When an object is offered to the museum, there are certain things that are considered before it is formally accepted into the collection and accessioned. Is the object in good condition? Often materials can degrade not only causing damage to the object in question but sometimes threatening the condition of items already in the collection. BPMA already has a large collection and we try not to duplicate items too much. Sometimes having more than one of an object can be an advantage as it means we can display objects for longer, or still allow access for research whilst an original is on display. However, we must be careful to have a balanced collection that represents a wide breadth of stories. This brings me on to the final and perhaps most important thing to consider, does the object meet our Collecting Policy? In other words does it have a postal connection in the story it can tell and how it can enrich our knowledge and understanding of communication, past and present.
Recently we were offered an item that was in good condition, was not already represented in the collection and certainly has an interesting story to tell. This object was a Certifying Seal used by Sir Francis Freeling during his time as Secretary of the General Post Office. Sir Francis Freeling was Secretary of the Post Office from 1797 to 1836 and was one of the longest serving administrators of the Post Office in the 19th Century. Amongst other things, Freeling helped establish a system for recording minutes and reports, which forms the foundation on which today’s Royal Mail Archive is built.
This seal would have been used by Freeling to seal official correspondence. The main seal is made of a red ochre coloured material, possibly a sort of stone, whilst the handle has an embossed floral design. In the centre of the impression is the Royal coat of arms with a crown at the top. In three scrolls across the bottom of the coat of arms is inscribed ‘GENL. POST OFFICE’ and across the bottom appears the word ‘SECRETARY’.
Another thing to consider when an object enters the collection is its provenance: where it came from, who owned it. This certifying seal was kindly donated to the BPMA from the Talbot family who are connected to the Freeling family through the marriage of Charles Henry Waring and Lucy Freeling, the latter was the grand-daughter of Sir Francis Freeling. This kind of personal connection adds a personal touch to the story of the object.
Sir Francis Freeling was an important character in the history of the Post Office, it is for this reason that our current home, Freeling House, is named after him and we are therefore especially pleased to accept this item into the collection.
Emma Harper – Curator (Move Planning)
View items from the Royal Mail Archive and British Postal Museum collection in the Collections & Catalogue section of our website.