Tag Archives: museum

How will we record the printing plates, stamps and rollers? Brief introduction to 3D imaging technologies

A couple of weeks ago, we introduced our 3D scanning project, Stamp printing plates, dies and rollers: from vault to view, in partnership with UCL. Mona Hess, Research Associate and PhD candidate at UCL, is the 3D specialist for this project. Mona has been working with museums for the past 10 years, creating three-dimensional digital models and physical replicas through 3D printing (such as these busts of Darwin and James Watt). She is interested in opening up archives and collections, giving visitors access to hidden objects. In this post she will introduce the different techniques we will be using to capture some of our hard-to-photograph philatelic material.

The BPMA’s philatelic collection goes far beyond stamps. It also includes plates, stamps and rollers, all of which are difficult to photograph. Many of these objects, especially the plates, rollers and dies can’t be on display to the public. There are conservation and security issues that prevent them from coming outside of the vaults. Despite this we still want philatelists, researchers, enthusiasts and visitors to be able to see and interact with these objects digitally.

Mona Hess face to face with the 3D digital model of Mrs.Flaxman

Mona Hess face to face with the 3D digital model of Mrs.Flaxman by the British artist John Flaxman, who used to be a professor at the UCL Slade School of Art. Copyright Mona Hess, UCL CEGE.

The creation of these 3D digital objects can be produced by ‘3D imaging’. We will be using “non-contact optical surface imaging”. The surface of the object will be recorded from all angles, and the model can be turned, zoomed and panned, almost as if you would have the real object in your hand.

For creating three dimensional images of printing plates, dies and rollers we will apply and combine different technologies:

  • Photogrammetry and ‘structure from motion’ is based on photography. We will produce a set of images while walking around the object. Usually the camera settings, background and lighting does not change while we do that. A software programme is then able to compute the common points to create a three-dimensional surface of the object with the colour, called ‘texture’. To be able to apply a scale to the object we need to include some known lengths in the photographs. This method is versatile with regards to object type imaged the equipment is very mobile, and the equipment affordable.
Photogrammetry of an Egyptian Cartonnage Mask from the UCL Petrie Museum of Archaeology.

Photogrammetry of an Egyptian Cartonnage Mask from the UCL Petrie Museum of Archaeology. Copyright Mona Hess, UCL CEGE.

An Egyptian is placed under the PTM/ RTI dome at UCL with 64 different light positions.

An Egyptian artefact is placed under the PTM/ RTI dome at UCL with 64 different light positions. Copyright Mona Hess, UCL CEGE.

  • Low cost 3D laser scanning can use sensors usually intended for gaming, like the Xbox Kinect. These sensors have inbuilt range sensing with human gesture recognition (natural user interfaces) that allow for objects to be captured using infrared signals. From initial tests we know that this technique is able to record the shiny surfaces of the printing plates. The information will give an overall picture, but not enough detailed information of the surface.
A low cost 3D sensor is used to 3D scan a Sepik Yam mask from the UCL Ethnographic Collection.

A low cost 3D sensor is used to 3D scan a Sepik Yam mask from the UCL Ethnographic Collection. Copyright Mona Hess, UCL CEGE.

  • Therefore we will also use High resolution 3D colour laser scanning on selected objects. The Arius 3D colour laser scanner is installed fixed in an air-conditioned room and used for high-quality digitisation of museum objects.  While this will give us a very detailed surface geometry, all objects will need to come to UCL.
The high-resolution 3D colour laser scanner at UCL is set up by Mona for the scanning of a relief of Mrs Flaxman by the British artist John Flaxman, who used to be a professor at the UCL Slade School of Art.

The high-resolution 3D colour laser scanner at UCL is set up by Mona for the scanning of a relief of Mrs Flaxman. Copyright Mona Hess, UCL CEGE.

As you might have gathered, the printing plates, dies and rollers will be difficult objects, so multiple techniques may be enlisted for each object. We will have to combine recording methods to find out how we can represent the fine engraving used in the dies and the overall geometry of the plates.

We would like to invite you at the end of the project to get your hands on the digital 3D models and tell us what you think about them. It is important for us to know how detailed these objects should be and depending on how you want to use them (i.e. on your mobile phone) the resolution can be lower.

If you are interested to know more about the technology, please visit Science of 3D where we explain the science behind our optical 3D imaging.

Stay in touch with me by following @Mona3Dimaging .

-Mona Hess, UCL

For the time being, we would love to hear your thoughts on this project. How would you use these 3D objects? Would you like to see them in an exhibition? We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

New display panel to be installed at our Search Room this week

We have recently been working with a designer to produce a new display panel, which is due to be installed this week in the Archive’s entrance lobby. This will show visitors our vision for the new museum we are planning both at Calthorpe House – down the street from the Archive’s current location at the corner of Mount Pleasant – and in part of the old Post Office Underground Railway network, Mail Rail.

Artist's impression of how the Mail Rail exhibition might look.

Artist’s impression of how the Mail Rail exhibition might look.

As you may be aware, our museum collection is currently held in storage in Debden, Essex. Due to lack of display space public access to this collection, a wonderful array of historical post office vehicles, letter boxes, uniforms and equipment, is severely limited, and the new museum will allow us to showcase these fantastic treasures in the manner that they deserve. There will be an interactive exhibition space with five zones charting the development of the Post Office and Royal Mail over the centuries, as well as a dedicated learning space which will be able to hold 10,000 school pupils and teachers every year.

Proposed exterior of the new postal museum at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of a proposal for the exterior of the new postal museum at Calthorpe House.

The new museum will also contain a state-of-the-art search room and archive repository with brand new research facilities, and we will also be opening a section of Mount Pleasant’s subterranean Mail Rail depot as a permanent exhibition space charting the history of moving the mail.

Next time you visit us, please take a moment to view the display and see what we have in store for the future, and do feel free to let us know what you think of our plans.

- Robin Sampson, Archives/Records Assistant

The Great British (Letter Box) Bake Off

The recent series of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) has been something of a talking point around the BPMA offices: our staff are known for their love of cake so understandably Tuesday evenings have become sacred TV nights for a lot of us, as I’m sure they have been for you. Cake, in my opinion, forms a vital part of any museum – just think of all those museum cafes offering everything from scones to chocolate cake to fuel your visit around the galleries.

This does not mean that I was expecting to find a cake on the shelf in our Museum Store…but that’s exactly what I did find within a few months of my starting at BPMA, whilst working on the Wilkinson Collection. The Wilkinson Collection is a collection of letter box related items and this cake fitted that description as it was a Swiss roll iced and decorated in the form of a letter box.

Letter Box Cake found in the Wilkinson Collection.

Letter Box Cake found in the Wilkinson Collection.

Food of any sort, whilst welcome to feed the staff, is less welcome as part of the collection. Food encourages pests which can damage other parts of the collection, particularly the archive and textile collections which is why eating and drinking is limited to a specific area of our offices and not allowed in our Search Room. Add to this the fact that the cake was 20 years old (admittedly still in its packaging) and this one object was immediately a threat to the rest of the collection. As a result, we made the decision to dispose of this item.

However, in addition to the cake, we also found the recipe for it which you can find below! I’ve often been tempted to make this, the basic instruction of ‘Make a Swiss Roll in the usual way’ would fit nicely into any technical challenge on the GBBO, whilst the final result would, I’m sure, be a showstopper. If anyone out there would like to take up the challenge of making this letter box cake do send us your photos!

Letter Box Cake

Ingredients:
Swiss Roll
Apricot jam
Red colouring
Almond icing
Chocolate butter icing

Recipe:
Make a Swiss Roll in usual way* and brush sides with warmed jam.
Add red colouring to all but a small quantity of the almond icing and roll out thinly to a strip long enough to cover the roll, making join at back.
Mould some almond icing to form top and flap of box, and attach these with jam and butter icing.
Cut a square of the uncoloured almond icing and stick it on to the front.
Using chocolate butter cream and a plain writing nozzle, make marks to represent times of collection, etc.

*There are several on the BBC website, including a chocolate roulade by GBBO’s Mary Berry.

– Emma Harper, Curator

If you’ve been inspired to bake the cake, here are some pictures of pillar boxes to inspire you as you ice it.

Venture to our Museum Store on 24th August to find out more about Mail Rail…

On Saturday 24th August we will be holding an open day at our Museum Store in Debden, just 20 minutes from the hub of Stratford, London.

Behind its unassuming façade, the Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits, each with a story to tell. As part of the Hidden Treasures 2013 event come and find out about a hidden strand of postal history – the Post Office Underground Railway.

Loading a Mail Rail locomotive at the platform, taken from the tunnel, 1969. (POST 118/CT00357)

Loading a Mail Rail locomotive at the platform, taken from the tunnel, 1969. (POST 118/CT00357)

The Post Office Underground (London) Railway, or Mail Rail as it was later called, opened on 5 December 1927 and ran under the streets of London transporting mail across the capital from sorting offices to railway stations, 22 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Postmen loading bags from conveyor into containers to use on the Post Office underground railway. (POST 118/381)

Postmen loading bags from conveyor into containers to use on the Post Office underground railway. (POST 118/381)

One of many unique features of the system is that it was driverless and as such was hailed by the press as a ‘Robot Railway’. The railway played a pivotal role in the transportation of mail in London and continued, rarely interrupted, until 2003. This was due in no small part to the great skill and knowledge of the engineering and maintenance teams. The BPMA holds three rail cars in its collection, one being the only known complete example of the original car used in 1927.

1930s Mail Rail train after conservation.

1930s Mail Rail train after conservation.

Visitors will have a chance to see these and other objects relating to the railway and hear about the history of the Post Office Underground (London) Railway through our short Curator-led tours. Throughout the day you can also explore the rest of our stored collection, as well as take part in activities, enjoy some refreshments in the form of tea and biscuits, and watch film footage all connected to the fascinating Post Office underground railway (except perhaps the biscuits…).

There will also be a chance to see the BPMA’s most recent touring exhibition on The Great Train Robbery, which took place on a Travelling Post Office 50 years ago this August. The exhibition looks at the events of the robbery itself, as well as the vital role played by the Post Office Investigation Branch in the subsequent investigations, as reflected in our Archive.

Travelling Post Office bag apparatus. (POST 118/5744)

Travelling Post Office bag apparatus. (POST 118/5744)

There’s plenty for all the family and the event is free for all, so please do drop in throughout the day between 10am and 4pm. Full details of the event are available on our website.

- Emma Harper, Curator and Hannah Clipson, Community Learning Officer

Mail Rail: A Photographic Exhibition is currently showing at Royal Mail Archive, Clerkenwell, London. Entry is free.

Of even more boxes and reams of pink tape…

Some of our regular blog readers may remember my previous blog post on the Museum Store audit. Since a year has passed since the start of the project, I thought I would add a quick update and share a few of the items that I have uncovered along the way.

During my first few weeks on the project, I worked on a number of shelves containing mailbags; a seemingly endless number of bags… of all shapes and sizes from small orange ones to large hessian sacks with bold, black stencilling. Among them were several bags commemorating notable dates, including this example marking a Coronation Day flight from Sydney to London on 2nd June 1953.

Coronation Day Flight Mailbag. (2007-0057/9)

Coronation Day Flight Mailbag. (2007-0057/9)

As with any new subject, when I first started at the BPMA back in 2011 there were many terms that meant very little to me – one example was the phrase ‘dead letters’. So you can imagine my amusement when the shelf I was auditing one afternoon held a real ‘Dead Letter’ box, which had come from a Post Office in Walton on the Naze. For me, one of the wonderful things about working directly with the collection is being able to tie elements of postal history to ‘real’ objects that can add that extra level of understanding.

Dead Letters Box from Walton on the Naze Post Office. (2002-572/3)

Dead Letters Box from Walton on the Naze Post Office. (2002-572/3)

I was particularly taken with this illuminated badge, partly because I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. That it had once lit up was clear – you could see the connecting wires at the end – but exactly how it would have been used had myself and Barry – one of the BPMA volunteers – puzzled.

Illuminated Badge. (E6709)

Illuminated Badge. (E6709)

We speculated whether it might have been attached to the front of a telegram messenger’s motorcycle, but that’s didn’t feel quite right. Duly audited, repacked and the badge returned to its shelf, I made a mental note to try and find out more. One of my colleagues in the Curatorial team said that he had previously seen a photograph with someone wearing a similar badge in the Archive. It was shortly after that I realised the answer was – quite literally – in front of me, as we have an enlarged version of the photograph on display at the Museum Store that I had been walking past each morning!

Telegram Messenger wearing an illuminated badge. (POST 118/0424)

Telegram Messenger wearing an illuminated badge. (POST 118/0424)

The badge was used by telegram messengers at mainline train termini, presumably to help you spot one on a crowded platform if you wished to send that last-minute telegram. It was great to see the item in use and even more satisfying to – at least partially – answer the question ‘What was this used for?’

Telephone sign. (OB2001.39/2)

Telephone sign. (OB2001.39/2)

A similar thing occurred when auditing a ‘TELEPHONE’ sign and metal bracket. That it was a rather lovely item was certain, but I did wonder what one might have looked like when it was in active use.

Whilst preparing a short talk for a local Rotary club in June, I came across my answer – a lantern slide image of a postman entering a K2 telephone kiosk, with a ‘TELEPHONE’ sign, like the one I had wrapped a few months previously, attached to a post on the left hand side. It can be easy to forget that museum objects had a working life, particularly if they are removed from their original context, so it was nice to have a visual clue as to how these signs would have been used.

Lantern slide with postman, kiosk and sign. (2011-0443/6)

Lantern slide with postman, kiosk and sign. (2011-0443/6)

A year on from the start of the project, I am delighted to report that the number of shelves audited and repacked has steadily increased to 290 shelves (or 57%) of our small mobile racking. This has been due in no small part to the assistance of volunteers Don and Barry, as well as the further help of my colleague Emma and the efforts of placement student Flora, who spent some time working at the Store during her student placement in April 2013.

Given the scale of the project, progress could occasionally feel misleadingly slow but the sight of steadily multiplying bays filled with pink tape shows that all that effort has produced a tangible result. More importantly, by assessing the condition of items and ensuring their packaging materials are suitable, we are ensuring that they are protected from their environment and remain in a stable condition to be enjoyed by visitors and researchers in years to come.

- Sarah Jenkins, Project Coordinator

Volunteer Celebration Event

Last Thursday we hosted our fourth annual BPMA’s Volunteer Celebration Event. The event is held as a small token of our gratitude to the wonderful and giving folk who kindly donate their time, knowledge and energy to assist us in our work.

This year’s roster is made up of 29 magnificent folk who have been providing invaluable assistance across a range of jobs, including:

  • Rehousing material in preparation for moving the archive to Calthorpe House
  • Surveying London war memorials and checking the accuracy of existing data- especially valuable given next year’s WW1 centenary
  • Updating the information in our databases with their own specialist knowledge
  • Aiding with condition checks of our textile collection
  • Cleaning, listing and rehousing papers from the Solicitor’s Office so that they can be safely moved and catalogued
  • Collating and analysing the results of an audience research project, so that we are better able to understand the reach of our work in general
  • Providing a watchful eye and compiling monthly reports on our Travelling Post Office exhibition at the Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens in Norfolk
  • Managing the on-site shop at the Museum Store in Debden
  • Sorting and cataloguing material that has since become the POST 136: Parcel Services series
  • Exploring the stories behind our photographic collections and the events they document, and adding to our Historypin channel
  • Digitising, cataloguing and rehousing a series of glass plate negatives of portraits of Post Office officials from the 16th-20th century
  • Rehousing colour transparencies from the1960s to the 1990s and re-sorting items that have previously been misfiled or inaccurately described
  • Helping develop workshops for primary schools
  • Auditing and repacking the Museum Store
  • Assisting with the conservation of Mail Rail cars

This year’s event featured BPMA Director Dr Adrian Steel presenting our volunteers with a certificate of appreciation and gift bag. Some of those that attended are pictured below with Adrian.

Don Bell’s interest in vehicles is very handy when it comes to identifying boxes of miscellaneous vehicle parts! Before joining the audit project in September 2012, Don also volunteered with Conservator George Monger on the conservation of the Mail Rail Cars.

Don Bell with Adrian Steel.

Don Bell with Adrian Steel.

Flora Fyles is an MA Museum Studies student who was able to put her theoretical training into practice whilst assisting with a condition check of some of our textile collection, which sped up the overall process no end.

Flora Fyles with Adrian Steel.

Flora Fyles with Adrian Steel.

Tom Norgate acquires and mounts new philatelic material – this year he has created pages relating to iLSM Processed Mail and Post & Go.

Tom Norgate with Adrian Steel.

Tom Norgate with Adrian Steel.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka is a qualified architect, but this was the first time she had worked with architectural plans in a conservation context – approaching them as fragile items to be carefully, and minimally handled, rather than as ‘working’ drawings.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka  with Adrian Steel.

Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka with Adrian Steel.

We hope that those who were able to attend enjoyed themselves, and that everyone who has generously helped us out over the past year has an idea of how much they are appreciated.

We couldn’t do it without you!

- Deepa Sebastian, Team Support Officer

Visit our website to find out how to become a BPMA volunteer.

New acquisitions

A few weeks ago we were very fortunate to have a visit from someone wishing to donate a group of material to the BPMA museum collection. The group of material related to a Thomas William Ernest May, the donor’s father. We have subsequently been able to trace something of his Post office service through the Archive records. May joined the Post Office in 1910 as an Assistant Postman and just a couple of years later, in 1913, was appointed as a Sorter at North District Office in Islington, very quickly transferring back to his old role as postman but at the North West District Office. Just one year later with the outbreak of the Great War as it was known, Thomas, like many other Post Office workers, joined the 8th Battalion London Regiment known as The Post Office Rifles at the age of 20. He later returned to work at the Post Office, rising to the rank of Assistant Superintendent by the time of his death in 1953.

The objects donated to the BPMA relate both to May’s time in France with the Post Office Rifles as well as his Post Office work. Amongst these are several very personal objects, including a green leather bound pocket journal given to May before he embarked for France in 1915. It includes a map of Flanders, various helpful French and German phrases, a calendar for 1915 and different methods of working out your position in day and night: all to aid the soldier should he get lost or separated from his battalion. The journal itself is written by Thomas in pencil and covers his posting to France as well as his thoughts and feelings in the midst of campaigns on the front line. We are hoping to work on a project to scan and transcribe this journal to chart May’s time during the war, so do look out for that on this blog in the coming years, as well as many other items relating to the Centenary of the Great War.

Journal given to Private Thomas May before leaving to fight in France with the Post Office Rifles.Journal given to Private Thomas May before leaving to fight in France with the Post Office Rifles.

Journal given to Private Thomas May before leaving to fight in France with the Post Office Rifles.

There are also photographs of May with other members of the Post Office Rifles, both in official uniformed shots as well as more informal photos of them with their brooms and rifles. May received the 1914-1915 Star Medal and the British War Medal, both campaign medals routinely given to those who served and they are also included within the collection as is the slightly more unusual Silver War Badge. The Silver War Badge was given to soldiers who had to return from the war due to injuries, the badge states ‘FOR KING AND EMPIRE SERVICES RENDERED’. It was to be worn on civilian clothing and was proof that they had been honourably discharged and meant they could avoid being given a white feather for supposedly shirking their duty.

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May.

Photograph of Sergeant Thomas May.

As previously mentioned, May returned work at the Post Office following his experiences in the war and the final object of this blog dates from 14 March 1929 when he was still at the North District Office. It is a large hand-illustrated card in the form of a postcard and shows a man pushing a child in a pram on the front in a street scene with a cinema and dancing hall in the background. The caption reads ‘You will have to cut all that out now! Daddy’ and features ‘Hearty Congratulations and Best Wishes from NDO’ on the birth of his daughter, who has now generously donated these objects to BPMA.

Illustrated card sent to Thomas May by colleagues at NDO on the birth of his daughter.

Illustrated card sent to Thomas May by colleagues at NDO on the birth of his daughter.

This is such a wonderful group of personal items relating to Thomas Ernest William May and we are very grateful to his daughter for donating them so that Thomas’ story can be added to the others told through our collection.

- Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)

Volunteer Flora and the ‘box of doom’

My name is Flora, and I’m an MA Museum Studies student at the University of Leicester. Over April, I spent some time at BPMA, helping to audit and pack objects in preparation for the move.

Flora auditing and packing the museum collection.

Flora auditing and packing the museum collection.

I spent most of the time at Freeling House, delving into the archive downstairs. This included badges, ties, postcards, letters, publicity leaflets, and lots of other things. The postcards were particularly interesting, especially trying to make out the messages on the back of some of them. Less fun was counting a large number of duplicate badges for disposal – the total was 666 (as well as a small saxophone badge and a clip that looked as if it was from a pair of dungarees), so I think that definitely qualifies as a ‘box of doom’. We also found an old sign ‘In Case of Alarm of Fire’, with separate instructions for male and female employees (women were supposed to file out in pairs – I wonder what happened if there was an odd number?!).

Two days a week were spent out at the Museum Store in Debden, which is home to the larger (and often more unusual) objects. I can’t quite decide on my favourite; it’s a tie between the model of the HMS Queen Mary (complete with tiny moving lifeboats), parts of the Travelling Post Office (including a water boiler and food heater), or the Post Office ‘L’ Plates – I had no idea that the Post Office used to teach their own drivers.

Model of the HMS Queen Mary.

Model of the HMS Queen Mary.

One day involved packing lots of vehicle parts, helpfully listed as ‘assorted unknown parts’; luckily, another volunteer with an extensive knowledge of cars was on hand to help us identify what we were actually packing. There were definitely a few more challenges out in Debden – lots of oddly shaped objects that, just as you thought you’d finally wrapped them up, would burst back through the acid-free tissue paper and make a bid for freedom. I also got to dust a couple of post boxes and post vans which was fun – leading to complaints from my mum about my reluctance to dust at home.

I also spent two days down in the corner of the archive checking the old uniforms for signs of moth activity. There were a few false alarms (including a set of disintegrating shoulder pads in one of the jackets), but luckily, no signs of infestation (I did find one jacket with a few worn patches, but decided that moths probably haven’t yet developed the intelligence to eat in a completely straight line!). The range of uniforms hiding in the corner was astounding: I found Danish uniforms (both town and country, and summer and winter – clearly the Danes like their uniforms), as well as Canadian and Swiss ones. There were also Foreign Office uniforms, from when the General Post Office won the contract to dress some departments of the Civil Service as well as their own employees. It was amazing (and slightly terrifying) to be touching fabric that was over one hundred years old in some cases, but it was all remarkably well preserved. I also never realised quite how heavy overcoats were, especially the thick woollen ones.

Flora condition checking the uniform collection.

Flora condition checking the uniform collection.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and it’s been a great introduction to the practical side of collections documentation and management (rule number one: the collections database CALM is anything but!). I’d also like to say a huge thank you to Emma and Sarah for putting up with me (and for the plentiful supply of tea, biscuits and occasional cake out at Debden!)

See our Volunteers page to find out about volunteering at BPMA.

Historic Duplicate Stamp Sale to Benefit New Home for The British Postal Museum & Archive

  • Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA)
  • Important sale, estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million, will support a spectacular new home for the British Postal Museum & Archive, set to open in early 2016
  • State-of-the-art centre will represent an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape, showcasing the BPMA’s world-class collections and celebrating a unique aspect of British heritage
  • New museum will serve as a key cultural hub as part of a major regeneration scheme in Camden & Islington

On 11th July 2013 Sotheby’s will stage an historic auction featuring surplus duplicate stamps from the British Postal Museum & Archive. The auction will provide essential funds for a state-of-the-art new home for the BPMA, representing an exciting addition to London’s cultural landscape when it opens in 2016.

Visualisation of BPMA's New Centre at Calthorpe House.

Visualisation of BPMA’s New Centre at Calthorpe House.

New Home for Britain’s Postal History

Described by Mayor of London Boris Johnson as “a national treasure of global importance”, the BPMA is the leading resource for all aspects of British postal heritage. It cares for the visual and written records of 400 years of British postal, social and design history, comprising over 60,000 artefacts and 2.5 miles of archives. Together, the collections and archive tell a fascinating human story of British communication, industry and innovation, illuminating and celebrating a unique and integral part of the nation’s heritage.

Under a scheme endorsed by the Government and backed by Britain’s leading heritage organisations, the BPMA is planning a new Postal Museum and Archive to provide a first class home for its archive and collections, which are currently held in storage and largely inaccessible to the general public. The new centre will be situated in Calthorpe House, in the London Borough of Camden, adjoining the country’s oldest mail centre at Mount Pleasant.

World-class Archive and Collections

As well as featuring a purpose-built archive repository, the new Postal Museum and Archive will feature spectacular exhibition spaces to showcase the BPMA’s archive and collections, which range from postal vehicles to pillar boxes, staff records, posters, photographs, uniforms, weapons and the world’s greatest collection of British stamps.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Poster: 79,242 Postmen, Duncan Grant, 1939.

Highlights include every British stamp issued from 1840 to the present day; original evidence from the Great Train Robbery trial; the world’s first commercial Christmas card produced in 1843; a 1930s art-deco Mobile Post Office; Valentine’s Day cards dating from c. 1790; telegrams relating to the Titanic disaster; weapons used to protect the mail against theft or piracy; a digital Oral History collection recounting the personal stories of hundreds of current and retired postal staff from around Britain; a first edition of ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce, intercepted in the post for being obscene; uniforms of Victorian River Postmen; a Travelling Post Office railway coach; films produced by the iconic GPO film unit; telegrams sent by the royal family; medals awarded to Post Office Employees including a rare Victoria Cross; and posters, prints and paintings by celebrated artists including Edward Bawden, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

Understanding and celebrating Britain’s postal heritage and wider social history

The new Postal Museum and Archive will feature a state-of-the-art education centre and extensive research facilities, designed to encourage school children, students and the wider public to learn from and be inspired by postal heritage in all its depth and context. The new education space will increase the BPMA’s annual educational engagement from 2,000 to 12,000 pupils, representing a 600% increase on its current offering.

Key examples of how the BPMA’s collections reflect Britain’s social history:

  • In 1840 the launch of the Penny Black, the world’s first prepaid stamp, encouraged people to write and became a vehicle for education, friendship and commerce
  • The opening of Post Office Savings Bank backed by the Government in 1861 encouraged people of all walks of life to save money safely and to help combat debt
  • W. Reginald Bray became the first ‘human letter’ when he posted himself, later emulated by two suffragettes who attempted to have themselves delivered to Downing Street
  • During WW1 the Post Office co-ordinated all army mail and by 1918 had 22,000 pigeons carrying messages to the front
  • In 1943 the world’s first programmable electronic computer was built by the GPO’s Tommy Flowers, helping to break many German encrypted codes during WW2

Mail Rail: London’s Best Kept Secret

As an added visitor attraction, the BPMA is exploring plans to convert a section of Mail Rail, the former underground Post Office railway network. Introduced in 1927 and operational until 2003, Mail Rail was the world’s first driverless electrified railway, which revolutionised the delivery of mail in the UK. To this day it remains the world’s only dedicated underground mail transport system, representing an important and largely unseen element of Britain’s industrial heritage.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Poster design: Post Office Tube Railway, Edward Bawden, c. 1935.

Subject to sufficient funding, the Mail Rail depot at Mount Pleasant will be transformed into an immersive visitor centre, introducing a fascinating 15 minute ride on the Mail Rail network on newly-designed trains through the existing tunnels.

Benefitting the local area and contributing to an improved sense of community

Bridging the boroughs of Camden and Islington, the new Postal Museum and Archive will serve as an important cultural hub and community resource. As well as offering cultural and training opportunities for young people, the BPMA will organise out-of-school cultural opportunities and strong community outreach programmes, contributing to a vibrant Camden and Islington.

Historic Stamp Sale

The project to develop the new Postal Museum and Archive will cost approximately £22 million and a fundraising campaign is currently underway, with considerable support from Royal Mail and Post Office Limited. Other funding is in place from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from the BPMA itself.

As part of the fundraising campaign, the BPMA is pursuing two sales of surplus duplicate philatelic material currently held in its custody though not part of its accessioned collections. The historic auctions will take place at Sotheby’s, which held the first ever stamp auction in Europe in 1872. The first sale, held on 11th July 2013, will comprise 191 lots and is estimated by Sotheby’s to bring in excess of £5 million.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

One of the duplicate items for sale: Seahorse ‘Registration’ sheets, 1923, one of only two such sheets in existence.

Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said:

Since we first announced our project to open a new first class home for Britain’s postal heritage in London last year we have received widespread support, and following last month’s announcement of this sale it has been great to receive encouragement from those who want to play their part in our fundraising campaign by participating in the auction. The BPMA’s collections are of the utmost richness in iconic British heritage and engaging personal stories, and from family historians to families who want to immerse themselves in something new as part of a day out in London, our new centre offers something sparkling with fascination and enjoyment for everyone. It will safeguard all our collections into the future, and by taking up the chance to own the rare philatelic specimens on offer at Sotheby’s, all potential buyers can feel proud that they are helping to safeguard the originals, and all our world class collections, from Penny Blacks to packet ship records, for the nation and the world to enjoy.

Museums at Night – Stories from the Store

Venture off the beaten track on Thursday 16th May and explore the treasures of the British Postal Museum and Archive (BPMA) Museum Store at a special after-hours event.

Behind its unassuming façade, the Museum Store houses a wonderful collection of the BPMA’s larger exhibits – each with a story to tell. As part of Museums at Night 2013, come and find out about some of these stories as they are brought to life by The Big Wheel Theatre Company!

Morris van at the Museum Store.

Morris van at the Museum Store.

What can you do on the night?

Big Wheel Theatre Company

Stories will be revealed by some fascinating characters from our postal past! Through some exciting interactive performances and activities find out about the Suffragette ‘human letters’ fighting for the right to vote and see how the Post Office had to adapt to the demands of war with new services. Mingle with these characters from history to truly understand all that they went through and achieved. (You can find out more about the ‘human letters’ by listening to episode #3 of our podcast.)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Anti Suffragette postcard. (2011-0365)

Craft Guerrilla

Show your support for our resident Suffragette for the evening by making your own rosette, reminiscent of those worn by the campaigners who fought for Women’s rights. East London craft company, Craft Guerrilla, will be running the activity. All materials provided for free, just bring your creativity and enthusiasm!

Discover how the post office went to war

Explore our Second World War handling box. Dress up like a wartime post man, and write a telegram to a loved one.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Write your own Post Office Telegram.

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Postal fun at the Museum Store!

Have a browse

Take a walk down ‘letter box alley’ or take a look at our fleet of postal service vehicles illustrating the long history of moving the mail in a self led exploration of the collection. BPMA staff will also be on hand to answer questions about the collection. When you leave you will be able to recognize a hen and chicks bike, a K2 telephone kiosk and an Edward VIII pillar box!

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Hen and chicks cigarette card.

Refreshments

At an event celebrating stories from our past it only seemed right to have a vintage themed refreshment stand! Help yourself to a selection of home made cakes and finger sandwiches, cloudy lemonade or a hot drink - all absolutely free.

Date and Time

Thursday 16th May, 6.00pm-9.00pm.

Cost and Booking

Free - no booking necessary

Visit our website to find out more about our Museums at Night event.