Tag Archives: Benjamin Franklin

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)

American Independence Day

Today Americans all over the world are celebrating Independence Day, commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776 and subsequent independence from Great Britain.

As many readers may already know the BPMA and Royal Mail Archive hold material relating to postal communications from a variety of countries, not just Great Britain, so this seemed an appropriate time to highlight two items in the BPMA’s collection with American connections.

A black and white steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, c. 1865 (2009-0038)

A black and white steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, c. 1865 (2009-0038)

This steel engraving of Benjamin Franklin, scientist, politician, Postmaster and ‘Founding Father’ of the United States features an inset image of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The scene shows Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both of whom went on to serve as President of the United States. Benjamin Franklin has also been featured on a Great Britain stamp, issued in 1976 to mark the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence.

Letter from General Eisenhower to Captain Crookshank, congratulating engineering and postal staff on their contribution to the war effort (POST 118/1596)

Letter from General Eisenhower to Captain Crookshank, congratulating engineering and postal staff on their contribution to the war effort (POST 118/1596)

One of my colleagues showed me this signed letter from General Dwight D Eisenhower shortly after I started as a Cataloguer at BPMA. As an enthusiastic new recruit and having recently listened to our podcast on the Post Office during the Second World War, I was struck by the seemingly sincere appreciation of the Post Office’s hard work and dedication during the conflict.

Dated 22nd June 1944, whilst Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and addressed to the Postmaster General Captain H.F.C. Crookshank, the letter reads:

The build up of the necessary forces for the current operations has involved the construction of a vast network of communications radiating from key centers of vital importance in the United Kingdom. The greater part of this work has been undertaken by the Engineers and Staff of the General Post Office. It is my great pleasure, on behalf of the Allied Expeditionary Force, to ask you to pass on to them my sincere appreciation for their contribution and for the long hours they have worked and for the excellent cooperation they have given toward our success.

Sarah Jenkins – Assistant Cataloguer

Both of these items are available to view on our online catalogue.

A selection of lantern slides showing United States Post Office buildings can also bee seen on our Flickr site.

The Royal Society 350 Years

This year is the 350th anniversary of The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. In celebration, Royal Mail has today released ten 1st class commemoratives featuring significant Royal Society figures whose portraits are paired with dramatic and colourful imagery representing their achievements. 

Royal Society 350th Anniversary stamps

The Royal Society 350th Anniversary stamps

The “brainstorming” design was the idea of Hat-trick Design, responsible for the interlocking “jigsaw” approach used for the 2009 Darwin stamps. But with more than 1,400 Fellows and Foreign Members to choose from, how were ten significant scientific figures to be selected?

Fittingly, it was The Royal Society itself which suggested the solution: a case of basic division. It was agreed to split the 350-year history into ten 35-year “blocks” in which it could be demonstrated how, through the work of its Fellows, The Royal Society has had a major impact on the World.

Royal Mail consulted with experts from the Society to determine the ten Fellows, and due to the global nature of the organisation, non UK citizens were included, such as one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, and the New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford.

Lister Centenary Stamps, 1965

Lister Centenary Stamps, 1965

Science, scientific achievement and scientists have long been featured on British stamps. It could be argued that the British Empire Exhibition (1924 and 1925) or Festival of Britain (1951) commemoratives in part marked scientific and industrial achievement, as both events featured scientific displays. Even the National Productivity Year commemoratives (1962) hint at the business imperative behind much scientific research. However, the first British stamp issue explicitly celebrating scientific achievement was the Lister Centenary stamps (1965). Fittingly, Sir Joseph Lister, who first developed antiseptic surgery, is also commemorated on the new Royal Society stamps.

300th Anniversary of Isaac Newton's Principa Mathematica, 1987

300th Anniversary of Isaac Newton's Principa Mathematica, 1987

Newton's Moon and Tides Diagram with Early Telescopes stamp, released as part of the Astronomy issue, 1990

Newton's Moon and Tides Diagram with Early Telescopes stamp, released as part of the Astronomy issue, 1990

Other notable scientists commemorated on the Royal Society issue are appearing on British stamps for the second or even third time. The 300th anniversary of astronomer Sir Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking Principa Mathematica was celebrated in 1987. Newton’s achievements were again celebrated in 1990 as part of the Astronomy issue.

Bicentenary of American Independence stamp, 1976

Bicentenary of American Independence stamp, 1976

A bust of Benjamin Franklin (commemorated here for developing electricity) appeared on the 1976 stamp marking the Bicentenary of American Independence, and Edward Jenner’s development of the smallpox vaccine was commemorated in 1999 as part of The Patients Tale issue. The birth bicentenary of Charles Babbage, who pioneered the computer, was commemorated in 1991 as part of the Scientific Achievements issue, and crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin was previously featured in the Women of Achievement issue (1996).

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stamp, released as part of The Patients Tale issue (1999); Birth Centenary of Charles Babbage (computer pioneer) stamp, released as part of Scientific Achievements (1990); Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (scientist) stamp, released as part of the Famous Women issue (1996).

Jenner's development of smallpox vaccine stamp, released as part of The Patients Tale issue (1999); Birth Centenary of Charles Babbage (computer pioneer) stamp, released as part of Scientific Achievements (1990); Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (scientist) stamp, released as part of the Famous Women issue (1996).

Newcomers to British stamps are chemist Robert Boyle, naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford and earth scientist Sir Nicholas Shackleton.

One Royal Society Fellow not present on this issue is Rowland Hill, although from a philatelic point of view Hill’s work has been celebrated many times. You can find out more about Rowland Hill and the Royal Society by reading the speech given by Philip Parker, Head of Stamp Policy at Royal Mail, at last night’s launch of this stamp issue, which is now on our website.

COMPETITION! We have a number of Royal Mail’s Royal Society 350 Years wall posters to give away. To win one e-mail us at blog@postalheritage.org.uk with your comment(s) on what you’d like to see more of on this blog. Please include your name and postal address. Posters will be allocated on a first come first serve basis. And yes, we will post overseas.

Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary

Forty years ago today the General Post Office released the first British stamp to commemorate an overseas leader and the first to be designed by an overseas artist. The stamp in question celebrated the birth centenary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, although it was released to coincide with Indian Independence Day (15th August), rather than Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October).

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 stamp

The designer of the stamp was Biman Mullick an Indian graphic designer and illustrator then teaching at the Folkestone School of Arts and Crafts. Mullick’s design was simple but effective, showing Gandhi in front of the Indian flag. “The design brief gave complete freedom to the designers,” Mullick said. “Mahatma Gandhi maintained an extremely simple life style. This was a lead for me. I set out to achieve stark simplicity in this design.”

Scans of newspaper articles and other material related to the stamp issue can be seen on Mullick’s website. One interesting item is a Post Office press release from 14th May 1970 stating that the Indian Philatelic Society gave the Gandhi stamp a Gold Medal at the international Gandhi stamp exhibition in Calcutta that year. Mullick’s website also contains information about Bangladesh’s first stamps, which he designed following that country’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The British Postal Museum & Archive holds a great deal of material about the Gandhi stamp, including essays and unadopted designs. Six other artists submitted designs for the stamp – Bradbury Wilkinson, Rosalind Dease, Harrison & Sons, Philip Sharland, R. Stribley and Martin Stringer – and many of the un-adopted designs included the Charkha (spelt “Chakra” in our archives) or spinning wheel.

“The spinning wheel eventually became the symbol not only of Gandhi, but also the symbol of the Indian Congress Party,” noted a caption for one rejected design. “Ashoka’s Wheel, on the Indian National Flag of today, has a clear link with Gandhi’s spinning-wheel” it continued.

While the Charkha did not appear on the Gandhi stamp, it was used in poster advertising for the issue.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

A rejected design by Mullick also featured Gandhi’s honourary title Mahatma (“Great Soul”) in devanagari, the script used for many South Asian languages.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Apart from Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi is the only overseas leader to have been honoured with a British stamp.

The United States on British stamps

Tomorrow citizens of the United States will celebrate Independence Day, marking the approval by Congress of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. As Britain was the country from which the United States became independent, you may think that this date has never been celebrated on a British stamp, but in fact it has.

The Bicentennial of American Independence stamp (1976)

The Bicentennial of American Independence stamp (1976)

A stamp released on 2nd June 1976 to celebrate the US Bicentenary shows Benjamin Franklin, one of the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence, and the first Postmaster of the United States. Franklin was also the subject of the first US postage stamp, released on 1st July 1847.

Three further stamps with American themes were released by Royal Mail in the 1990s. In 1992, 42 member countries of CEPT (Conference of European Postal & Telecommunications), including the United Kingdom, released stamps on the theme of Voyages of Discovery in America. The first UK stamp shows Christopher Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, about to make landfall in the Americas. The second UK stamp shows the Kaisei, a Japanese brigantine which was involved in the Grand Regatta Columbus, an event celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ journey. Participating in the rally were members of Raleigh International, which has organised charitable expeditions since 1978.

The Landfall in the Americas and Grand Regatta Columbus stamps (1992)

The Landfall in the Americas and Grand Regatta Columbus stamps (1992)

The Settlers Tale: 17th Century Migration to the Americas (1999)

The Settlers' Tale: 17th Century Migration to the Americas (1999)

In 1999 Royal Mail celebrated the approaching Millenium by releasing a number of sets of stamps on various themes. The Settler’s Tale stamps, on the theme of migration to, from and within the UK, were released on 6 April 1999 and include a stamp on migration to the Americas in the 17th Century. The stamp shows a Pilgrim couple trading with a Native American.

But perhaps the most interesting depictions of the Americas on British postal stationery are the envelope and letter sheet designed by William Mulready. The Mulready stationery was released at the same time as the Penny Black, but proved unpopular, partly due to the elaborate design. The design shows Britannia between depictions of the continents of Asia and America, and, in the lower corners, small family groups anxiously reading letters. The Americas are represented by Pilgrims, Native Americans, and toiling slaves – remember, this was 1840! (For a closer view of the Mulready stationery see Volume II of the R M Phillips Collection, an award-winning collection of British stamps from the Victorian era in the care of the BPMA.)

A coloured version of The Mulready Envelope (1840)

A coloured version of The Mulready Envelope (1840)

So, Happy Independence Day to our readers in the United States, and if you’d like to tell us about US stamps with British themes please leave a comment.