Tag Archives: airmail

Pillar box gold

Team GB’s gold medal winning athletes are not only finding themselves appearing on stamps within 24 hours of their victory, they are also being honoured with a gold letter box in their hometown.

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

As with the Gold Medal Winner stamps Royal Mail are dispatching staff to re-paint the letter boxes within a day of each athlete’s victory. There are now gold letter boxes from Penzance to Lossiemouth, with (hopefully) lots more to come.

The gold letter boxes are getting a lot of attention in the media and many people have asked us whether it is unusual to see letter boxes in colours other than the traditional red. In fact it isn’t. When letter boxes first appeared in the British Isles they were painted green so as not to intrude on the landscape.

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

Unfortunately the colour green proved too unobtrusive and people were unable to find them. After experimenting with a chocolate brown colour, the Post Office finally settled on the bright red we know today.

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

In the 1930s some boxes were also painted bright blue to promote the new Air Mail service. Our curator Julian Stray restored one of these rare blue boxes several years ago and you can read all about that on this blog.

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

Visit http://www.goldpostboxes.com/ to see the locations of all the gold boxes, or read our article on Letter Boxes to find out more about their history.

The Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

In advance of our forthcoming talk on this varied, quirky and fascinating collection, I met David Rooney, Curator of Transport at the Science Museum, at Blythe House in West London to find out more about this prolific collector, Winifred Penn-Gaskell and her collections.

One of many fascinating boxes from the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica held at the Science Museum

Some of you may already know that Blythe House is the former home of the Post Office Savings Bank, a fact which made my visit that bit more exciting as I was familiar with it from several photographs but had never seen it in the flesh or been inside.

Evidence of the Post Office Savings Bank which used to by based at Blythe House

An imposing Edwardian building of mammoth proportions and a myriad size and shape rooms inside, it stores part of the Science Museum collection, including the Penn Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica.

Imposing Blythe House which houses a large part of the Science Museum's collections

The collection was gathered over several years from 1927 onwards by Winifred Penn-Gaskell, who wanted to ensure that the ephemera relating to the advent of air travel and aerial post were preserved as well as the actual crafts themselves.
The collection is hugely varied and includes pottery, books, pamphlets, stamp albums, snuff boxes, delftware, early microfilm, photographs and more – even buoyant sugar cubes, prisoner of war post and parts of a zeppelin shot down in 1916.

Some of the albums which form parts of the Penn-Gaskell Collection of Aeronautica

Winifred herself was a fascinating character – living alone 1000 feet up in the wilds of Dartmoor but also a globe trotter who travelled far and wide and was committed to chronicling the swift changes to air travel as they unfolded. Her collecting was all in the service of recording the heroic feats of the pioneer aviators for posterity.
David will be revealing much more about the collection and the collector next Thursday 10th May 2012 at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre, next to the Royal Mail Archive. Find out more information and book your ticket for his talk on our website.

– Laura Dixon, BPMA Learning Officer (Events & Outreach) –

Ask Pieter Huveneers

Pieter Huveneers is a designer popular amongst GPO poster enthusiasts for, amongst other things, his designs for airmail and telephones.

Send your overseas parcels by Air Mail, April 1954 (POST 110/3220)

Send your overseas parcels by Air Mail, April 1954 (POST 110/3220)

For some decades he has lived and worked in Australia where he has designed logos for national brands such as Australia Post and the Westpac bank. But as a blog published last year by Quad Royal highlighted, little is known about the man whose designs are iconic on opposite sides of the world.

Recently we made contact with Pieter Huveneers, who is currently living on Australia’s east coast. Mr Huveneers has kindly agreed to speak to us about his work for the GPO and to allow his answers to be published on this blog. If you have a question for Pieter Huveneers, please leave a comment below or e-mail it to blog@postalheritage.org.uk by Wednesday 7 December. A selection of questions and answers will be published in January.

100 Years of Sending Mail by Aeroplane

The world’s first scheduled airmail service took off 100 years ago today as part of the celebrations for the coronation of King George V. Between 9 and 26 September 1911 16 flights carried 35 bags of mail from Hendon aerodrome in North-West London to Windsor Great Park marking the world’s first regular airmail service. Today Royal Mail has issued a miniature sheet commemorating the event. This is now available from http://www.royalmail.com/aerialpost.

Aerial Post Minature Sheet.

Aerial Post Minature Sheet.

The first demonstration of an official aerial mail delivery had taken place in February 1911 when Captain Walter George Windham had organised the first flight as part of an exhibition in Allahabad, India. After his return to Britain, Captain Windham used his experience to promote the idea of special mail flights to celebrate the coronation of King George V.

Postal officials suggested the exclusive use of specially designed private stationary for which an extra charge could be made and special postmarks be used. The design was created by William Lendon and featured a Farman biplane over Windsor Castle. It was sold in Harrods, Selfridges and other major department stores in London where the special postcards and letters could also be posted and collected by a private van. A huge amount of mail – about 58,000 postcards and letters – was subsequently received before the first flight took off on 9 September 1911.

Artwork for Coronation aerial post stationery.

Artwork for Coronation aerial post stationery.

The first airmail plane left Hendon on 9 September at 4.55pm carrying one bag of mail weighing 23 ½ lbs and arrived safely at Windsor just 12½ minutes later. The mail was then taken to the Post Office in Windsor by the cycle Postman, sorted and despatched to London by the 6pm train.

Four pilots were engaged to operate the Aerial Post service with Gustav Hamel performing most of the 1911 flights in his Blériot monoplane. He became one of the best-known aviators of the time but died soon after these pioneering airmail flights when he drowned in the Channel in 1914. That flying was very precarious was also proven by the accident of one of the other airmail pioneers. Frenchman Charles Hubert crashed in his Farman biplane attempting to take off from Hendon on 11 September 1911 with eight mail bags and broke both thighs.

Front of Wills' cigarette card number 46 showing the aerial post between Hendon and Windsor that took place in 1911. (2010-0383/46)

Front of Wills' cigarette card number 46 showing the aerial post between Hendon and Windsor that took place in 1911. (2010-0383/46)

It was this uncertainty and dependency on good weather and daylight which led to the end of the Aerial Post service after these first few days in September 1911. Too many special letters and postcards had been seriously delayed due to unfavourable weather conditions, which meant that there were no further serious attempts to establish a regular airmail service in Britain before World War I intervened. However, in 1919 the first public overseas airmail service was launched between London and Paris and later extended to more distant destinations to cover the British Empire.

– Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately

You can see a selection of photographs from our collection showing the history of the airmail service on Flickr.

Centenary of the World’s First Scheduled Aerial Post

Tomorrow marks exactly one hundred years since the start of the world’s first-ever regularly scheduled airmail service. To mark this occasion we have refreshed our Treasures of the Archive exhibition to include a display case full of material related to this historic event.

Coronation Aerial Post - Gustav Hamel in his Bleriot XI, 9 September 1911. (POST 118/5738)

Coronation Aerial Post - Gustav Hamel in his Bleriot XI, 9 September 1911. (POST 118/5738)

Established as part of the celebrations for the coronation of King George V, the first flight of the Aerial Post took place on Saturday 9 September 1911. The noted pilot Gustav Hamel took the controls on the day, flying a Blériot monoplane between Hendon Aerodrome and Windsor Great Park. He carried one small bag of mail weighing 23½lbs on the flight which lasted around 15 minutes.

Poster advertising First United Kingdom Aerial Post.

Poster advertising First United Kingdom Aerial Post.

First United Kingdom Aerial Post handstamp impression. (2009-0332/1)

First United Kingdom Aerial Post handstamp impression. (2009-0332/1)

Our Aerial Post display features a number of unique items from the collections, including the striking 1911 poster promoting the flight, the artwork for commemorative postcards and envelopes carried on the flight, as well as the postcard addressed from the pilot Gustav Hamel to the Postmaster General. Original handstamps from both Hendon and Windsor will also be on display.

An online exhibition, featuring a wealth of additional information about the event, can be accessed on the BPMA website.

Two new products will also be released to mark the Centenary: a limited edition A5-sized postcard depicting the 1911 poster and a brand new postcard pack. Both items will be available via the online shop.

– Andrew Richmond, Head of Access & Learning

Return to Sender

Each month we present an item from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) have been working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Bettina Trabant, the curator who worked on Bruce Castle’s postal history collection, chooses one of her favourite items…

As a qualified Curator I have worked in a variety of national, independent and specialist museums before coming to Bruce Castle. Prior to starting as Postal Heritage Officer, I wasn’t very aware of postal history at all. I had collected stamps as a child, but that hobby didn’t last very long as I only knew one other stamp collector, a boy from my school whom I didn’t like at all.

Since working at Bruce Castle I have developed a fascination for postal history and discovered the wide variety of topics that fall under its banner. Roads and travelling, art and design, labour history, military history, telephones, letter writing and Christmas are only some of the many themes.

Over the years the postal service has served as inspiration to artist, poets and musicians. Most notably Elvis Presley’s: ‘Return to Sender’ which became an instant hit.

A misaddressed airmail letter from 1941

A misaddressed airmail letter from 1941

Here at Bruce Castle we hold a large number of wrongly or strangely addressed envelopes and many bearing the ‘Return to Sender’ stamp. We have several envelopes that show a picture rather than a written address, including one of a large bull. Letters addressed solely to a town without a street are also very common.

The Post Office had a special section called ‘Dead Letter Office’ where it dealt with post that could not be delivered. Postal workers had to be very resourceful at times which caused the Post Office to produce a poster campaign advertising clear and correct addressing.

Upcoming stamp shows in Amersham and Croydon

Over the next two weekends there will be two further special stamps shows organised by member Federations of the Association of British Philatelic Societies.

Middlesex Diamond Jubilee Stamp Show organised by the Middlesex Philatelic Federation takes place on Saturday 4th September at Amersham Community Centre. As well as dealers and displays there will be activities for young people, including hands-on activities, competitions and puzzles.

Surrey Stamp Show organised by the Federation of Surrey Philatelic Societies will take place at the United Reformed Church Hall, Croydon, on Saturday 11th September. There will be dealers and competitive and non-competitive displays.

Admission to both shows is free.

Streamline airmail van beside an Imperial Airways plane at Croydon Airport

Croydon was once home to a major airport, which was a key hub in the early days of airmail. This photo from 1935 shows a Streamline airmail van beside an Imperial Airways plane at Croydon Airport.

There are many more special stamp shows to come, with one taking place every weekend between now and the end of October. Find the full list on www.london2010.org.uk.

80 years of the airmail etiquette

Airmail etiquettes reading “By Air Mail / Par Avion” were first used in Britain in mid-August 1920, making them 80 years old this month. Their introduction came less than a year after the first international scheduled public airmail service, from London to Paris, started and almost exactly two years after the French had first applied airmail etiquettes reading “Par Avion” to their airmails, on the inaugural Paris to Saint-Nazaire flight.

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Before the airmail etiquette was introduced in Britain senders would hand write “By Air Mail” on their letters, or a cachet reading “Air Mail Express” would be applied. But the French model of etiquettes, to be attached by the sender, was a more efficient option.

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

The first British airmail etiquettes were light blue in colour, while the first French airmail etiquettes had black text on a dark red background, but at the 1929 Postal Union Congress it was agreed that airmail etiquettes from all nations would be blue.

By the 1930s it was also common practice to include “Par Avion” or “By Air Mail” – or both – on an airmail etiquette, with some countries including up to four languages on theirs. “Par Avion” was added to British airmail etiquettes by 1928, as can be seen on this commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi in 1929.

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

The airmail etiquette also became a way of advertising the airmail service, which was being heavily promoted by the Post Office in the 1930s. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s airmail wings, prominent on airmail publicity at this time, even appeared on the etiquettes of the period.

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

What is perhaps most notable about the airmail etiquette, 80 years on, is how little the design has changed. Today’s airmail etiquettes are still roughly the same shade of blue as in the 1920s, and the wording and design is also very similar – the greatest change has been in the technology, with most of today’s etiquettes being self-adhesive.

Etiquettes: Par Avion by Air Mail, by Frank G. Jones, 1992
George V & the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity, by Douglas N. Muir, 2010

Illustrating Empire Mail: George V and the GPO

by Jennifer Flippance, 2010 Exhibitions & Projects Manager

The BPMA’s major exhibition this year – Empire Mail: George V and the GPO – runs until 25 July at Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London.  Big exhibitions like this take several years of planning, starting with a theme and developing the story around it. Objects must be selected and conserved (including any loans from other institutions), text and captions written and images chosen to bring the story to life. Empire Mail explores the reign of George V (1910-1936), innovations in the General Post Office and George V as a stamp collector – one of the finest of his time.

Selecting images to use in an exhibition can certainly be a challenging task.  Each image has to earn its place, illustrating a different aspect of the exhibition’s story.  Inevitably there will be many wonderful images that don’t quite make it.

I wanted to share some of these as I think they still deserve to be seen.  If you haven’t yet been to see Empire Mail: George V and the GPO, you might wonder which ones were chosen!

1. Field Post Office, First World War

Field Post Office, First World War

We used two other photographs of First World War Field Post Offices in the exhibition, so this one didn’t make it, but I still really like the image. Sending and receiving mail was vital for troop morale and Field Post Offices would be set up in any appropriate location. Notice the F.P.O sign on the windowsill and the poster promoting war savings certificates as an appropriate gift for a sweetheart!  Unfortunately we don’t know where or when this photo was taken.

2. Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Coronation Aerial Post, 1911

Two women posting into a special aerial post box at the officers of the Windsor Chronicle.  The 1911 Coronation Aerial Post was the world’s first regular airmail service.  One of these red, wooden post boxes (on loan from Windsor & Royal Borough Museum) can be seen in the exhibition and we would have liked to include this image of it in use. Unfortunately, because this is an image from a newspaper it would have been very poor quality once blown up to the size needed for display.

3. Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

Aerial mail rehearsal, August 1911

We had some good images of the September coronation airmail flights and the rehearsals the month before, so this one did not make the grade. It shows a postman with mail sack approaching one of the planes during a rehearsals. (This particular plane – a Valkyrie Monoplane – was used in the rehearsal, but not the actual mail flights.)

There were 20 flights in total (16 from Hendon to Windsor and 4 on the return leg) each generally carrying 2 mail sacks with a combined weight of about 50lbs.  Only special postcards and envelopes were carried, examples of which can also be seen in the exhibition.

4. Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

Dryman Post Office, Glasgow

The exhibition team all liked this pleasant rural scene from the 1930s with the iconic George V Morris van, however the image didn’t quite fit in with the exhibition themes. The photograph was most likely taken for the Post Office magazine, illustrating the work of Post Office employees in different parts of the country.  We do have one of the Morris vans on display.  Moving it into the gallery took some very careful manoeuvring!

5. Light aircraft about to leave Newtownards airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

Light aircraft about to leave Newtonard airfield, Northern Ireland, carrying air mail, 1935

There were many good airmail photos to choose from and unfortunately this one is from just outside the dates covered by the exhibition. Airmail was still a relative novelty during the 1930s; here a small plane is operating out of a small airfield with a grass runway. But even this scene was advanced compared to images of the open wood and fabric aircraft making that first airmail flight just 24 years previously!

6. Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

Messengers on motorcycles, 1934

This photograph was almost chosen for the section illustrating the development of motorised mail transport. We are lucky to have one of the original BSA B33 motorbikes on display, a unique survivor from the introduction of motorcycle telegrams delivery in the early 1930s. Messengers had to be at least 17 years old and were expected to ride at 15mph – something I suspect they didn’t always adhere to!

7. Post Office London Railway, 1926

Post Office London Railway, 1926

This fascinating illustration shows the route of the Post Office underground railway that runs from Whitechapel to Paddington Station and also how the mail was transported from the sorting offices via chutes and lifts to the railway below. This image is rather busy and in the end we chose to use a simpler map of the route alongside plans, photographs and original objects.

An online version of Empire Mail: George V and the GPO can be found on the BPMA website.

Treasures of the Archive

by Zoe van Well, Archives Assistant

Hi, I am Zoe van Well and this is the first time I have blogged for the BPMA. So why now? Well, recently I contributed to the leaflet for the Treasures of the Archive exhibition. It is housed in the Search Room of the Archive and is free for all to view. You can also download a copy from our website.

In writing the leaflet I was able to not only test my knowledge built up over the past year as an Archives Assistant but also to gain more! I found it so exciting to make connections between the themes highlighted by the Treasures of the Archive exhibition.

The Machin Head mould

The Machin Head mould

One item is The Machin Head mould. Other themes include; Stamps That Never Were, featuring a page from David Gentleman’s design book, and also a World Cup Stamp commissioned for the Scotland team; Design in the GPO, The Mail Coach; and the list goes on!

I found that so many pivotal moments of postal history exposed by the exhibition directly influenced each other. The Machin Head, for example, is a mould sculpted and cast by Arnold Machin and was used to create the definitive stamp still in use today. (Everybody will have used one at some point in their life!) After I read some of Douglas Muir’s book on the topic, titled A Timeless Classic and sold in the search room, I became aware of the challenges which arose during the design process. In particular I realised the roles David Gentleman and the then Postmaster General Tony Benn played, given they were questioning the very use of the Monarch’s Head being present on stamps!

Colour trials for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929

Various colours were trialled for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929. Eventually, grey was selected.

This lead to me realising special stamps were very limited in number until the 1960’s, full stop! The Postal Union Congress commemorative stamps featuring George V (of which the £1 Stamp, 1929 is displayed in the exhibition) was only the second Commemorative Stamp to be commissioned. The first were designed for the British Empire Exhibition held in1924 and 1925. These stamps can currently be viewed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I must say though, whilst looking into these stamps I unearthed other research material which can sometimes be overlooked, including supplements issued in the Philatelic Bulletin. The Philatelic Bulletin is a small newsletter published by Royal Mail, and it includes articles on special stamps about to be issued. One supplement in particular does a great job of explaining the difference between definitive and special stamps. We have a complete collection of these Bulletins in the search room and they can be a great starting point for projects undergone by school pupils. They are also a great way for everybody to learn about events in philatelic history. Of course, if you become interested in an event and would like to see original material relating to it, either I or one my colleagues in the Search Room will be pleased to help you locate some if you wish!

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

Getting back to the Treasure of the Archive Exhibition, don’t forget we also have on display a Penny Black Proof Registration sheet (1st April 1840), of which there are only eight and all are cared for here at the British Postal Museum and Archive. We also have a Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box, one of the very first to be made and which were trialled on the Channel Islands during 1852 and 1853.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit us while this exciting and rare material is still on display! Why not make a day of it by browsing our catalogue either online or in our search room after viewing the exhibition. You may also prefer to take inspiration from the search room information sheets such as Travelling Post Offices, Mail Rail, Animals in the Post Office, The Post Office in the Second World War, Women in the Post Office and Airmail. If you find something takes your interest, we can help you find a particular item and produce it for you from the repository.

We enjoy showing you original material as it can often be a thrilling experience; both for staff and visitors, whether it is a time bill, a report or a list of ingredients for cancellation inks!

Treasures of the Archive can be viewed in our Search Room until April 2011. For information on visiting the Search Room please see http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting.