Dear Amie

At the BPMA we regularly work with local community groups, engaging them with our collection and listening to their stories. The outcome is always rewarding, but sometimes the way these groups interpret our collections is truly heart-warming. The BPMA Community Learning Officer, Hannah Clipson, tells us about her experience working with a group of 10 trafficked women known as the Amies.

During the summer of 2014 I spent 12 weeks working with the Amies on a project run in partnership with the October Gallery to investigate the design history of the postal service. These women are of diverse nationalities and ages; brought together by PAN Arts, a London based Arts Company, and The Poppy Project, an organisation providing support, advocacy and accommodation for trafficked women, and as such had a wide range of experiences and outlooks.

Over the course of the 12 weeks we looked at the changing uniforms of postal workers, the process of stamp design, the poster collection and mail art.

Examples of mail art from the BPMA collections

Examples of mail art from the BPMA collections

Inspired by their own experiences and the objects and stories explored in the BPMA collections, the group responded in creative ways, guided by the artist Ella Phillips from October Gallery. We designed our own stamp artwork, sent our own mail art through the post and they sent letters to family and friends, some examples of which you can see below. In addition, each participant had their own sketch book that they could add to during the workshops and in their own time.

Some of the work created by the Amies

Some of the work created by the Amies

Dear Amie exceeded our expectations; not only did it facilitate a range of positive outcomes for the participants but it also proved invaluable to the BPMA. One of the participants described her pride in having created positive experiences and a new life for herself and there was an eagerness to develop a second phase of the project in 2015. For this the women decided they’d like to create a textile output which will be displayed in our brand new Postal Museum, due to open in 2016.

Stamp artwork created by the group

One of the Amies design for a stamp showing things important to her

For the BPMA we learned some extremely valuable lessons and gained some remarkable stories of what the postal service means to different people. The level of engagement showed us the true potential of our collection and the diverse ways in which it can be used to inspire a wide range of audiences. The postal theme resonated with the women in a way that we could not have imagined. For most of them, sending a letter to loved ones had been a lifeline through extremely difficult circumstances. Recollection of these memories, stimulated through the exploration of BPMA material, led to a fascinating and unexpected reinterpretation of some of our objects and the discovery of some truly remarkable, personal stories. It reinforced to us that our collection can be interpreted in meaningful, personal ways and act as a catalyst to uncovering touching stories such as those of the Amies.

NEW STAMPS: Inventive Britain

The United Kingdom has a long and rich history as an inventive nation. The Inventive Britain stamp issue celebrates this vital and creative aspect of the national character with eight key inventions of the past century in a range of disciplines and applications, from materials to medicine.

Carbon Fibre, £1.28.

Carbon Fibre, £1.28.

Catseyes, 81p.

Catseyes, 81p.

Colossus, 1st class.

Colossus, 1st class.

 DNA Sequencing, £1.47.

DNA Sequencing, £1.47.

Fibre Optics, 81p.

Fibre Optics, 81p.

 i-Limb, £1.47.

i-Limb, £1.47.

Stainless Steel, £1.28.

Stainless Steel, £1.28.

Word Wide Web, 1st class.

Word Wide Web, 1st class.

The stamps are available online by phone on 03457 641 641 and in 8,000 Post Offices throughout the UK. Stamps can be bought individually or as a set in a Presentation Pack for £6.90.

Spring Stampex 2015

Spring Stampex is just around the corner and will return to the Business Design Centre on Wednesday 18 February. Admission is FREE and we are delighted to once again have a stand at the show with the Friends of the BPMA.

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You can find us at stand 102A on the Village Green at Ground Floor level.

The opening times are:

  • Wednesday 18 February 11:30 – 19:00
  • Thursday 19 February 10:00 – 18:00
  • Friday 20 February 10:00 – 18:00
  • Saturday 21 February 10:00 – 17:00

BPMA Director Adrian Steel will be giving a presentation on the development of the Postal Museum at the Business Design Centre at 13.00 on Thursday 19 February as part of the GBPS Diamond Jubilee Festival.  

Limited Edition Postcard featuring the poster ‘79,242 Postmen’. Mar 1939. Poster artist: Grant, Duncan.

Limited Edition Postcard featuring the poster ‘79,242 Postmen’. Mar 1939. Poster artist: Grant, Duncan.

We will be giving away FREE goodie bags to visitors, including a limited edition postcard produced especially for Stampex. Staff will also be available to answer questions and provide information on our forthcoming plans to open The Postal Museum, as well as sharing news about our upcoming events and activities.

Ahead of the forthcoming BPMA exhibition ‘Pop it in the Post’  - opening on 28 March at Islington Museum – we will be marking the bicentenary of the birth of novelist, and pillar box pioneer Anthony Trollope,. Do also go along to our Freeling House Foyer and take a look at the 1853 Channel Islands pillar box- one of the oldest in the world.

Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box originally from Guernsey in the Channel Islands OB1996.653

Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box originally from Guernsey in the Channel Islands OB1996.653

The display will also include our ‘People’s Post’ activity where visitors can come and share their memories of the postal service; we’ll be asking a prompt question every day, so pop in and have a chat with us – we love a good story here at BPMA!

As usual, there will be a great selection of BPMA shop products to purchase and this will include Post & Go products and our popular homeware range. Please note that the Trollope products will be unavailable on the morning of the Wednesday 18th.

Trollope 2015 Presentation Pack

We look forward to seeing you both at Stampex and at Freeling House!

Sarah Jenkins – Fundraising Events Officer

My Favourite Objects: Birdcage Valentine

More of a celebrator of Anna Howard Shaw Day than Valentine’s Day on 14 February, I never really spent much time down the card aisle hunting for the perfect valentine. That was until I took a journey through the valentines section of our archive.

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

We have nearly 1000 individual valentines in our collection spanning from the oldest in 1790 to ones as recent as 1996. As you can see in the picture above, they fill the shelves from floor to ceiling! One of the runner’s up for my favourite object was a Vinegar Valentine. You can’t help but be in shock by the rude (and downright nasty) nature of these. Just take a look at the following transformation card.

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My favourite object is a much more humbling valentine of a birdcage from 1817. It doesn’t look like your traditional valentine with hearts and love sprawled across it, and from the picture below it doesn’t look like anything too special.

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

However, the image above really doesn’t do it any justice through! In the centre is a string to pull. We haven’t tried to open it for quite some time, so after a bit of a pep talk Curator Emma demonstrated how the card works for me and now with you!

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Nearly 200 years old, this card is beautifully illustrated with the bird on the front and the two little mice on the inside. Way before laser cutting, the detailed cuts that form the cage were done by hand. Valentines sent during the 19th century, apart from Vinegar Valentines, were usually handmade mementos of affection – a lot of time was spent making these cards. This is why the Valentine Birdcage is my favourite object, because of its individual nature. It isn’t a generic card on the shelf but made specifically for the receiver. In other words, the admiration for the receiver is in the details NOT in the number of pink hearts.

What’s the best valentine you ever received or sent? We would love to see it!  Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk.

See even more valentines on our new online exhibition.

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

 

Make your own Victorian Inspired Valentine’s Card

Victorian Valentine’s The popularity of sending Valentine’s cards greatly increased in the Victorian period, thanks, in part, to the introduction of the Penny Post. Victorian Valentine’s cards were often made of a number of different  materials, including lace, fringing, fabric and even human hair, which were layered, one on top of the other, much like a scrap book. Pictures of flowers were popular, as were images of Cupid and hearts. Victorian cards were a lot smaller than those generally on sale today and came in lots of different shapes. Some cards even had elaborate or novelty features like pop ups, music, scent and mechanical components.

'To My Valentine' Valentine Card c. 1890

‘To My Valentine’ Valentine Card c. 1890

Make your own Here are some beautiful images from Victorian Valentine’s cards in the BPMA’s collection for you to print out, cut out and use to create your very own Victorian inspired Valentine’s card. You could include your own photographs, sketches or memontos to make the cards really personal. 1 2 3 4

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We would love to see how your cards turn out or hear about any interesting cards you’ve sent or received yourself! Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk. -Joanna Espin, Curator

Meet the Staff: Day in the life of an Exhibitions Officer

In this edition of Meet the Staff, Dominique talks about what it is a like to be an Exhibitions Officer at the BPMA.

Hi, my name’s Dominique and I’m the Exhibitions Officer here at the BPMA. My role is really varied and interesting. I get to work closely with the stories and objects that we hold in our fantastic collection, which I think makes me very lucky.

Very excited to find a Edward VIII pillar box!

I am also a post box enthusiast. Here I am with a very rare Edward VIII pillar box!

How do you cram 500 years of communications history into an exhibition? It’s certainly a challenge, but one I enjoy. Most of my time is spent developing new temporary and touring exhibitions. I also work on the design of the exhibition spaces for The Postal Museum with Mail Rail, due to open in late 2016.

Planning the layout of cases. Simple mock ups using a tape measure and paper really help!

Planning the layout of cases. Simple mock ups using a tape measure and paper really help!

My day completely depends on which exhibition I am working on, and whether we are developing it, or installing it. I love this variety, and being able to see a project right through to delivery.

An average day at the moment will start with me checking requests for our four touring exhibitions. Last Post- our First World War exhibition, has been particularly popular with a variety of host venues recently, due to the centenary of the First World War. I will also telephone Ironbridge Gorge Museums, to check on our larger version of the Last Post exhibition, which they are hosting until the end of March. One of the stories the exhibition tells is of Infantryman Reg Sims, who, in 12 months on the Front, received 167 letters, and himself wrote 242 letters. Telling these individual stories reinforces, for me, why the story that our exhibition is telling is so important.

At mid-morning I will move on to writing exhibition text for our new exhibition: ‘Pop it in the Post: Your world at the end of the street. This exhibition talks about the Victorian letter writing revolution, and how the introduction of the humble pillar box- initially in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours, transformed how people were able to post their letters and keep in touch. I write around 200 words, and include about 5 images per panel although I tend to write double the amount of words needed for each panel, and then have to edit it down. Writing the text follows several months work deciding on the exhibition themes, and key messages. Text writing is hugely collaborative – with input from colleagues from the Curatorial, Communications, and Learning teams. We all have to be happy with the messages, and make sure that the text is aimed at the right audience- in this case, families with 7 to 11 year olds.

A character from our new exhibition: a victorian letter carrier

A character from our new exhibition: a victorian letter carrier

Text writing will take me through to mid-afternoon. My final job of the day is to check on the object list for The Postal Museum exhibition space. The shortlist for display currently stands at around 300 objects, and I am responsible for finalising these choices, which are then sent to our offsite designers. Potential objects for display currently include pistols, a cross-written letter, an intact sheet of  Penny Blacks, and a gleaming 19th century mail coach. It is unbelievably exciting to help ensure that these objects will be displayed to the public – some for the first time – and to share with new audiences the richness and diversity of our collection!

 

Our Mail Coach which will be on display in The Postal Museum.

And by then it’s time to head home. As I leave work and walk along Upper Street in Angel, I can’t help but notice the pillar boxes and telephone kiosks that I pass- that remind me of the amazing street furniture that we have in our own collection!

 

Puzzles for Postmen

James Addison is a graphic designer currently living and working in Poole, England. In this guest post, he shares his hobby of sending peculiar addresses through the post.

Sending peculiar post has been a hobby of mine for many years. The thrill of receiving a handwritten letter or postcard really cannot be emulated by a stark and cold email. From the feel of the paper to the indentations caused when putting pen to paper; there is a sort of chemistry when you receive a physical message that feels incredibly personal. However, it’s even better when you realise and appreciate the effort it has taken to deliver that message.

Puzzles_for_postmen_4

I grew up in a very leafy village in Buckinghamshire and we had a postman there called Frank who was, in my opinion, incredibly efficient. Letters would be delivered exactly at the same time every day; he knew the area inside out and he was rarely late. It was at this point that I thought I could set him a challenge, an opportunity to test both his and the sorting office’s detective skills. I started first with an envelope sent to my home address with a hand-drawn map and a drop pin as to where it should be delivered. To my disbelief the letter was delivered back the very next day (with only a second-class stamp) and so started a project spanning over 5–6 years where I would occasionally send the odd puzzle to see if it would make its way home.

Knowing of my little hobby, my parent’s bought me a book titled ‘Envelopes’ by illustrator Harriet Russell. She had a very similar project back in 1999 where she sent 130 cryptic envelopes to her home in Glasgow. This book has been of great inspiration to me over the years and has fueled my passion for all things postal.

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Unlike Russell’s prolific efforts, I have only sent twenty to thirty different envelopes of this sort. From poems and Morse code to drawing a building’s façade, only two have failed to reach their intended destination. These were an envelope with just my name and a print-out of a google map but the drop pin was slightly in the wrong place. – I’m not surprised those two didn’t make it.

I have always had a huge amount of admiration for the postal service from a very young age but after delivering my letters so successfully I have nothing but huge respect for their workforce. People do think of it as a huge well-oiled machine (which it is) but what I have discovered is that it has a very human spirit. A company with a personality is far more interesting than the faceless corporates we so often see. This is embodied in the way that the envelopes come back to me so often with smiley faces or penned scribbles from the sorting office. – A great personal touch.

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By far the best response was an envelope that read: ‘Dear Royal Mail, Please choose one of the following people who most deserves this envelope.’ Then underneath were three different friend’s addresses with a small biography about each one. Remarkably, when one of my friends finally received the letter it had a whole conversation scrawled across the front as it traversed the country. ‘No, this one…’ ‘No, no this guy’ it read. The chosen friend had a giant heart drawn around his head in pink crayon. Brilliant.

Puzzles for Postmen from James Addison.

I have since decided to give my local sorting office a break and have stopped sending cryptic mail for now in favour of clearly marked addresses. However, this small project has definitely proven that we have one of the best postal services in the world. No other mail company would embrace poorly labelled envelopes with such eccentricity and commitment to deliver everything that comes their way.

For more information about my project please visit: http://www.jamesaddison.co.uk/#/puzzles-for-postmen/