Category Archives: Collection

Longitude in Stamps

The Royal Observatory is one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, and was designed by one of Britain’s greatest architects Sir Christopher Wren. The 10 August marks 340 years since the building’s foundation stone was laid. The Royal Observatory is now part of The Maritime Museum and as the home of The Prime Meridian it is the centre of world time.

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich Stamp (1975)

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich 8p Stamp (1975)

The building was commissioned by King Charles II to produce a reliable map of the sky in order to improve navigation at sea . Navigating a ship by the stars can be seen in the 37p Astronomy stamp from 1990.

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Distance could also be measured in Longitude by using the time of two separate locations. Sailors calculated local time by the position of the sun, but to know the time back at home they needed to take a clock aboard the ship, the conditions of which caused the clocks to become inaccurate. In 1714 the Government passed an Act of Parliament offering £20,000 to whoever could solve the ‘Longitude Problem’ and produce a way of keeping time at sea.

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

The competition was won by John Harrison, a joiner from Yorkshire, whose expertise in clock making allowed him to produce a devise that could withstand the conditions and motions of a journey.The image on the right of the above stamp shows the first sea fairing clock ‘H1’, a chronometer that compensated for the movement of the ship with two swinging balances.

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Harrison produced numerous attempts to construct a clock that would provide longitude within half a degree. His final and successful clock the ‘H4’ was produced by watch maker John Jeffery to his specification and resembled a pocket watch. The stamp issue Maritime Timekeepers from 1993 celebrated his final product. Captain Cook in fact took a copy of Harrison’s ‘H4’ with him on his second voyage and it proved instrumental when navigating the journey.

Millennium Series, The Travellers' Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Millennium Series, The Travellers’ Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Greenwich is also home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. A meridian is a north south line very much like the equator which acts as Longitude 0°, where astronomical observations are measured from.  The 31p stamp below depicts Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope which is the precise point longitude is measured from.

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey's Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian for the world by an International Conference represented by 25 nations. At this time most sea charts were measured using the Greenwich Meridian, so it seemed logical to continue. The line passes through the observatory and is identified by the steel line on the ground and a green laser that shines across London.

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

As an island nation, sea travel has always been important in Britain. This is reflected in these beautiful stamp designs which celebrate not just sea travel but the innovations and achievements of those that made it possible. This theme of innovation and human endeavour is one that has always been important in the history of the postal service, as well as Britain as a whole, and as such will be prominent in the galleries of The Postal Museum when it opens in late 2016.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Mail Coach Guard Moses Nobbs is ready for his close-up

Our conservation team is very busy getting objects ready to be moved and, in some cases, displayed in The Postal Museum and Mail Rail galleries. Conservators Jackie and Barbara need the best equipment to help repair and preserve objects, such as a long overdue microscope.

Today we received a very nice surprise – the delivery of a brand new microscope! We wanted to replace the old machine that had been in service in the studio since the iron-age with a modern machine and thanks to a lot of gently persuasive requests our wish was finally granted.

The machine was immediately put to good use on an object that had been in the studio awaiting treatment.

The object is a painting of Moses James Nobbs, ‘The Last of the Mail Coach Guards’ painted c.1890 by H.E.Brown and is described as a watercolour on paper. The image shows a man with white beard and whiskers wearing a black top hat, a red coat with gold double buttons and black collar and cuffs.

IMG_2722

Undergoing treatment using our new micrscope

When we first received this painting and assessed it, no particular damage to the paint layer was detected. Once the surface had been put under the magnifying lens of the microscope we were able to discover an area of micro-cracks that could potentially lead to the paint layer flacking off. Indeed this had already happened in some small parts of the painting.

Armed with this new knowledge we decided to proceed with a treatment of the paint layer to be performed under magnification, an operation that was made possible thanks to the real-time video feed of the microscope.

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

Close-up showing the cracks in the painting

The new microscope proved popular with other members of staff at BPMA too, with many coming over to the studio to check things like dirt on their fingers, what hair really looks like and what creatures live on common surfaces… The youngest visitor, a 9 years old with lots of probing scientific questions really enjoyed the close up inspection of the bench surface!

As we move closer to opening The Postal Museum look out for more conservation updates from Jackie and Barbara, giving you a sneak peek at the objects that will be going on display and the preparations taking place in the galleries themselves.

-Barbara Borghese, Conservator

80th Anniversary of Greetings Telegrams

Earlier this month, you met Abi, our work placement student, who helped out around the BPMA, getting a taste of what it’s like to work in a museum and archive. While she was here she did some research for us into greetings telegrams, which were introduced 80 years ago this month. To celebrate we’re offering free shipping on a beautifully illustrated book of telegrams, which Abi gives us a sneak peak of in today’s blog.

Featuring images showing the progression of postal delivery transportation methods through the ages along the top. Artist: Bouttell, C J. Media: Gouache

Featuring images showing the progression of postal delivery transportation methods through the ages along the top. Artist: Bouttell, C J. Media: Gouache

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Greetings Telegrams, and having been quite taken with their striking designs I thought it was rather appropriate to read into their history. Ruth Artmonsky’s book, ‘Bringers of Good Tidings’, very eye-catching in itself, combines  beautiful examples of Greetings Telegrams with stories of their controversial history,  which really gave me an insight into why they became so popular.

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Greetings Telegram service. Artist: Henrion, Frederic Henri Kay. Media: Not known.

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Greetings Telegram service. Artist: Henrion, Frederic Henri Kay. Media: Not known.

Within the book we are introduced not only to the background of these, at the time revolutionary, telegrams, but also to the people behind them, including their champions, designers and the ‘Telegram Messenger Boy’. Whilst reading I also came to understand the need that was felt to dispel the negativity attached to receiving telegrams, which had gained a reputation as bringers of bad news during the First World War. I have to say that these decorated telegrams could not be mistaken for being anything other than positive, a lot of them were altogether too brightly coloured!

Featuring a floral border and a wedding scene. Artist: Corsellis, Elizabeth. Media: Watercolour, ink, board, poster paint.

Featuring a floral border and a wedding scene. Artist: Corsellis, Elizabeth. Media: Watercolour, ink, board, poster paint.

Flicking back through the copy of the book in front of me I’m struck by how special it would be to receive one of the beautiful messages in their gold envelopes, a feeling that birthday texts just don’t create, however well-meaning they are. Perhaps I need to put a little extra effort into my Christmas cards this year!

Featuring a border with roses and stars. Artist: Freedman, Claudia. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Featuring a border with roses and stars. Artist: Freedman, Claudia. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Get free delivery on ‘Bringer of Good Tidings: Greetings Telegrams 1935-1982’ when you enter code TELEGRAM80 at the checkout.

Featuring a village wedding scene. Artist: Atkins, Kathleen. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Featuring a village wedding scene. Artist: Atkins, Kathleen. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Stamps Celebrate British Sporting Legends

The 16th of July 2015 will mark 60 years since legendary British racing car driver Stirling Moss won his first Grand Prix at Aintree, becoming the first British man to win on home turf. With this month’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone and Andy Murray’s efforts at Wimbledon I thought we could take a moment to look at the stamps that celebrate our sporting men and woman.

As an avid Formula 1 fan (“Come on Jenson!!”) we can’t forget the developments of F1 and the dangers those earliest drivers put themselves under. The 2007 Grand Prix Racing Car stamps depict Stirling in his 2.5L Vanwall, which when compared to the modern day Mercedes has very little protection for the driver. He paved the way for British racing car drivers and now the World Championship has been won by a British man 15 times.

Grand Prix 2007 Stirling Moss - 1st NVI

Grand Prix 2007 Stirling Moss – 1st NVI

Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid 2015

Mercedes F1 W06 Hybrid 2015

In 2012 Britain was lucky enough to host The Olympic and Paralympic Games showcasing the talents of British sportsmen and women. I myself was glued to the TV, watching sports I’d never seen before but was fascinated by the skill of the professionals. As a country we were able to boast a total of 65 Olympic medals and 120 Paralympic medals. The Gold Medal Winner stamps from 2012 celebrate the achievements of these individuals/teams and act as symbols of national pride.

Team GB Gold Medal Winners 2012 Bradley Wiggins - 1st NVI

Team GB Gold Medal Winners 2012 Bradley Wiggins – 1st NVI

Paralympics Team GB Gold Medal Winners Ellie Simmonds 2012 - 1st NVI

Paralympics Team GB Gold Medal Winners Ellie Simmonds 2012 – 1st NVI

Stirling Moss may have been the first to win a race on home soil but Andy Murray in 2013 conquered Wimbledon after a 77 year gap since the last Brit had managed it. Fred Perry won that tournament in 1936 and since then it has been dominated by the likes of; Björn Borg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer. It was electric watching the winning point followed by the triumphant celebrations across the court and the surrounding grounds. As a celebration of his achievements four 1st class stamps were produced of Murray at Wimbledon

Andy Murray - Gentlemen's Singles Champion Wimbledon 2013 - 1st NVI

Andy Murray – Gentlemen’s Singles Champion Wimbledon 2013 – 1st NVI

It is not only individual sporting achievement that is recognized on our postage stamps but also national teams. Miniature sheets were produced when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and when the England Cricketers took home the Ashes in 2005. These products hopefully inspire young children to follow in their footsteps.

England's Victory in Rugby World Cup Championship, Australia 2003 Miniature Sheet

England’s Victory in Rugby World Cup Championship, Australia 2003 Miniature Sheet

England's Ashes Victory 2005 Miniature Sheet

England’s Ashes Victory 2005 Miniature Sheet

Depicting sports men and woman on stamps not only celebrates their achievement but becomes a historical record. These products will be collected and remembered for years to come. It also highlights that people from all walks of life can appear on stamps, it is not their heritage but there contribution to national achievement that is commemorated. 

– Georgina Tomlinson Philatelic Assistant

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.