Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO podcast

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

In May, stamp designer Brian Webb and independent fine art consultant Peyton Skipwith spoke at the BPMA about the work of some of the artists who have been employed by GPO and Royal Mail over the years. Their talk is now available as a podcast.

Well known names such as Bertram Mackennal, Eric Gill, Edward McKnight-Kauffer, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious and David Gentleman produced some of their earliest work for the GPO, designing stamps, posters and other items. Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith discuss these designs, as well as other works by the same artists.

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

David Gentleman’s role in revolutionising British stamp design is well known and has been discussed on this blog before, but Peyton Skipwith notes that many of the design difficulties highlighted by Gentleman in Essays in Stamp Design were also encountered by earlier artists. The problem of how to include the monarch’s head and the value of the stamp into the design was anticipated in Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamps, he argues.

Other artists discussed include some of those who worked on the Millennium stamps, such as David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Craigie Aicheson.

The podcast The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO is free to download. While we couldn’t include the designs discussed within the podcast, many of them can be found by searching our online catalogue.

Illustrating Empire Mail: George V and the GPO

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Projects Manager

The BPMA’s major exhibition this year – Empire Mail: George V and the GPO – runs until 25 July at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  Big exhibitions like this take several years of planning, starting with a theme and developing the story around it. Objects must be selected and conserved (including any loans from other institutions), text and captions written and images chosen to bring the story to life. Empire Mail explores the reign of George V (1910-1936), innovations in the General Post Office and George V as a stamp collector – one of the finest of his time.

Selecting images to use in an exhibition can certainly be a challenging task.  Each image has to earn its place, illustrating a different aspect of the exhibition’s story.  Inevitably there will be many wonderful images that don’t quite make it.

I wanted to share some of these as I think they still deserve to be seen.  If you haven’t yet been to see Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, you might wonder which ones were chosen!

1. Field Post Office, First World War

Field Post Office, First World War

We used two other photographs of First World War Field Post Offices in the exhibition, so this one didn’t make it, but I still really like the image. Sending and receiving mail was vital for troop morale and Field Post Offices would be set up in any appropriate location. Notice the F.P.O sign on the windowsill and the poster promoting war savings certificates as an appropriate gift for a sweetheart!  Unfortunately we don’t know where or when this photo was taken.

2. Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Two women posting into a special aerial post box at the officers of the Windsor Chronicle.  The 1911 Coronation Aerial Post was the world’s first regular airmail service.  One of these red, wooden post boxes (on loan from Windsor & Royal Borough Museum) can be seen in the exhibition and we would have liked to include this image of it in use. Unfortunately, because this is an image from a newspaper it would have been very poor quality once blown up to the size needed for display.

3. Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

We had some good images of the September coronation airmail flights and the rehearsals the month before, so this one did not make the grade. It shows a postman with mail sack approaching one of the planes during a rehearsals. (This particular plane – a Valkyrie Monoplane – was used in the rehearsal, but not the actual mail flights.)

There were 20 flights in total (16 from Hendon to Windsor and 4 on the return leg) each generally carrying 2 mail sacks with a combined weight of about 50lbs.  Only special postcards and envelopes were carried, examples of which can also be seen in the exhibition.

4. Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

The exhibition team all liked this pleasant rural scene from the 1930s with the iconic George V Morris van, however the image didn’t quite fit in with the exhibition themes. The photograph was most likely taken for the Post Office magazine, illustrating the work of Post Office employees in different parts of the country.  We do have one of the Morris vans on display.  Moving it into the gallery took some very careful manoeuvring!

5. Light aircraft about to leave Newtownards airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

Light aircraft about to leave Newtonard airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

There were many good airmail photos to choose from and unfortunately this one is from just outside the dates covered by the exhibition. Airmail was still a relative novelty during the 1930s; here a small plane is operating out of a small airfield with a grass runway. But even this scene was advanced compared to images of the open wood and fabric aircraft making that first airmail flight just 24 years previously!

6. Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

This photograph was almost chosen for the section illustrating the development of motorised mail transport. We are lucky to have one of the original BSA B33 motorbikes on display, a unique survivor from the introduction of motorcycle telegrams delivery in the early 1930s. Messengers had to be at least 17 years old and were expected to ride at 15mph – something I suspect they didn’t always adhere to!

7. Post Office London Railway, 1926

Post Office London Railway, 1926

This fascinating illustration shows the route of the Post Office underground railway that runs from Whitechapel to Paddington Station and also how the mail was transported from the sorting offices via chutes and lifts to the railway below. This image is rather busy and in the end we chose to use a simpler map of the route alongside plans, photographs and original objects.

An online version of Empire Mail: George V and the GPO can be found on the BPMA website.

Crewe Heritage Centre railway stamps exhibition opens

Some of the exhibits

Some of the exhibits

As part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps, an exhibition of railway stamps and postcards has been mounted at Crewe Heritage Centre. The exhibition was organised jointly by North West Society of Philatelic Societies and Crewe Heritage Centre

The opening of the exhibition took place on Saturday 12th June 2010 at the Centre before a small crowd of local people, including some of the exhibitors. Paul Gaywood, past chairman of the Federation introduced the speakers. The first was the Mayor of Cheshire East Council Councillor Gordon Baxendale who welcomed everyone to Crewe. He had also brought with him the Mayoress Felicity Baxendale.

Speakers at the opening

Speakers at the opening

The official opening was then carried out by Professor Brian Goodey who is the Chairman of Trustees at The British Postal Museum & Archive.

Also present was Keith Johnson as representative of Sandafayre, one of the worlds largest mail stamp auctioneers who are based in Knutsford. They have sponsored the exhibition.

Others included Adrian Jones Secretary of the Federation, Mike Lenz of Crewe Heritage Centre and Philip Longbottom, Crewe Philatelic Society’s President.

The exhibitors are:

London & North West Railway
Pamlin cards
Wuppertal Overhead Railway
Loco Publishing Co
Cape Railways
– Tony Goodbody

Welsh Railways
– Paul Gaywood

The West Coast Route to Edinburgh
The East Coast Route to Edinburgh
Other Routes to Edinburgh and Edinburgh Railway companies
King Edward 8th – the 1921/2 and 1925 Royal Tour Trains
– Stephen Parkin 

Flying Scotsman
– Alan Rigby 

American Railways
– Alan Randall Jones 

North British Railway
– John Parkin

– Peter Kirk

– Keith Johnson

– Godfrey Mellor

– John Crowther

– Peter Kirk

– David Hope

Current railway material for sale
– Sandafayre 

The exhibition will be open until October, and open days can be found on the Crewe Heritage Centre website or by phoning 01270 212130.

Treasures of the Archive

by Zoe van Well, Archives Assistant

Hi, I am Zoe van Well and this is the first time I have blogged for the BPMA. So why now? Well, recently I contributed to the leaflet for the Treasures of the Archive exhibition. It is housed in the Search Room of the Archive and is free for all to view. You can also download a copy from our website.

In writing the leaflet I was able to not only test my knowledge built up over the past year as an Archives Assistant but also to gain more! I found it so exciting to make connections between the themes highlighted by the Treasures of the Archive exhibition.

The Machin Head mould

The Machin Head mould

One item is The Machin Head mould. Other themes include; Stamps That Never Were, featuring a page from David Gentleman’s design book, and also a World Cup Stamp commissioned for the Scotland team; Design in the GPO, The Mail Coach; and the list goes on!

I found that so many pivotal moments of postal history exposed by the exhibition directly influenced each other. The Machin Head, for example, is a mould sculpted and cast by Arnold Machin and was used to create the definitive stamp still in use today. (Everybody will have used one at some point in their life!) After I read some of Douglas Muir’s book on the topic, titled A Timeless Classic and sold in the search room, I became aware of the challenges which arose during the design process. In particular I realised the roles David Gentleman and the then Postmaster General Tony Benn played, given they were questioning the very use of the Monarch’s Head being present on stamps!

Colour trials for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929

Various colours were trialled for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929. Eventually, grey was selected.

This lead to me realising special stamps were very limited in number until the 1960’s, full stop! The Postal Union Congress commemorative stamps featuring George V (of which the £1 Stamp, 1929 is displayed in the exhibition) was only the second Commemorative Stamp to be commissioned. The first were designed for the British Empire Exhibition held in1924 and 1925. These stamps can currently be viewed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I must say though, whilst looking into these stamps I unearthed other research material which can sometimes be overlooked, including supplements issued in the Philatelic Bulletin. The Philatelic Bulletin is a small newsletter published by Royal Mail, and it includes articles on special stamps about to be issued. One supplement in particular does a great job of explaining the difference between definitive and special stamps. We have a complete collection of these Bulletins in the search room and they can be a great starting point for projects undergone by school pupils. They are also a great way for everybody to learn about events in philatelic history. Of course, if you become interested in an event and would like to see original material relating to it, either I or one my colleagues in the Search Room will be pleased to help you locate some if you wish!

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

Getting back to the Treasure of the Archive Exhibition, don’t forget we also have on display a Penny Black Proof Registration sheet (1st April 1840), of which there are only eight and all are cared for here at the British Postal Museum and Archive. We also have a Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box, one of the very first to be made and which were trialled on the Channel Islands during 1852 and 1853.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit us while this exciting and rare material is still on display! Why not make a day of it by browsing our catalogue either online or in our search room after viewing the exhibition. You may also prefer to take inspiration from the search room information sheets such as Travelling Post Offices, Mail Rail, Animals in the Post Office, The Post Office in the Second World War, Women in the Post Office and Airmail. If you find something takes your interest, we can help you find a particular item and produce it for you from the repository.

We enjoy showing you original material as it can often be a thrilling experience; both for staff and visitors, whether it is a time bill, a report or a list of ingredients for cancellation inks!

Treasures of the Archive can be viewed in our Search Room until April 2011. For information on visiting the Search Room please see

2010 Partner exhibitions

by Alison Norris, 2010 Exhibition & Festival Officer 

Last week I took the chance to visit some of our London 2010: Festival of Stamps partner exhibitions and displays. It was a chance to meet the different people involved, and see the many different stories that stamps can tell.

My first stop was Room 69a at the British Museum, to see Impressions of Africa: Money, Medals and Stamps.

Impressions of Africa: Money, Medals and Stamps, an exhibition in Room 69a at the British Museum

Impressions of Africa: Money, Medals and Stamps, situated in Room 69a at the British Museum

The exhibition shows how money and stamps have been used as symbols of power, vision, freedom and pride in the fight for independence in Africa.

A stamp celebrating independence for the Republic of Biafra

A stamp celebrating independence for the Republic of Biafra

Although sophisticated systems using items such as salt, cloth and beads had existed for thousands of years, coins and stamps were produced in Africa by European colonial powers as a way of asserting their authority.

Following from that, many of the items on display (a number of which are on loan from the BPMA) show how African countries have since used imagery to construct their own national identities. Images of national heroes, industry and the peaceful coexistence of diverse groups have been used to evoke unity and strength.

My next visit was to the Women’s Library to see Fe:MAIL, Suffragettes and the Post.

Cut out stamp card made using second hand postage stamps.

Cut out stamp card made using second hand postage stamps.

This fascinating display examines how the suffragettes used the post to further their campaign for the vote, often going to extreme and violent lengths.

The postal service played a crucial role in the suffragette campaign as it was a tool for mass communication and propaganda. Postcards helped to make the public aware of the movement, and helped to bring pressure on Parliament through public opinion. The women used images on postcards to portray themselves as citizens who not only deserved the vote on moral and democratic grounds, but who would also use their vote carefully and objectively.

What a Woman may be, and yet not have the Vote / What a Man may have been, & yet not lose the Vote

What a Woman may be, and yet not have the Vote / What a Man may have been, & yet not lose the Vote

The stamp below is known as a Cinderella stamp. It has no postal validity, but was usually placed on an envelope alongside official stamps. This example was published for the 1915 woman’s suffrage amendment campaign in Washington.

A "Cinderella" published for the 1915 woman’s suffrage amendment campaign in Washington

A "Cinderella" published for the 1915 woman’s suffrage amendment campaign in Washington

My last visit of the day was to Twickenham World Rugby Museum to see the display of rugby related letters, postcards, telegrams and stamps from their collection.

The rugby stamps display at Twickenham World Rugby Museum

The rugby stamps display at Twickenham World Rugby Museum

The display offers an interesting glimpse into how both rugby and correspondence have changed through the years, and includes a telegram to the RFU President from his French counterpart congratulating him on England’s win in 1953.

A telegram to the RFU President from his French counterpart congratulating him on England’s win in 1953

A telegram to the RFU President from his French counterpart congratulating him on England’s win in 1953

The full programme of events for London 2010: Festival of Stamps can be found at

Morten Collection Object of the Month: June 2010 – London to Glasgow mail coach ledger

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.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

In the 21st Century travelling has become part of our everyday lives. Most people will have been abroad at some point, even if just on a day trip to Calais, and almost everyone will have been on a bus, plane or train to a place away from where they live. Travelling has become relatively comfortable, easy and very fast.

This has not always been the case. In previous centuries very few people travelled. For the entire year of 1780 for example we have 15 English tourists in France. Travelling was slow, dangerous and burdensome. It was mainly the upper classes that travelled and the three most common reasons were health, religion and work. People often made their will before they went on a journey. Coaches could travel 7mph in the summer and 5mph hour in the winter. When going up hill passengers had to get off and walk, unless they were rich enough to be carried by their servants.

Between 1660 and 1840 it was customary for upper class boys to take the Grand Tour through Europe after leaving Oxford or Cambridge. As they were young and poorly supervised that often provided opportunities for their first encounters with members of the opposite sex.

Apart from owning your own horse and or coach, the two main ways to travel where either by mail or stage coach. Mail coaches were quicker, but not geared towards passenger travel, and sometimes passengers had to break off halfway through their meal as the coach was rearing to continue its journey. Stage coaches on the other hand were designed for passengers’ comfort, but slower, as they would stop frequently.

Prior to the existence of mail coaches, letters would have been conveyed by postboys on horses riding between posts that were placed in 20 mile intervals. John Palmer realised their inefficiency and started the mail coach service during the 18th Century. The delivery of mail from Bristol to London was reduced from 38 hours to 16 hours. Early mail coaches were not owned by the post office and were contracted out. The only post office official on board of a mail coach was a heavily armed guard who was needed to ward off the mail robbers.

In the Morten Collection we hold hundreds of items relating to roads, travelling and mail coaches. The item featured in this month object of the month is a ledger giving details for the accounts of the London to Glasgow mail coach.

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

London to Glasglow mail coach ledger, from the Morten Collection

House of Stuart

In March Royal Mail released the House of Stewart stamps, celebrating the Scottish monarchs who reigned from 1406 to 1625. Today a follow-up set is released, the House of Stuart. 

When Elizabeth I of England, the last of the Tudor monarchs, died childless in 1603, the Stewarts inherited the English throne. Later that year came The Union of the Crowns between England and Scotland, with King James VI of Scotland becoming James I of England. This signalled the start of the House of Stuart’s turbulent reign which would last until the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

The six Stuart monarchs: James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II, William III, Mary II and Anne

The six Stuart monarchs: James I, Charles I, Charles II, James II, William III, Mary II and Anne

Accompanying this stamp issue is a miniature sheet, The Age of the Stuarts, featuring the physician William Harvey, poet John Milton, architect and dramatist John Vanbrugh and the Battle of Naseby.

The Age of the Stuarts miniature sheet

The Age of the Stuarts miniature sheet

William Harvey was the first person to accurately describe the circulation of the blood. His description was published in the book De Motu Cordis (On the Motion of the Heart and Blood) in 1628. Harvey was also Physician to James I, and later to Charles I. He continued in this post until around the time of the Battle of Naseby, one of the most decisive battles of the English Civil Wars, which saw the Royalists all but destroyed by the Parliamentarians.

The English Civil Wars were previously commemorated on stamps in 1992

The English Civil Wars were previously commemorated on stamps in 1992

One of the beneficiaries of the Royalists eventual defeat was John Milton, a poet and polemicist. He believed passionately in the Parliamentarian cause and played several roles within the Commonwealth government, including composing foreign correspondence in Latin and producing propaganda. Following the Restoration of the monarchy he wrote his most famous work, Paradise Lost, an epic poem reflecting on the failure of the revolution. Milton’s work has not previously been represented on a British stamp.

Also making his debut on British stamps is architect and dramatist John Vanburgh, represented by one of his most famous buildings, Castle Howard. Built for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, it is perhaps best known for its use in the TV series and film Brideshead Revisited.

Stamps showing Blenheim Palace, British Gardens (1983) and World Heritage Sites (2005)

Stamps showing Blenheim Palace, British Gardens (1983) and World Heritage Sites (2005)

Another of Vanburgh’s buildings, Blenheim Palace, has appeared on stamps twice before as part of the British Gardens (1983) and World Heritage Sites (2005) issues. Blenheim, among other things, is the birthplace and ancestral home of Winston Churchill, a man who is no stranger to British stamps. The Palace was built in the early 18th Century for John Churchill, a soldier and statesman who served the last four of the Stuart monarchs, and the first of the Hanover monarchs, George I.

Accompanying this stamp issue are two First Day of Issue postmarks. One bears a quote from John Milton’s Areopagitica, a speech given to parliament against censorship. The other features the House of Stuart coat of arms.

House of Stuart first day of issue postmarks

House of Stuart first day of issue postmarks

The House of Stuart stamps are available from Royal Mail.