Posters from the Post Office Publicity Department

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

I have recently started cataloguing some of the posters forming part of POST 110, a class in our archive which consists of printed material designed to publicise Post Office services. Although the posters cover the period from 1934 (when the Post Office Publicity Department was created) to the present day, I am focussing on the earliest ones, with a view to making a listing available via the online catalogue.

I am going to write a bit here about two of the main series of posters: those with publication number IRP (Internal Relations Panel) covering the period from 1950 to 1967, and those with publication number PRD (Public Relations Department), covering the period from 1934 to 1968. This gives a flavour of what we hold; in future blogs I will focus on particular gems of the collection.

The IRP series is formed of posters produced by the JPC (Post Office Joint Production Council) for internal usage. They were designed to promote staff efficiency by reminding them of established procedures and recommending attention to detail. Staff are variously encouraged to focus on productivity, to handle mail correctly, to be aware of the need for security, to work as part of a team and to provide good customer service.

These posters were also used to encourage staff to be thrifty, with messages such as: ‘Save usable lengths of string. Avoid waste!’, ‘Save lead seals. Recovered lead is worth £90 per ton!’ and ‘Do not mis-use mailbags. They cost money’.

Some of the earliest posters in the PRD series were offered free of charge to schools and other educational establishments. They consist of sets of four posters illustrating particular themes.

The first in the series was produced by Harold Sandys Williamson on the theme of Post Office transport; images include ‘Mails for the packet steamers at Falmouth, 1833’ and ‘Loading airmails for the Empire, Croydon 1934’.

Such was the success of this series that it was followed by several other sets of posters, by artists such as Duncan Grant, Eric Fraser and John Armstrong. One key set by John Vickery entitled Outposts of Empire draws to mind a bygone era, featuring scenes from Barbados, Central Australia, Ceylon and Southern Rhodesia.

Other posters in the PRD series formed part of major publicity campaigns including those encouraging people to post early in the day, post early for Christmas, address their letters clearly and, with the introduction of postal coding in the 1960s, to include postcodes when addressing mail.

The BPMA exhibition Designs on Delivery: GPO posters 1930-1960 will open at the London College of Communication on 7th October and run until 4th November. For more information please visit our website.

11 responses to “Posters from the Post Office Publicity Department

  1. Hi,

    these are absolutely superb for those interested in graphical design. Do you know if there are any printed books about these posters?

    • Thank you for your comment.

      There is a book which includes images from the poster collection (the author used material from the BPMA archive and some posters from the Bruce Castle Museum’s postal collection [these posters are currently uncatalogued, so not easily viewed]), the author is Mike Barden and its called: GPO Posters: Post Early 1920-1960, published by the Camberwell Press in 1993, they only published a limited run of 100 copies though so its difficult to get hold of it, we have a copy in our archive collections (POST 108/207) which is available for viewing after application for an Archive User Card.

      Also most of our posters have been photographed and these pictures are available on the open shelves in the Search Room if you want to come in to look at them.

      If you are not able to make it into the Search Room then you will be pleased to know that we will be uploading a batch of posters to our online catalogue on 30th April (including all of the ones mentioned in the blog post) and most of these will include an image, search on finding number POST 110 and you will be able to view poster images here after that date:

      Also we do sell reproductions of posters at our online poster shop and there are many images available for browsing/purchase there and in October we’ll be launching our exhibition Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters 1930-1960. I hope this helps.

  2. Pingback: Two new ways to get involved with the BPMA! « The British Postal Museum & Archive

  3. What a brilliant set of images – I’ll link to them in a few days. That Mike Barden book is infuriating though; I’d love to read it, but it’s impossible to get hold of and I don’t live in London! Any chance that the archive will print a less expensive edition one day.

    • There aren’t plans to reprint the Mike Barden book (maybe set up searches on Amazon, ABE Books, eBay, etc for it? It’ll turn up one day!), but there’s a new book about GPO Design, which will include posters, coming out in a few months time. The author is Dr Paul Rennie from Central St Martins, London. Dr Rennie also gave a talk here last year, which will be added to our podcast at the end of March. Also, have a look at the online version of our exhibition Designs on Delivery.

      • The last copy I found went for £320 at Bloomsbury Auctions, so I don’t think I can quite justify it. Perhaps I’ll have to come into London and read your copy one day. I’ll look forward to Paul Rennie’s book though – and if it’s OK will link to these lovely pages in a few days time!

      • Yikes! That is a lot of money. There are several other books in the Design series which cover GPO-linked designers, like McKnight-Kauffer, and are considerably cheaper than that. And please do link to any of our resources.

  4. Hi, I have three original, very good condition, posters of the series Outposts of Empire by John Vickery 1937 … are they worth anything? 🙂

  5. MARIE Gilles


    j’ai retrouvé dans le grenier de mes parents un sac en toile de jute avec les inscriptions suivantes : POST OFFICE S GPO LA COURONNE D’ANGLETERRE ET UNE DATE 1944
    Pouvez me dire ce que peut être cet objet (bien sur je pense à un sac de courrier) mais pouvez vous m’en dire +
    merci d’avance

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