Tag Archives: Anthony Todd

Meet the Staff: Archivist (Cataloguing) Matt Tantony

My name’s Matt, and I’m an archivist. You may remember my blog posts and tweets from 2013-14. I’m thrilled to say that I’ve rejoined the BPMA after fifteen months away. I’ve been here since early September and there’s so much to do!

Matt Tantony, our new (old) archivist.

Matt Tantony, our new (old) archivist.

My work as an archivist is really varied. You can sometimes see me helping researchers in our Search Room as the archivist on duty, and I’ll once again be bringing you posts on this blog to show you new discoveries and curiosities from our collections. Behind the scenes, I spend every Monday helping my colleagues with the giant task of preparing to move the Archive to The Postal Museum. But my main focus is on cataloguing: I’ll be aiming to catalogue hundreds of records from the Archive over the coming months.

My first cataloguing assignment was the overseas mail letter books. This somewhat mysterious POST class (number 48, to be precise), hasn’t fully been publicly available until now. Several people have worked on it before me, including my illustrious predecessor Anna.

What are the letter books? Well, they’re official records containing copies of correspondence, mostly sent from the Secretary to the Post Office to various recipients including postal agents, other countries’ postal administrations, and shipping companies involved in overseas mail. The date range is vast: from the early 18th century to the 1950s. Many of the letter books deal with postal arrangements for then-British colonies and territories, from the large (Canada) to the small (the Turks Islands). Fortunately, most of the volumes have helpful indexes:

Snapshots of indexes from mid-19th century letter books (POST 48 various).

Snapshots of indexes from mid-19th century letter books (POST 48 various).

As you might expect, the subject matter is minutely detailed and often financial or logistical in nature. A packet ship inspection here, a surcharge on parcels there. Newfangled developments in telegraphy in one letter, a shipping contract renegotiation in the next. But amidst the day-to-day technicalities of international post, you inevitably find world events, such as this Post Office letter about the sinking of the Titanic:

Extract from a draft June 1912 letter about the 763 parcels lost aboard the Titanic (POST 48/366).

Extract from a draft June 1912 letter about the 763 parcels lost aboard the Titanic (POST 48/366).

The mails went between nations – or at least attempted to – in the face of sea disasters, technology shifts, political intrigues, and wars, both civil and international. For example, here’s a 1774 letter from Post Office Secretary Anthony Todd, firing none other than Benjamin Franklin from the job of Britain’s Deputy Postmaster in America:

Copy of a letter, dated 31 January 1774, dismissing Benjamin Franklin (POST 48/4).

Copy of a letter, dated 31 January 1774, dismissing Benjamin Franklin (POST 48/4).

Of course, the American War of Independence began the following year. Later in the very same book are rather friendlier letters from Todd to Franklin, who was now the United States Postmaster General.

The overseas mail letter books are a tricky resource to use (and to catalogue!). The range of subjects is huge, and you may need to cross-reference with other bits of the Archive to get a clear picture of what’s being discussed. There’s also 350 years of changing handwriting to negotiate, and multiple languages including French and Arabic. But they have lots of value and interest as a staggeringly detailed picture of global communication, and they’ll be joining our online catalogue soon.

Catch you in a few weeks with my next discoveries in the Archive!

– Matt Tantony, Archivist (Cataloguing)

How the Post Office Can Take You from Struggling Artist to Famous Society Portraitist!

Or at least this is just what it did for renowned artist George Romney in the 1760’s. Romney was one of the most popular portraitists in London during the second half of the 18th century, competing with the likes of Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds for commissions and patrons. He painted many leading society figures of his day—most notably Lady Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Horatio Nelson, who was Romney’s muse and appeared in over sixty of his paintings.

But Romney was not always the famous society artist that we know him as today. Born in Dalton-on-Furness on December 26, 1734, the son of a cabinet maker, Romney began his artistic career in Kendal at the age of twenty-one, apprenticed to a local artist. He was married in 1756 to Mary Abbott, but they were almost instantly separated after their marriage and remained apart for the better part of Romney’s life. He then moved to London in 1762, but continued to struggle financially and never found any great success, as Romney had very few acquaintances in London, which made it difficult to find commissions. However, this changed somewhat when Romney befriended Daniel Braithwaite, the clerk to the Postmaster General, who introduced him into the middle-class professional circles, an important society group eager to commission portraits. You can see Mr. Braithwaite’s appointment records in the Post Office below, in 1765 and 1768, which hail from the BPMA archives (POST 58/1).

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1765 (POST 58/1)

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1765 (POST 58/1)

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1768 (POST 58/1)

Appointment of Daniel Braithwaite, 1768 (POST 58/1)

After experiencing this success and finally earning some money as a portraitist, Romney then travelled to Paris in 1764 and Italy in 1772 to complete his training and study the works of the Old Masters, as most aspiring artists did in those days. He returned to London in great debt in 1775, but his new found training and his old success in the city helped him to win many important commissions, and Romney’s success as a portraitist was finally secured. It was during this wave of newfound popularity that Romney painted his portrait of Anthony Todd, the Postmaster General from 1762-65 and 1768-1798, whom he possibly had contact to through his friendship with Daniel Braithwaite.

Anthony Todd, George Romney, British Postal Museum & Archive Collection, c. 1779

Anthony Todd, George Romney, British Postal Museum & Archive Collection, c. 1779

Three years after painting the Postmaster General, in April 1782 at the height of his popularity, Romney met Emma Hamilton, then Emma Hart, only seventeen years old to his forty eight years, who he began to paint obsessively, in the form of real-life portraits, allegorical portraits and history paintings. This marked a change in his career, as he was so enamoured by his muse that he found it difficult to take on regular commissions, altering his portrait practice. Despite this change, with the deaths of Gainsborough in 1788 and Reynolds in 1792, George Romney still became the leading portraitist in London. He was continually overwhelmed with commissions until he was forced to return to Kendal and his estranged wife in 1799 as a result of his failing health. Romney died on 15 November 1802 in Kendal at age 68 as one of the most prolific and renowned portraitists of his time—a reputation he earned with the help of his early friends in the Post Office.

– Sarah Cooper, Intern