Category Archives: Collection

The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelope: Case Closed

Regular readers may remember my blog, ‘The Mystery of the Tolhurst Envelopes’, a beautiful story of communication via illustrated envelopes, which were sent to various members of the Tolhurst family. Since writing about the mystery, we’ve uncovered some exciting new pieces of the story. Image 7 After the blog was published, we quite quickly received an e-mail from a descendant of Charles Frederick Tolhurst, informing us that she was Vera Tolhurst’s niece, Frederick Charles Tolhurst’s granddaughter, and that she had found the BPMA’s Tolhurst blog when looking up the family surname on Google. We were, obviously, extremely excited and arranged a meeting. Image 3 When we met Tolhurst’s descendants, Brenda and Sandy, they brought with them a large collection of previously unknown of illustrated envelopes, which were made by Charles Frederick Tolhurst and sent to his son Reginald, their father. Reuniting the illustrated envelopes sent to Reginald with those sent to Vera, one appreciated the scale of the communication and the amount of time and effort put into this correspondence. Image 11 Years after sending mail art to his children, Charles Frederick Tolhurst sent illustrated envelopes to his grandchild. Themes of warfare are again depicted as the Second World War had by then broken out. The letters which accompany the illustrated envelopes are in the family’s collection, bringing us into direct contact with Charles Frederick Tolhurst’s voice for the first time. One such letter and illustrated envelope was sent on his granddaughter’s first birthday, in September 1939. The letter sends ‘many happy returns’ but hopes for happier birthdays ‘than the present one, because we are at war with Germany and you are away with your Dear Mother from home in consequence of the disturbing times that modern warfare brings. May happier days soon be with us.’ The accompanying illustrated envelope is far more solemn than those Tolhurst usually sent to children and depicts a mile stone engraved with ‘1 MILE’ and a sign post pointing to ‘LIFE’S JOURNEY’. Image 10 In May 1940, Tolhurst wrote to his granddaughter again of war, and sent the letter in an envelope which he had illustrated with grey tanks, aeroplanes and parachutes. He wrote “Not a happy looking envelope but in days to come, you will hear of people talking about the war at times they will mention those things on the envelope.” He goes on to say “no doubt when you reach the age of 21 you will consider [the envelopes] interesting.” It seems Tolhurst was hoping to capture his experience of warfare through his artwork, so that his family might remember and make sense of it in the future. Image 5 This family’s mail art story continues today as Charles Frederick’s granddaughter sends mail art to her friends and family – this is a family tradition of communication and illustration spanning over 100 years. Image 6 It was wonderful to meet the Tolhurst family, learn more about their story and close the mystery of the Tolhurst envelopes. -Joanna Espin, Curator

Stamps: Why the Portrait?

As an Art Historian (now Philatelic Assistant) I have always been fascinated by the portrait and a stamp in itself is a miniature piece of art. To understand why the Queen’s head appears as it does on GB stamps we need to first understand the significance of the portrait historically.

Some of the earliest profile portraits were produced by the Romans for their coins and medals.  Images of the Emperors illustrated their power and importance and thus the profile became synonymous with these characteristics. It was also a way of distributing the face of their leader, who many would never have seen.

Roman Coin

Roman Coin

We can see the influence of these artefacts in the work of Renaissance artists who tried to recreate this sense of power in their portraits of the wealthy. This is evident in the portrait of the Duke of Urbino and his wife by Piero della Francesca who are both depicted in profile facing one another. Yet this composition had to be used as the Duke had previously lost his right eye in a tournament. You can also see the significance of the medal in Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo De Medici’ c.1474-75.

Piero della Francesca 'Duke of Urbibo' c1467-1470

Piero della Francesca ‘Duke of Urbino’ c.1467-1470

Sandro Botticelli 'Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder' c1474-75

Sandro Botticelli ‘Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder’ c.1474-75

However the initial portrait of Queen Elizabeth II used for postage was not in fact a profile. Instead it was a three quarter view of Her Majesty photographed by Dorothy Wilding in 1952. Though adequate as a Definitive stamp –  the Wilding design was found to be overly challenging for many stamp designers as it took up to one third of the stamp’s area and subsequently compromised the design of the stamp.

Wilding High Value Definitives 1955

Wilding High Value Definitives 1955

As a solution to this problem Tony Benn (Post Master General 1964-66) along with designer David Gentleman introduced the idea of removing the Queen’s head altogether. Initial ideas were produced, however in 1965 the Queen decided she wished to remain on the stamp. This led to the small profile silhouette on commemorative stamps being used instead, reminiscent of those produced in the 18th century of the English high society.

1965 Churchill Commemorative

Churchill Commemorative without the Queen’s Head 1965

A traditional silhouette portrait of the late 18th century

A traditional silhouette portrait of the late 18th century

To produce a profile portrait of the Queen, The Royal Mail approached the British sculptor Arnold Machin. He took inspiration from the simplicity of the Penny Black portrait, which was based on a medal of Queen Victoria by William Wyon. This again acknowledges the historical importance of the profile.

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

The image of the Queen we see today is not only practical for producing stamps but also evokes the idea of power and importance, circulating her image to the nation. The significance of the portrait on a stamp is not merely a representation of the person but as a symbol of their significance. Commemorative stamps elevate the importance of an individual by allowing them to feature prominently on the stamp, though the Queen still remains dominant as the accompanying silhouette.

Winston Churchill 1st (October 14 2014)

Winston Churchill 1st NVI (October 14 2014)

Next time you see a photograph of yourself have a think what you would look like on a postage stamp?

– Georgina Tomlinson Philatelic Assistant.

Volunteer Week: Spotlight on Post Office Architecture expert Julian Osley

Our volunteers have a range of interests, from design to postal history and everything in between. Some of these interests are what motivate them to join us, others they discover while here. To celebrate volunteer’s week Julian Osley tells us about Post Office architecture, a passion he discovered while volunteering at the BPMA.

The Uniform Penny Post prompted an enormous increase in the level of business, however the Post Office was slow to provide suitable premises in which to manage the transaction of business.

By 1840 major post offices had been built in London, Edinburgh and Dublin but, it was not until the 1860s that serious attention was given to improving the quality of post office buildings in provincial urban areas. For the most part these buildings were designed by architects in the Office of Works, and followed prevailing architectural fashions, such as the Italianate style of design which can be seen today in the former post offices at Derby, Maidstone, Sheffield, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Hull and Wakefield, to name just a few.

Maidstone post office

Maidstone post office

 

Typical of the more flamboyant Edwardian era are the buildings at West Hartlepool, Aldershot, Esher, Canterbury and Sheffield. After the First World War, for reasons of economy, and also to foster the image of post office as an approachable, yet solid and dependable institution, the style known as “Post Office Georgian” was adopted, its characteristics being the use of brick on a domestic scale in order to achieve harmony with the local environment.  A ‘Brighter Post Office’ campaign was launched in the late 1920s in order to make post office interiors more attractive. For a few years after Second World War, new post office buildings followed the Georgian tradition (although in a stripped-down format), but following the Festival of Britain of 1951, this was finally abandoned in favour of a modern approach.

Wakefield post office

Wakefield post office

Because the post office became so important in the lives of a community after the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, the opening of a new building was an event to be celebrated. Often it was made available for inspection before the official opening ceremony, to be attended by Post Office officials and local dignitaries, who would make congratulatory speeches; on occasion, the architect would be invited to give a tour of the building, and then tea would be taken in the sorting office. A programme of the day’s events might be printed, and the local newspaper would report the proceedings at length, while at the same time providing a detailed description of the building. Critics would use the correspondence pages of the paper to air their views over the poor location of the building, the lack of an external clock and inadequate street lighting, but in general these buildings were praised for their “commodious” accommodation and regarded as having contributed significantly to civic pride.

Maidstone post office

Maidstone post office

To find out more about volunteer’s week visit http://volunteersweek.org/about or head to our twitter page see what other exciting things our volunteers get up to.

Volunteer Week: Curatorial Volunteer Muriel

Here at the BPMA we are lucky to have some wonderful volunteers who provide invaluable assistance to us, helping catalogue items, assisting with conservation projects and preparing collections for the move to The Postal Museum. One of our Curatorial Volunteers, Muriel Bailly, gives you a sneak peak at what it’s like to volunteer at the BPMA.

While packing uniforms today I found a 1988 5p coin in a pocket!

While packing uniforms today I found a 1988 5p coin in a pocket!

Since September 2014 I have been volunteering at the BPMA, assisting Curators Emma Harper and Joanna Espin packing, auditing, recording and labeling the collection, ahead of the museum’s move in 2016.

Over the past months I have had the chance to gain hands on experience working with a wide variety of unique objects including prints, uniforms and evidence from the 1963 Great Train Robbery.

Pink ribbon= objects audited and freshly packed = Productive day

Pink ribbon= objects audited and freshly packed = Productive day

By working with such a varied collection, I have become familiar with conservation issues and procedures for different materials and have gained experience in object handling which will be crucial for my career development.

I work with all sorts of objects like these handstamps which I need to repack.

I work with all sorts of objects like these handstamps which I need to repack.

I am currently working full-time as a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection and hope to pursue a career in curating. The Curatorial Volunteer opportunity at the BPMA was a rare opportunity to gain hands-on, practical experience of collection management in a very competitive sector.

I also help clean objects - have you ever seen the top of a telephone kiosk?

I also help clean objects – have you ever seen the top of a telephone kiosk?

Volunteering has already helped me gain more responsibilities in my job where I was recently given responsibility for the handling collection and I am confident it will lead to future career development.

If this has piqued your interest then visit the volunteering page of our website to see a list of our current volunteer vacancies.

My Favourite Object: Pentacycle

In this month’s edition of My Favourite Object, find out why the Pentacycle is Head of Fundraising Emma’s absolute favourite.

Perhaps the perfect symbol of the Victorian spirit of invention, often seen as eccentric by today’s standards, the Pentacycle was invented in 1882 – not long after the more famous “Penny-farthing” and before safety bicycles, more recognisable as ancestors of the bikes we ride today, were introduced.

Front of Player's Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as 'Hen and Chicks'.

Front of Player’s Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as ‘Hen and Chicks’.

Designed by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham in Sussex, the Pentacycle was conceived to enable larger postal loads to be carried and delivered with ease. Although popular with postal delivery workers in Horsham, it did not catch on more widely, and certainly does not look an easy or comfortable ride by today’s standards!

I have a couple of reasons for choosing the Pentacycle as ‘My Favourite Object'; firstly because it is just such a fantastic looking machine. It is large, awkward-looking and, although I have no idea what it would be like to ride, certainly does not look user-friendly (and that’s with its capacious mail baskets empty). Yet, despite all of this the very concept feels ambitious and visionary…why wouldn’t it catch on? It’s this sense of optimism and spirit of adventure that really make me connect with the Pentacycle.

Me with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Debden.

Selfie with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Essex.

I also love its nick-name “the Hen and Chicks”. The reason for this excellent name can be understood simply from viewing the image below, and lends such personality to this ungainly invention. It perhaps conveys the affection with which the postmen who rode the bikes referenced them, and the interest visitors to the collection are still compelled to show the Pentacycle on seeing for the first time.

Pentacycle Debden

Pentacyle at our store in Essex.

 

Although the Pentacycle, or a 1930s replica of one, is currently housed at the BPMA’s Museum Store in Debden, Essex, it will be the central object on display in the ‘Revolutionising Communications’ exhibition zone of The Postal Museum when it opens. This gives it an important role, along with many other unique and surprising objects which will be on permanent display to the public from late 2016, in providing a window on the past through the perspective of the postal service.

View from below

View from below

Working at the BPMA I feel uniquely privileged to have more of an insight into the collection, and to be able to explore and connect with items such as the Pentacycle or ‘Hen and Chicks’. Bringing remarkable items, such as this, to a wider audience than ever before is exactly why The Postal Museum and Mail Rail will be so important. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing visitors of all ages explore, experience and be inspired by this history of adventure and the pioneering spirit that has driven communications forward over the past 500 years and will continue to do so into the future.

-Emma Jhita, Head of Fundraising

100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania

As the First World War Centenary commemorations continue more and more stories of bravery and tragedy emerge. Some are well known such as the events on the battle fields, others such as the vital role played by the British postal service less so. Within The Postal Museum galleries these heartwarming and often tragic stories of how the General Post Office kept a world at war in touch will be revealed to the public. Our Archive Catalogue & Project Manager Gavin McGuffie looks at one such story.

One hundred years ago, on Friday 7 May 1915, the British ocean liner the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland when almost home on a voyage from New York to Liverpool.

'WRECK OF THE LUSITANIA' - Lantern Slide, 2012-0126/06

‘WRECK OF THE LUSITANIA’ – Lantern Slide, 2012-0126/06

The loss of 1,198 passengers and crew led to an international outcry, especially in Britain and the British Empire, as well as in the United States (128 of 139 US citizens on board died). The German government’s announcement almost two years later that having ended attacks on passenger ships it would again conduct full unrestricted submarine warfare was a major factor in persuading the United States to declare war on Germany on 6 April 1917.

RMS Lusitania had been holder of the Blue Riband for fastest crossing of the Atlantic, and briefly the world’s largest passenger ship. Launched by the Cunard Line in 1906, the Lusitania had the designation ‘Royal Mail Ship’ or ‘RMS’. This prefix dates back to 1840 and was used for seagoing vessels carrying post under contract to Royal Mail.

'LUSITANIA AT FULL SPEED' - Lantern Slide, 2012-0039

‘LUSITANIA AT FULL SPEED’ – Lantern Slide, 2012-0039

Given that the main connection with the Post Office was the fact that the ship was carrying mail it is not surprising that the only file in The Royal Mail Archive entirely about the Lusitania concerns the loss of mail is entitled ‘SS Lusitania sunk May 1915. United States mails missing. Salvage and compensation claims’

It starts with a newspaper cutting from the day after reporting on the tragic event and a letter from Cunard expressing their gratitude for the Post Office’s sympathies.

image of newspaper cutting, POST 29/1277A

image of newspaper cutting, POST 29/1277A

image of Cunard letter, POST 29/1277A

image of Cunard letter, POST 29/1277A

The file goes on to reveal that the quantity of mail on Lusitania’s last voyage was not particularly large. She carried mail that had been especially endorsed for the Lusitania; the US liner New York, leaving about the same time, carried most of the European mail. According to a note in the file, 83 sacks of mail were dispatched on the ship containing 922 registered articles, about 47,000 unregistered letters and 1800 prints.

image of list of registered articles from US Post Office, POST 92/1277A

image of list of registered articles from US Post Office, POST 92/1277A

Following the sinking the Post Office received many enquiries about lost mail in particular relating to that with a financial value. One enquiry concerned four lost dispatches from the Governor of Bermuda to the Colonial Office sent in a weighted bag that would cause them to sink in case of disaster at sea.

image of Bermuda letter, POST 29/1277A

image of Bermuda letter, POST 29/1277A

Perhaps the most interesting story within the file relates to the small amount of mail salvaged. Originally believed to have been washed ashore at Castletownshend, County Cork, it was subsequently found that a mail basket including a parcel of diamonds was in fact picked up by John Hayes, skipper of the fishing boat ‘Pet’. Within our file is a water damaged bill of lading from the Lusitania which accompanied the parcels which were being returned to their senders on the ship.

image of American Express Company bill of lading from the Lusitania, POST 29/1277A

image of American Express Company bill of lading from the Lusitania, POST 29/1277A

Correspondence concerning this basket and Hayes’ desire to be properly rewarded for the salvage of the receptacle continued until 1922 involving a £10 reward as an ‘act of grace’ and even a question in the House of Commons.

The Lusitania was not the only mail ship to be sunk during the First World War. In October 1918 the RMS Leinster was torpedoed in the Irish Sea killing more than 500 including 21 postal workers, the greatest single loss of life in the Irish Sea.

To find out more about the vital role played by the General Post Office and those who worked for it visit our online exhibition Last Post

5 Surprising Facts About Anthony Trollope

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.

  1. 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

Picture of Trollope c.1860

 

  1. 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
  1. 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”
Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill

  1. 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!

Trollopes invention: the pillar box!

  1. 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!