Monthly Archives: January 2010

Two new additions to the website

Henri Cheffer's original design

Henri Cheffer's original design for a proposed Anglo-French stamp issue (1940)

Over the past day we have been uploading material related to stamps from the era of George VI to our website. Ten proposed or issued stamps dating 1937-1951 are documented and large-size scans of the artworks are included. This is part of our ongoing Stamp Artwork Project which aims to make available material related to British stamp issues from the eras of George V, Edward VIII, George VI and Elizabeth II. Find out more and see what’s new on the Stamp Artwork Project page of our website.

Also uploaded today is our latest podcast The Post Office Went to War featuring thematic collector Christine Earle. Christine Earle is a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London and a renowned thematic stamp collector. Her Post Office Went to War collection comprises a wealth of supporting material including GPO notices, ration books and saving stamps. To download or subscribe to our podcast visit:

A visit to Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Project Manager 

The exterior of the Museum of London Docklands, a former dock side warehouse completed in 1802.

External view of the Museum of London Docklands

Earlier this week I visited the Museum of London Docklands to see their new exhibition, Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world. This is the first exhibition to open this year as part of the London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

The Museum is located in a former warehouse in West India Quay. Completed in 1802, West India Quay was the largest dock complex in the world, through which most of the nation’s sugar was imported. The sugar was produced on slave farms in the West Indies and the museum devotes an entire gallery – the London, Sugar and Slavery Gallery – to examining the transatlantic slave trade.

Visitors viewing the display Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world at Museum of London Docklands

Visitors viewing the display

It is in this gallery that you can see the new temporary display, Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world, until 30 June 2010. The display explores how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through the everyday postage stamp.

It’s a fascinating look at the different approaches taken by different countries and how these have changed over time, since Sierra Leone issued the first stamp to commemorate the abolition of slavery in 1933.

Four drawings by students show scenes of slavery and slave ships, as well designs for commemorating Freedom From Slavery

Drawings by Barnet College students

I enjoyed finding out more about some of the differences in the images and symbols used on stamps that were issued by former slave colonies as opposed to countries like Britain and America. It was also interesting to see how, while these stamps have often depicted those involved with bringing about the end of slavery, more recently there is a shift from showing the public figures involved (like Abraham Lincoln) to those who struggled personally to end enslavement, like Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian revolutionary.

The final section contained designs by students at Barnet College, developing their own ideas about how abolition should be commemorated on stamps.

The Museum of Docklands and this display are well worth a visit. There are also two free talks about the collection, details of which are on the London 2010: Festival of Stamps website.

Three of the people who helped make the exhibition happen:  (left to right) Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History, Nigel Sadler, Sands of Time Consultancy who loaned the stamps in the exhibition, Lucie Fitton, Inclusion Officer, Museum of London.

Three of the people who helped make the exhibition happen: (left to right) Tom Wareham, Curator of Maritime and Community History, Nigel Sadler, Sands of Time Consultancy who loaned the stamps in the exhibition, Lucie Fitton, Inclusion Officer, Museum of London.

2010 File Openings

by Gavin McGuffie, Catalogue Manager

Last year I blogged on the 2009 file openings at the BPMA. At the start of every year we make a batch of Royal Mail Archive material available to public research for the first time. These are files that reached the thirtieth anniversary of their closure the previous year, so for last year files which contain material dating up to and including 1979.

This year we’ve opened about 180 files and descriptions, particularly material from the following POST classes: POST 19 (Postal Business Statistics), POST 52 (Stamp Depot), POST 69 (Royal Mail Board and its Predecessors), POST 73 (Regional Administration and Operations) and POST 122 (Registered Files, Minuted and Decentralised Registry Papers). Below I’ll tell you about one or two things which caught my attention while opening these files.

POST 65/178 is a copy of an interim report by the University of Warwick’s Industrial Relations Research Unit into the ‘Post Office Industrial Democracy Experiment’. This involved union representatives from the Council of Post Office Unions being appointed to the Post Office Board for two years. Among the conclusions of the report which focus primarily on the “conflicting interests of management and unions” is what its authors’ call a “paradox . . . that within the Board it was often the management members who stressed conflict and the union nominees who espoused the theme of unity”.

Continuing on the subject of the Board, matters discussed in recently opened POST 69 Board minutes inevitably include many industrial relations issues, particularly the Post Office Engineering Union’s claim for a 35 hour week. Others issues that interested me included the acknowledgement that the “standard of [Post Office] design was a serious responsibility” and that the “double-line alphabet [designed by Colin Banks] and visual identity programme already being implemented . . . [was] the best way to achieve major design impact” (Management Board minute, M79/9), matters relating to developing technology and computing having “widespread and far-reaching implications throughout the Post Office” (Board minute 79/53) and a proposal to acquire St Botolph’s Church as a “wing of the existing National Postal Museum to present visually a comprehensive picture of the development of the British postal services.” (Management Board minute M79/38)

POST 108/55 is a memorandum from the Marketing Department to the Controller of Press and Broadcasting on the imminent publication of the Williams Committee Report on Obscenity. It suggests how best to deal with potential criticism of a “low profile” 1978 change to Post Office procedures for “incoming overseas postal packets containing material which might be deemed indecent or obscene, and which Customs and Excise release to the PO” by which such “postal packets will receive treatment identical to that for any other postal packets opened for Customs inspection and released by them”, i.e. it will be “forwarded to the addressee”. It stresses that ”our defence must be that: our function is to provide postal services, not to act as a watchdog”.

A file in our archive on the Reputation of the Post Office (POST 108/74)

The Reputation of the Post Office (POST 108/74)

Another POST 108 (Public Relations Department) file (POST 108/74) that intrigued me is a report by MORI on the ‘Reputation of the Post Office’ comparing it with 66 other major businesses in the public and private sector. Perhaps unsurprisingly among its key findings was the “widespread appreciation that the Post Office is more than simply postal services and telephones. Two out of three felt that it had more to offer … that the High Street Post Office serves a useful social function.”

The 1979 files and many more can be found using the BPMA’s online catalogue. To view these files please see our Visitor’s Guide.

Stick it in the Family Album

by Adrian Steel, Director

The Lincoln Stamp Album and The Strand Stamp Album

Two of Frank Steel's stamp albums

The start of 2010, year of the Festival of Stamps, has inspired me to retrieve my Grandfather’s stamp collection from my loft and look at it properly for the first time. There is a good range of material that can be found to help explain the stamps, even to a relative newcomer such as myself.

Frank Steel was born in Croydon in 1915, and died in 1990. He served in the Territorial Army in the 1930s, and during the Second World War had various postings in the UK and in India. All his working life was spent at a building supplies yard in Croydon, but throughout this time he collected stamps as a hobby. Indeed, he was responsible for arranging my one and only visit to the old National Postal Museum in 1989. I inherited his collection shortly after my Grandmother moved into a nursing home in 2003, since when it has stayed, boxed up, in the loft.

Two pages of the Lincoln Stamp Album, showing stamps from Gibraltar and Great Britain

Two pages of the Lincoln Stamp Album, showing stamps from Gibraltar and Great Britain

On unpacking the first container, and removing the volumes, I chose to see what stamps I could find from the reign of King George V, which we are particularly celebrating this year. In addition to the first that caught my eye – stamps overprinted for use in Ireland after 1922 – those that particularly stood out were the 1929 Postal Union Congress stamps. He had secured the ½d, 1d, 1½d, and 2½d values; the £1 would probably have been beyond his means.

There is plenty to find online about these stamps, and my grandfather would have been online all day researching if such things had been available to him! BPMA’s catalogue reveals a wealth of resources related to this issue. In the Royal Mail Archive POST class 33 includes files related to the 1929 Postal Union Congress itself. POST 52 has records related to the production of the stamps. There are commemorative handstamps, and a publication in the search room library, the National Postal Museum-produced special stamp history dating from 1998. There are also of course philatelic materials themselves: POST 150 includes registration sheets, proofs, paper samples, colour trials, a first day cancellation, the submitted designs (successful and unsuccessful) and even some commemorative postcards from 1980. And all this just at the BPMA!

Two pages of the Strand Stamp Album, showing stamps from Great Britain

Two pages of the Strand Stamp Album, showing stamps from Great Britain

All the above are detailed on our online catalogue, and there are many images available particularly of the philatelic items. My grandfather got a lot out of studying his stamp albums and keeping his collection in order and up to date. I have discovered that it’s now possible to find out a good deal in a short space of time, so I will have a look through some of his other boxes and see what else he collected.

BPMA aids author

Every week many people to come to the BPMA to use our Archive Search Room. Whether it’s family historians finding out about their ancestors, historians interested in communications or philatelists furthering their knowledge, all are welcome.

Len Stanway, author of the Malaya Study Group’s new book Malaysia and the Federation of Malaya – Their Stamps and Postal Stationery, has expressed his thanks to BPMA staff for filling a gap in the available information on the printing of postal stationery for Malaya.

The author explained “When Messrs. McCorquodale took over the printing of envelopes and aerogrammes for Malaya from Messrs. De La Rue, the data on shipments was not fed back to the Crown Agents ledgers which are now held by the British Library. A Fiji researcher, John Ray, drew my attention to the existence of a BPMA file, POST 52/704, which contained reports from Post Office inspectors who were based at McCorquodale in the late 1950s and early 1960s to examine British issues and who handled Commonwealth shipments on behalf on Crown Agents in their spare time. This filled many of the gaps in the available information. You do not have to be a collector of Great Britain to find the BPMA a valuable resource.”

A registration envelope printed by McCorquodale for the Malayan state of Selangor

A registration envelope printed by McCorquodale for the Malayan state of Selangor

The Federation of Malaya came into existence in 1948, became independent of the United Kingdom in 1957 and was incorporated in an enlarged Malaysia in 1963. Len Stanway’s book explores the stamps and postal stationery issued during that period, including, where known, all printing orders and varieties. The postage due stamps of the Malayan Postal Union were in use throughout the period, so their full story from 1935 is described, as are the state and federal revenue stamps issued during the Federation period. Philatelic and political background information is covered in introductory chapters, together with brief biographies of the rulers and other eminent persons connected with the stamps.

Volume 1, covering the 1948 to 1963 period, was published this month and is available from the Malaya Study Group’s website: Volume Two will cover the 1963 to 1994 period and all Malaysia postage due stamps, while Volume 3 will cover 1995 to 2009. Supplementary information for 2010 onwards will initially be provided through the columns of The Malayan Philatelist, the journal of The Malaya Study Group.

A McCorquodale aerogramme for Singapore used by fan to ask Miss Doris Day for the words of "Deadwood Stage".

A McCorquodale aerogramme for Singapore used by fan to ask Miss Doris Day for the words of "Deadwood Stage".

Len Stanway’s interest in philately began at the age of 6 and he has been a member of the Malaya Study Group for 30 years. He is also a member of Singapore Stamp Club and the Sarawak Specialists’ Society, and a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society London. He holds various posts in local, regional and national philatelic societies, and has written extensively for various society publications and stamp magazines.

If you are interested in conducting philatelic research at the BPMA please see our website for further information on what records we hold and how we can assist you. The Archive Search Room is open every weekday from 10am to 5pm, except Thursdays when we are open until 7pm. The Search Room will also be open on six Saturdays throughout 2010; see the What’s On section of our website for details.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: January 2010

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

This month’s object: Travelling Post Office Mail Bag Apparatus

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

The Travelling Post Office (TPO) was first introduced in January 1838, travelling on the Grand Junction between Birmingham and Liverpool. The TPO is closely linked with Rowland Hill’s penny postage, which led to an increase in letter writing and the need to transport more mail at speed. The TPO ceased operation in 2004 as more and more people used emails rather than letter writing to communicate.

Travelling Post Offices functioned as mobile sorting offices, allowing post officers to sort up to 2000 mails an hour while on the move. In its heyday there were some 77 services from London to Plymouth, Bristol, Newcastle and others.

In 1936 the GPO Film unit produced a film about the TPO entitled Night Mail that contained a poem by W.H. Auden and music by Benjamin Britten.

The picture featured here shows a wooden and metal model of a mail bag exchange apparatus and forms part of a set consisting of track, carriages, a hut and smaller items relating to the Travelling Post Office.

Mail bag exchange apparatuses like this were used between 1852–1971 on Travelling Post Offices to pick up and put down mails without the need for trains to stop. The concept of exchanging mail whilst in transit is nothing new to railways and was used before where mail bags were often thrown onto and off coaches while in motion.

Mail bag exchange apparatuses operated in the following way: Mail was simply put into leather pouches weighing between 20lb and 60lb that were attached to an arm which would suspend it 5ft above the ground and 3ft away from the carriage side. The carriage was equipped with an extendable net, fitted to the body side, with an opening into the carriage behind it to catch incoming pouches.

It is alleged that the duty of putting the bags on poles was so unpopular that some postmen paid others to do the duty for them.

For more on TPO’s see the BPMA’s online exhibition The Travelling Post Office.

Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world

The first event on the London 2010: Festival of Stamps calendar opens today at the Museum of London Docklands. This new display can be found in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery, and looks at how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through postage stamps from the 1930s onwards.

A 1963 US stamp depicting a broken chain and the words "Emacipation Proclamation", produced to celebrate 100 years since the abolition of slavery.

1963 US stamp celebrating the abolition of slavery

Post Abolition is created in partnership with the Sands of Time Consultancy. It features over 30 designs, together with new stamps created by students from Barnet College as part of a community project with the Museum.  Key stamps in the display include a 1965 Jamaican stamp marking Paul Bogle and the Morant Bay uprising. Also featured are the ‘Black Heritage’ series of stamps launched in 1978 by the US Postal Service featuring Harriet Tubman, known as the Moses of her people for helping men and women escape from the American slave states.

Tom Wareham, Curator at the Museum of London Docklands, said: “The great thing about these stamps is that they are not just miniature works of art, they also convey what the abolition of slavery has come to mean to people in different parts of the world. This display highlights the subtle messages and symbolism often contained within the designs.”

Nigel Sadler from the Sands of Time Consultancy said: “These stamps feature people who fought for freedom, rebellion leaders who died for independence together with iconic images of emancipation and life on the plantations. Stamps providing a history of slavery and its abolition commemoration are a rare sight in museum exhibitions. Sands of Time Consultancy is pleased to have been able to support the Museum of London Docklands with this display to coincide with London 2010: Festival of Stamps.”

The exhibition runs from 18 January – 30 June 2010. There are also a number of related events taking place. For more details on opening times and how to get there, please visit the Museum of London Docklands website.