Tag Archives: artwork

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.

Delving into the Unknown

BPMA volunteer Don Staddon looks at philatelic material within the British Postal Museum & Archive.

I have been recently working on a project to bring together artwork, essays, and issued stamps for the period from 1985 to 1991. It has revealed many unadopted designs and essays, some of which may be of interest.


On March 12, 1985 a set was issued depicting Insects: a number of artists had been asked to submit designs. Watercolours by wildlife artist and broadcaster Gordon Beningfield were used for the issued stamps, featuring the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee, Seven Spotted Ladybird, Wart Biter Bush Cricket, Stag Beetle and Emperor Dragonfly.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

Insects stamp designs by Gordon Beningfield.

However, also approached were Brian Hargreaves who also used watercolours, one of his designs showing the Two-spot Ladybird, while John Norris Wood adopted woodcuts, his designs including a Queen Hornet and Cat Flea.

Brian Hargreaves' Two-spot Ladybird design.

Brian Hargreaves’ Two-spot Ladybird design.

John Norris Wood's Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood’s Queen Hornet design.

John Norris Wood's Cat Flea design.

John Norris Wood’s Cat Flea design.

Gordon Beningfield had previously designed the set depicting Butterflies issued in 1981, while Brian Hargreaves was a well-known butterfly artist responsible for the Collins guide to the butterflies of Britain and Europe, as well as designing butterfly stamps for several other countries. John Norris Wood was a renowned wildlife artist. There were also designs submitted by Cherry Denman featuring household bugs.

Cherry Denman's household bugs designs.

Cherry Denman’s household bugs designs.

European Music Year

In the same year a set was issued on May 14 to mark European Music Year featuring the works of various composers: again several artists had been approached to submit ideas. The designer chosen was the Scottish illustrator and artist Wilson McLean who illustrated famous works by the composers Handel, Holst, Delius and Elgar.

Wilson McLean's European Museum Year stamp designs.

Wilson McLean’s European Museum Year stamp designs.

Among the designs not selected was a portrait of Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker, of Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte, and a set representing four composers created by David Driver.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Thomas Tallis by Martin Baker.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

Edward Elgar by Glynn Boyd Harte.

David Driver's designs.

David Driver’s designs.

Glynn Boyd Harte was a leading watercolour and lithographic artist as well as a part time musician. Note that while the unadopted designs were all based on portraits, they each used different backgrounds embracing musical symbols, score or instruments.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force set that was issued on September 16, 1986 depicts five senior Officers.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

The issued Royal Air Force stamps.

However, about two years previously trial essays, dated December 18, 1984, had been produced showing aircraft, including the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

Trial essays of the Royal Air Force stamps, showing the Lightning Fighter and the Red Arrows.

As we know, these designs were not developed into issued stamps, but I think they look impressive: sadly no designer is credited, although they appear to have been adapted from photographs.

The issue marked the 50th anniversary of the RAF being organised into various functional and operational commands, and I suspect this is the reason that Commanders were more prominent in the designs rather than the aircraft. The chosen designs were by Brian Sanders.

Thomas Hardy

It is well known that what was intended to be a set of four stamps to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hardy, ended up as being just a single stamp. It was issued on July 10, 1990, and was the work of John Gibbs. The reason given for the reduction in the number of stamps in the set was not to overburden the collector, following the decision to release stamps to mark the 90th birthday of The Queen Mother on August 2.

However, it is widely known that when the essays reached Buckingham Palace, the designs were not approved. I am illustrating essays that were sent for Royal approval: it is not possible to divulge the reaction from the Palace to the essays but I have always understood it was felt the designs were not an appropriate representation of the characters they sought to portray.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

Essays for the Thomas Hardy issue.

A total of artists had produced submissions for this set. They included: Ian Pollack, whose work was not favoured when seen at Buckingham Palace; John Gibbs who designed the issued stamp; Eileen Hogan, who featured scenes from Hardy’s works; Keith Bowen and Chloe Cheese, who both chose to depict characters from his novels.

This article originally appeared in Cross Post, the journal of the Friends of the BPMA. Visit our website to find out how you can Volunteer for the BPMA.

Christmas stamps 2012

The illustrator behind the world famous children’s classic The Gruffalo brings his unique style to this year’s Royal Mail Christmas stamp issue. The seven stamps, issued today, are inspired by classic Christmas images, brought to life through the instantly recognisable illustrations of Axel Scheffler.

Christmas 2012 Presentation Pack.

Christmas 2012 Presentation Pack.

His gentle and disarming approach can be seen straight away on both the 1st and 2nd class stamps; a Christmas robin perches on Santa’s hand on the 1st Class stamp, while a reindeer’s antlers take on the role of a Christmas tree for the 2nd Class image.

Christmas 2012 - 1st and 2nd class stamps.

Christmas 2012 – 1st and 2nd class stamps.

The other Christmas stamps feature a snowman meeting a penguin (87p), a Christmas robin bearing a star decoration in his beak (£1.28), and on the £1.90 stamps, the cat and mouse set aside their normal differences to decorate the Christmas tree together.

Christmas 2012 - 87p, £1.28 and £1.90 stamps.

Christmas 2012 – 87p, £1.28 and £1.90 stamps.

Designers Webb & Webb were commissioned by Royal Mail to devise the Christmas stamps and suggested Axel Scheffler, who they worked with to create images suitable for the small format of a stamp.

Two different pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ are available, and as always with Christmas stamp issues one of these is from the village of Bethlehem in Wales.

Christmas 2012 - First Day of Issue handstamps.

Christmas 2012 – First Day of Issue handstamps.

Royal Mail’s policy for Christmas stamps is to alternate non-secular and secular themes; the 2011 stamps marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and this year a secular theme has been chosen. To provide choice for customers, the popular 1st and 2nd Class Madonna and Child stamps, first issued in 2007, will also be available.

Stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/christmas2012 and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

A Passion for Postcards

Writer and researcher Guy Atkins explores the intrigues of old postcards and why we like collecting them.

As a boy I was keen on collecting things, old keys, coins, stamps. I loved stamps. When I was about 14 a great aunt died. Relatives knew that I collected stamps and there were four original albums from the Edwardian era in her possession, as she was very old. They gave them to me. Because of the stamps on the back. But of course, they were all ha’penny greens. They were all the same. And then I looked at the cards and thought they were interesting. They were more interesting than the stamps! And so I looked into it, really. And I sort of refined them. Took out some of the ones that I wasn’t particularly interested in, and sold them. You could get two pence each for an old card. That was about 1971. And for some reason I kept back some cards done by an artist called A. R. Quinton who died in 1934…

– Peter Cove

Forty years after having “kept back” his first cards, Peter Cove now owns one of every postcard designed by the artist A. R. Quinton, and published by Salmon’s of Sevenoaks. That’s 2,350 cards.

Peter Cove with the final card in his collection of postcards by the artist A. R. Quinton.

Peter Cove with the final card in his collection of postcards by the artist A. R. Quinton.

This time last year, I was writing a thesis on the intrigue of old postcards. Like Peter, I’m hooked on collecting them. And having read of his odyssey in Picture Postcard Monthly, I contacted Peter to see if I could interview him. I wanted to understand what it felt like to have finished a collection.

Brilliantly, he agreed. And invited me to his home near Dorchester. With his wife Sarah chatting to a friend in the kitchen, Peter poured the tea and we set about discussing our shared passion.

The details of Peter’s hunt were extraordinary: he told me of adverts he placed in French magazines to find a card of Dover that might have been sent to France; he explained how he’d buy cards he thought people with items on his “wanted list” might accept in exchange; and, lowering his voice for fear of Sarah overhearing, he spoke of visits to London markets where he’d spend hundreds of pounds.

Towards the end of the interview, Peter laid out some of his Quinton albums. With pride, he showed me the card that had brought his quest to an end: Salmon’s card no. 2986, picturing a railway line near Rhyl. He bought it for £300.

Picking it up, Peter described the card as “most uninteresting to most people”. One might have predicted this. The final card was always likely not to have been commercially successful when first sold, making it in short supply today. I was not prepared, however, for Peter’s ambivalence towards the rest of his collection:

“It’s something I liked years ago. And I started so I’ll finish. Do you know what I mean?… Now my tastes have changed. They’ve moved on to more sophisticated artwork…”

In my thesis, I wanted to see how Peter’s experiences stacked up against the ideas of academics who have written about collecting – in particular, the work of Jean Baudrillard and Susan Stewart. For Baudrillard, Peter’s serial motivation would be of little surprise. His apparent disregard for the cards’ aesthetic appeal tallies with Baudrillard’s observation that for collectors “what motivates the purchase is the pure imperative of association”.

Likewise, for Susan Stewart, Peter’s collection is not constructed by individual cards. Rather it comes to exist by how it is arranged. Stewart would argue that Peter’s ten heavy-duty albums are a kind of “Noah’s ark”, preserving items according to criteria selected by him.

Perhaps these charges are fair. But Peter unsettles other ideas of Baudrillard and Stewart. Take Baudrillard’s psychoanalytic portrait of collectors. He sees collectors as individuals struggling to form relationships with others, and using collecting as a way to withdraw from society. It is easy to match this template for collectors against fictional characters. Think of the terrifying Frederick Clegg in John Fowles’ The Collector, or Bruce Chatwin’s porcelain-obsessed Kasper Utz. Yet for Peter, being able to build relationships is at the core of his collecting. Rather than being estranged from society, Peter needed all his social skills to complete the Quinton series. It was his good relationships with dealers that allowed him to reach his goal. And while Peter is only one collector, empirical research on collecting suggests he is not unusual; collectors are not a markedly different group from the rest of the UK population.

Another strand of both Baudrillard and Stewart’s analyses Peter confounds is that collecting somehow abolishes time, that it is ‘anti-history’. For Stewart, “a collection replaces origin with classification”. This is an important part of her criticism of collecting as the “most abstract form of all consumption”. She believes it eradicates labour, making the moment of production remote.

It is true that Peter does not greatly value the artistic merits of Quinton’s work (“he was not a great artist!”) and the driver of his collecting was undoubtedly the completion of the series. But the origins of the cards matter. Ordered according to when the originals were painted, the cards in Peter’s albums provide a history of Quinton’s journey around Britain. Far from marginalizing Quinton’s labour, Peter and fellow members of the Salmon Study Group reveal it. Each year they visit sites he painted and compare the artwork on his cards with the views today.

So where does this leave us? Well, interviewing Peter and other collectors has made me wonder whether it’s time for a reversal in the portrayal of collecting, time for collecting to edge out from the shadows. Perhaps the motivations for collecting will always be private and mysterious. Maybe collectors do use the pursuit of objects to escape into their own worlds. But this should not stop us from recognizing the communal benefits of collecting. Alongside that drive to complete, stories emerge, histories are rescued and communities form.

I’ve finished my thesis now. But I’m keen to keep investigating. So if you’re a collector, I’d be delighted if you got in touch. Especially, if you’ve a story of something that has happened as a result of your collecting. Maybe you’ve uncovered an interesting history that would have otherwise been forgotten? Or become great friends with other collectors? If anything comes to mind, please do get in touch. My email address is guyatkins@gmail.com. Or write to Guy Atkins c/o BPMA, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, LONDON WC1X 0DL. I’ve also got a blog you can follow at www.postcardese.com or @postcardese on Twitter.


Jean Baudrillard, “The System of Collecting”, in The Cultures of Collecting, ed. John Elsner and Roger Cardinal, (Reaktion Books, 1994)

Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Duke University Press, 1993)

Our paintings on Your Paintings

The BPMA is the custodian of two main collections: the archive of the Royal Mail and the BPMA Museum Collection. The vast influence the postal industry has had in shaping British society, and the world, is reflected throughout our collections. They include photographs, films, ephemera, weapons, uniforms, vehicles, trains and letterboxes – and artwork, including a number of works in oil.

The subject matter of our oil paintings includes portraits of people who had a significant impact on postal services, such as past Postmaster Generals or Secretaries of the Post Office, as well of those of unnamed postal workers.

Portrait of a Postman (Alex Buchanan) by Thomas Patterson (2004-0077)

Portrait of a Postman (Alex Buchanan) by Thomas Patterson (2004-0077)

Specific historical events are depicted, such as the bombing of Mount Pleasant Parcel depot in the Second World War, while others are more general scenes of times past, including extensive representations of the Mail Coach era.

The Halfway House: A Mail Coach outside the 'Greyhounds Inn' by James Pollard (OB1995.519)

The Halfway House: A Mail Coach outside the ‘Greyhounds Inn’ by James Pollard (OB1995.519)

Changing transport methods, from the seas to the skies, and road to rails, is also captured in these works.

Mobile Post Office, Henley by Adrian Keith Graham Hill (POST 109/203)

Mobile Post Office, Henley by Adrian Keith Graham Hill (POST 109/203)

Landmark buildings – such as the GPO Tower and the old GPO building in the City of London – sit next to depictions of local post offices and more domestic scenes; the excitement of receiving a letter is portrayed more than once.

The Postman by Thomas Liddall Armitage (OBB 1997.5)

The Postman by Thomas Liddall Armitage (OBB 1997.5)

Recently our collection of oil paintings was made available on the Your Paintings website, a partnership between the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation which aims to show the entire UK national collection of oil paintings. Paintings from thousands of museums and other public institutions appear on the site.

Visit the BPMA page on Your Paintings to see our collection of works in oil, or search the site to view postal-themed paintings from other institutions. We like Army Post Office 3, Boulogne by John Lavery from the Imperial War Museum, and Post Office, Port Sunlightby Keith Gardner from The Port Sunlight Museum. What’s your favourite?