Today is Anthony Trollope’s 200th birthday. Aside from being one of the most prolific Victorian novelists, Trollope was the first to suggest ‘iron posts’ on the side of the road – for people to post their letters into, at any time of day – or as we know them today: pillar boxes. To celebrate Trollope’s 200th birthday and his contributions to the British postal service, Senior Curator Julian Stray will be giving a talk on Thursday 30 April at 7pm. As a sneak peak, here are five surprising facts about him.
- Young Anthony was a poor worker who was regularly late for work, took extended lunches, ran up debts with suppliers and liked a drink and a game of cards.
Picture of Trollope c.1860
- Anthony Trollope loathed a meritocracy; regarding promotion by merit as a “damnable system”. He preferred advancement on the grounds of seniority, though he obviously was advantaged personally, on occasion, by nepotism
- As a senior figure within the Post Office, Trollope would frequently argue with Rowland Hill for he hated the man and relished their disagreements; describing their encounters as“feuds- such delicious feuds”
- Trollope was always keen to build his life experience for use in his novels. When sent to negotiate a treaty for the conveyance of mail with Egypt, he promptly went travelling to see “the dervishes of Cairo at one on Friday, they howl but once a week”
Trollopes invention: the pillar box!
- Even after he retired from the Post Office in 1867, the UK Government engaged him to travel to the USA to negotiate a postal treaty with Washington. He spent £33 on transatlantic telegrams, a tidy sum in 1868.
Tickets are still available to order online and are only £3 (£2.50 concession), so book today!
Asking a Curator to choose their favourite object is like putting a kid in a sweet shop and then telling them they can only have one! In fact, some of you may remember that I shared my favourite object with you last year, a truncheon issued to Post Office employees before the Chartist riots of 1848. Today however my favourite object is a recent acquisition of a Postman’s Hand, which is not quite as sinister as it sounds, I promise!
Prosthetic hand with letter
Besides all the pun based opportunities this object has provided (for the last few weeks I have been constantly asking my colleagues if they need a hand with anything…) it is actually a very important addition to the BPMA’s collection, as it reveals an often hidden aspect of history.
The hand in question is not a real one but is made of wood covered with leather and has an adaptor to fit it into the wrist unit of a prosthetic arm. Some of the earliest prosthetics in history were also made of wood and leather but this hand fits into the advanced development of prosthetic limbs that occurred after the Second World War to aid rehabilitation of the many soldiers who had limbs amputated as a result of the conflict.
Postman’s hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.
The Post Office as an employer has always made a concerted effort to advance employment opportunities for disabled people, including veterans, as has been shown in previous posts and this was particularly so after the Second World War. Hands like this were in use from the 1950s through to the 1970s – this example bears its date on it ‘4/11/64’ – and were designed to hold letters. What is particularly revolutionary about this object though is that it has a roller, or wheel, under the thumb which allowed one letter to be removed while still keeping grasp of the others. This enabled disabled employees to sort letters with greater ease and efficiency than with the previous, more basic, prosthetics. Feeling the hand it is quite heavy and it has made me think what it would have been like to use.
Profile of hand
This object was kindly donated to us from the Limb Fitting Centre at the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, which was founded to care for soldiers wounded in the First World War, and has since become renowned as a limb fitting and amputee rehabilitation centre. They were able to tell us that the hand had been developed by Hugh Steeper Ltd, major manufacturers of prosthetics at the time. This was the only remaining postman’s hand at Roehampton and it was returned to them by a retiring postman in the early 1970s.
As you can see the BPMA’s collection is constantly developing and this object adds to our knowledge of an important part of our history which is relatively under-represented. It is fascinating objects such as this that will form the bedrock of the new Postal Museum but they are nothing without the stories of the people who used them. If you have a story to share please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and help us achieve our ambition of filling our brand new museum with the voices of real people. Thank you!
-Emma Harper, Curator
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
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
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.
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.
Posted in BPMA, Collection, Mail Art
Tagged Amies, BPMA, design, local commu, mail art, museums, October gallery, PAN Arts, The Poppy Project, The Postal Museum
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
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.
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)
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!
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 email@example.com.
See even more valentines on our new online exhibition.
-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. -Joanna Espin, Curator
We love a mystery at the British Postal Museum & Archive and the identity of the artist behind the illustrated ‘Tolhurst’ envelopes has intrigued us for years.
The first step in identifying the artist was to research the address to which the majority of the envelopes were sent: St Lawrence, Ernest Road, Hornchurch. Staff at Havering Museum, where a selection of the envelopes were recently displayed, found that the 1911 census showed the occupants as George, Amelia, Frederick and Amy Tolhurst. Frederick and George Tolhurst, father and son, were frequent recipients of the illustrated envelopes.
1911 census record, St Lawrence, Hornchurch
Locating the census record enabled the identification of all but one recipient: Vera. Vera received the majority of the illustrated envelopes in the collection, and the majority of Vera’s letters were sent to the Hornchurch address. However, she did not appear in the census record, nor could we find her in the birth records of the General Register Office, due to lack of information. Not put off, we used the information we had accumulated to construct a family tree.
Returning to the envelopes, we found a vital piece of information: the initials ‘FC’ or ‘FCT’ appeared in the corner of several illustrations. Using the family tree, we narrowed down the identity of the artist to Frederick Charles Tolhurst.
The artist’s initials
The identity of Vera continued to elude us, however. We considered whether Vera was a nickname, or perhaps an acronym, but we had no evidence to confirm either of these theories. We drew a step closer to the truth last week when we discovered a postcard which was addressed to Vera and signed ‘with love & kisses from your Mama & Papa’.
The evidence that steered our search
We searched the birth index for Vera Tolhurst and identified a Vera Sylvia Tolhurst, born in 1908 in the district of Lambeth. A copy of the birth certificate arrived at the BPMA yesterday: listed as Vera’s father is Frederick Charles Tolhurst, and listed as his occupation is Lithographic Artist Journeyman. By 1911, Tolhurst’s occupation had changed to Trade Union Secretary, but his artistic talent was maintained in the mail art he frequently sent to his family.
A postcard from Tolhurst to Vera (2014_0038_112)
I’ve been inspired by the Tolhurst envelopes to try my hand at mail art. Why don’t you have a go and let us know if they arrive by Tweeting @postalheritage using #mailart.
My attempt at mail art
Joanna Espin, Curator