collection, in preparation for its move to a new storage facility. 

We are half way through checking the location and housing conditions of approximately 12,000 pieces of adopted and unadopted artwork. Every piece of artwork must be packed safely to prevent damage during transit and location control must be maintained so that nothing is lost.

An unadopted design by Ralph Steadman for Appearance of Halley’s Comet, 1986.

An unadopted design by Ralph Steadman for Appearance of Halley’s Comet, 1986.

The collection, which includes pieces by David Gentleman, Quentin Blake and David Hockney, comprises artwork across a range of forms and sizes including photographs, paintings, drawings, transparencies, digital images and plaster casts.

The stamp artwork collection is diverse in its subject matter and style, and it is intriguing to see how different artists have tackled the same subject. The proposed designs for the Appearance of Halley’s Comet issue, for example,  include scientific illustrations; images of the comet passing over earth in 684, 1066, 1301 and 1910; and bold, cartoon style artwork by Ralph Steadman – four designs of which were chosen for the 1986 issue. One can imagine the debates behind the final selection.

Boxes of stamp artwork in storage at Christie’s.

Boxes of stamp artwork in storage at Christie’s.

Our new home at Calthorpe House will allow us to showcase this fascinating design history resource, which, as yet, has been largely unseen by the public.

- Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, renowned playwright and poet, famous worldwide for Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and his sonnets…but he has another claim to fame. In 1964 Shakespeare became the first commoner to appear on a stamp.

0158-qeii-24-020

Hamlet contemplating Yorick’s Skull, designed by C and R Ironside (issued 1964)

In 1964 the Post Office issued a set of stamps to coincide with the Shakespeare Festival, marking the 400th anniversary of his birth. Five designs were chosen, one by C&R Ironside showing an image of Hamlet and four by renowned stamp designer David Gentleman. Gentleman’s stamp designs proved controversial as the image of Shakespeare’s head was the same size as that of the Queen’s making him appear of equal importance. This objection was however overcome and Gentleman’s designs were issued alongside that of C&R Ironside to celebrate the Shakespeare Festival marking his 400th Birthday.

0158-shakespearefest1964

Shakespeare Festival stamps, 1964

 

It is now his 450th Birthday and both he and his work have found their way onto a variety of stamps worldwide. Some such issues include the Bicentenary of Australian settlement, 1988; the 150th Anniversary of National Portrait Gallery, 2006, which featured celebrated Britons and the Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 1995.

0158-shakespearesglobe1995

Reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre stamp issue, 1995

 

Centenary of the introduction of Postage Dues

2014 marks the centenary of postage due stamps first being introduced by the Post Office. Uncollected revenue has always been a concern of the Post Office. If an item was posted without sufficient prepayment it was surcharged and the excess collected by the postman on delivery. However the system in place originally was complicated and open to abuse. In March 1912 a conference looked at possible reforms.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example

The conference proposed the introduction of “Postage Due” labels – to be affixed to all mail that had not been fully paid for. Postage Due labels would be accounted for in the same way as postage stamps and therefore a direct check could be maintained on each item of mail.

George W. Eve, the bookplate designer, was invited to create a design along the lines of existing postage due labels of other countries, without the monarch’s head.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example (above). Both designed by George Eve.

1911 Sketch design for the coupon for the Post Office Savings Bank with a Downey Head example (above). Both designed by George Eve.

Denominations

There were to be four denominations of Postage Due labels (½d, 1d, 2d, and 5d) initially, all in the same design and in landscape format. Eve was offered, and accepted, a fee of 30 guineas (£31 10s) to undertake this work. He produced a design in the style of a bookplate, using leaves and national symbols, and the words POSTAGE DUE.

Further denominations were added later, with higher values being used to collect customs dues. For these the wording was therefore changed to TO PAY.

14 April 1914 Post Office notice for the introduction of Postage Due labels

14 April 1914 Post Office notice for the introduction of Postage Due labels

Different watermarked paper and different colours were used over the years. Despite changes in the colours and increases in the denominations, it is significant that George Eve’s design of Postage Due labels remained the same for over 50 years, until 1970.

2014 marks the centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels.  Their use ceased in 2000.

The BPMA will be introducing a new commemorative stamp issue to its Post & Go machine at Freeling House on Wednesday 19 February 2014 to mark the centenary of the introduction of Postage Due labels. These will be available until Saturday 5 April 2014.

1902 Design for the Lord Mayor’s invitation

Earlier examples of illustrations by George Eve. 1902 Design for the Lord Mayor’s invitation.

Both the existing Machin and the Union Flag designs will bear the underprint “The B.P.M.A./ Postage Due 1914”.  A limited number of BPMA specific first day covers will be available for purchase both at Freeling House and through the online shop.

The new commemorative stamp issue will also be marked through a small two panel display in the BPMA’s Search Room Foyer, from Wednesday 19 February until Saturday 5 April.