Tag Archives: aerophilately

The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

Back in May, Science Museum Curator David Rooney gave a talk here at the BPMA on the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica. The Collection comprises of stamps, postcards and other material related to powered flight and its social impact which was amassed by aeronautical enthusiast Winifred Penn-Gaskell. A recording of David Rooney’s talk about the Collection is now available to download as a free podcast from our website.

Winifred Penn-Gaskell was a distinguished collector of the early 20th Century who in 1938 became the first woman to be inscribed on the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists. Before her death she arranged for her collection to be left to the Science Museum. The collection includes covers from all of the early transatlantic flights and a great many other pioneering airmail flights, along with disaster mail, material related to early ballooning, prisoner of war mail and other items from the Second World War. A tiny fraction of this large collection is on permanent display in the Flight Gallery at the Science Museum.

Items from the Penn-Gaskell Collection

Items from the Penn-Gaskell Collection

Flight in powered craft such as balloons and, later, aeroplanes was of huge interest to people in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. The balloons and aircraft, and the men and women who flew in them, adorned a wide range of memorabilia. In his informative talk David Rooney gives examples of notable memorabilia in The Penn-Gaskell Collection, discusses the fascination with flight and offers an insight into Winifred Penn-Gaskell herself.

The Science Museum website gives further details on The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

The BPMA website offers a number of other recorded talks on the Podcast page.

Read Laura Dixon’s blog on visiting the Science Museum and getting a sneak preview of The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

Solihull Stamp Fair & Midland Philatelic Federation Spring Convention

by John H Barker, Solihull Philatelic Society

Visitors to this third Regional event organised by members of the Association of British Philatelic Societies came to Solihull on a warm sunny day to enjoy the spirit of London 2010: Festival of Stamps.

Brian Goodey, Chairman of the Trustees of the British Postal Museum & Archive opened the Fair with words of encouragement to collectors about the Festival of Stamps and how it is providing a stimulus for organised philately in the UK. Brian outlined some of the developments at the BPMA in its search for new premises. After much thought and careful evaluation, a decision has been made to focus on siting the new premises in the old chain testing works at Swindon.

John Smith, winner of the aerophilately class

John Smith, winner of the aerophilately class

19 competitive exhibits were on display, each of 16 sheets. Awards were presented by John Baron, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the ABPS to John Smith of Solihull who won best in show with his aerophilatelic exhibit of ‘DLH South America’ with Laurance Kimpton, also of Solihull, coming a close second with ‘The RAF Cairo – Baghdad Airmail Service’.

Clive Jones, who won the Postal History class with ‘Halifax Postal History’

Clive Jones, who won the Postal History class with ‘Halifax Postal History’

Clive Jones, Solihull, won the Postal History class with ‘Halifax Postal History’, Chris Jackson, Redditch, won the Open class with ‘ The Fishing Industry in Redditch’, John Smith, Solihull, won the Traditional class with ‘British Somaliland’ and David Gabe, Loughborough, won the Thematic class with ‘Mathematics and Philately’.

Tony Whitehead won the popular vote with GB GV Postal Orders

Tony Whitehead won the popular vote with GB GV Postal Orders

A popular vote by visitors to the Fair for the BPMA Open Trophy resulted in Tony Whitehead of Solihull taking the Trophy with his entry on GB GV Postal Orders and Colin Searle, also of Solihull, coming second.

The British Thematic Association held a successful workshop during the morning and the Great Britain Philatelic Society and Midlands (GB) Postal History Society both held meetings in the afternoon. A steady stream of members of the public brought in collections for valuation by Tony Lester, Auctioneers who kindly supported the event.  John Davies provided a Stamp Active Network table for younger visitors attending the Fair.

The Solihull Philatelic Society starts a new season in September with meetings every Tuesday evening at the Solihull Cricket and Tennis Club, Marsh Lane, Solihull. Our excellent Library, club packets and auctions provide members with support for their collecting interests. New members and visitors are always welcome.

For further details visit www.solihullphilatelicsociety.org.uk or contact Paul Woodness on 01564 776879.

The Battle of Britain stamps controversy

David Gentleman, whose many British stamp designs are currently being exhibited in our Search Room, is no stranger to controversy. In 1965 he wrote to Postmaster General Tony Benn (who had announced a new policy for stamp issues in late 1964 and was seeking suggestions) and requested that the design limitations of having to include the monarch’s head on stamps be addressed. Benn, a republican, was keen to remove the monarch’s head, and saw Gentleman’s design limitations argument as an excellent – and non-political – way to achieve this objective. 

Gentleman, and his wife Rosalind Dease, had already been commissioned to design stamps commemorating the death of Winston Churchill and the 25th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, and supplied Benn with versions of the designs without the Queen’s head. Ultimately, it was decided that the monarch’s head should remain on British stamps (you can read the full story by downloading the PDF The David Gentleman Album from our website), but this was not the end of the controversy as far as the Battle of Britain stamps were concerned.

More than a month before their release date a number of newspapers published images of the stamps, with several tabloids highlighting two of the eight stamps, which showed German aircraft. The first of the two stamps in question showed the wing-tip of a Messerschmitt fighter overshadowed by the wing-tip of a Spitfire; the other stamp showed a Dornier bomber sinking into the sea while Hawker Hurricanes flew above it. The reason for the focus on these stamps was that the German aircraft pictured featured German military emblems, the Balkenkreuz (cross) on the Messerschmitt and the swastika on the Dornier.

The six 4d Battle of Britain se tenant stamps designed by David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease. The two other stamps in this issue showed anti-aircraft artillery, and an air battle over St Pauls cathedral. They were designed by Andrew Restall, and Gentleman and Dease, respectively.

The six 4d Battle of Britain se tenant stamps designed by David Gentleman and Rosalind Dease. The two other stamps in this issue showed anti-aircraft artillery, and an air battle over St Pauls cathedral. They were designed by Andrew Restall, and Gentleman and Dease, respectively.

The inclusion of these emblems, particularly the swastika, caused great concern, with several Members of Parliament and the House of Lords speaking against the stamps. At the same time, representatives of a number of organisations, and many members of the public wrote letters to The Queen, the Prime Minister and Tony Benn, requesting that the Battle of Britain stamps be withdrawn.

A London Rabbi, writing to Benn on behalf of 775 families of his congregation, wrote “Please don’t allow swastika on our stamps. They are the 20th Century symbol of persecution, oppression, suffering and all that is evil”. The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Mr S. Teff, also expressed his concerns in writing to Benn: “The Board has already received numerous complaints from members of the Jewish community to whom the sight of the swastika in any form is offensive in the extreme.”

A common theme amongst many of the complainants, in particular those who had served in the war, was that issuing a stamp bearing the swastika was an insult to the war dead. Others objected to the swastika appearing alongside the Queen’s head.

Withdrawing the stamps would have been very difficult for the Post Office as the Battle of Britain issue was the first set of stamps to be commissioned since Benn had changed the policy to include stamps commemorating important anniversaries. Indeed, the Battle of Britain stamps had come about partly due to lobbying from the Royal Air Forces Association and a number of Members of Parliament. The issue was also the largest issue of commemorative stamps to date.

Benn and his department took the view that the reason for the objections to the stamps was that the tabloid press articles which had highlighted the stamps featuring German aircraft, had not made clear the purpose of the stamps, and that black and white images of the stamps which appeared in various publications did not effectively convey the subtlety of the designs.

“The purpose of the stamp is to commemorate the victory over Nazism and I am sure that when the stamp is seen in colour it will be quite apparent that the swastika on the tail of the Dornier bomber is both split and half covered by water; the shattered Dornier is sinking in the English Channel and high above four RAF fighters, objective achieved, are flying back to base” wrote one official, in reply to a member of the public.

“In effect, the stamp is meant to be symbolic of the crushing of the Nazis and all that they stood for. We hope you will agree that within the limits of stamp design, it is difficult to do justice to a subject without introducing features of this kind into a series illustrating the Battle of Britain…”

Benn himself said in one letter “I feel that the stamp is a true reflection of that period in our history and…will be seen as a reminder of a great victory over the evil of Nazism. Because of this I do not propose to withdraw it.” He also argued that no objections were raised to the swastika being seen in newsreel footage of German planes, and that the RAF had displayed and flown captured Nazi aircraft on numerous occasions.

Eventually criticism died down, and despite threats to boycott the stamps sales were healthy, although the GPO arranged for adequate stocks of ordinary small size stamps to be available for those who did not wish to purchase the Battle of Britain issue.

Writing in his 2002 book Design, David Gentleman reflected “the tabloids [made] a great furore over the inclusion of a swastika and an iron cross. But without an enemy there would have been no battle and, as the stamps showed the Germans getting the worst of it anyway, the whole manufactured fuss quickly died down.”

The British Postal Museum & Archive holds many files relating to the Battle of Britain stamp issue. Details of these can be found on our online catalogue.

Rockets, pigeons and helicopters

by Jenny Karlsson, PR & Communications Officer 

You are probably aware that planes are a common mode of transport for the Post Office, but did you know that rockets, helicopters and pigeons have also been used to transport mail?

Rocket mail

Rocket mail is the delivery of mail by rocket or missile. The rocket would land by deploying an internal parachute upon arrival. It has been attempted by various organisations in many different countries, with varying levels of success. Due to its cost and failures it has never become seen as a feasible way of transporting mail.

German Gerhard Zucker experimented in the 1930s with powder rockets similar to fireworks. After moving to the United Kingdom, Zucker attempted to convince the General Post Office that postal delivery by rocket was viable, and Zucker’s first attempt in Britain took place 6 June 1934 on the Sussex Downs. In July the same year he made two further attempts on Scarp, an island in the Outer Hebrides, but both of his rockets exploded. His final attempt took place on the Isle of Wight, but the rocket went off course and embedded itself in the Pennington Marshes, Hampshire.

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Helicopters

Trials to use helicopters to deliver mail first took place from 7-12 May 1934. They were organised by John S Davis, an Aerophilatelist, and carried out in conjunction with a philatelic festival.

Experiments took place between 1948 and 1950 but did not reach a satisfactory level of regularity (especially at night when most flights would need to occur) and were deemed not to be cost effective.

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

After this, commercial flights were occasionally used to transport mail.

Pigeon post

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Throughout history, pigeons have also been used as a means of getting messages between parties. Pigeon post offered a fast and reliable service and became a vital means of communication during the First World War; by the end of the war there were 22,000 Pigeons in service.

BPMA Open Day

The BPMA holds a large number of records relating to all of these subjects, such as posters, artwork, reports, press cuttings, maps, papers and photographs. You have a unique opportunity to see these at our Archive Open Day on 12 September on the theme ‘Take Flight!’ The Archive Open Day is a drop-in event, offering behind-the-scenes tours, and is part of the Archive Awareness Campaign 2009.

‘Take Flight!’ – The British Postal Museum & Archive Open Day
Saturday 12 September 10.00am – 5.00pm
The British Postal Museum & Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL
Free
Phone: 020 7239 2570
Email: info@postalheritage.org.uk
Website: http://postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/archive-open-day