Tag Archives: British Empire Exhibition

If philately is the new black, GPO posters are the rock ‘n’ roll!

Royal Mail’s Classic Album Covers stamp issue isn’t the first time that the Post Office has gone ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ – it also happened back in the 1930s when the Post Office began a wide-ranging artist-commissioning programme to drive its public information campaigns. This led to some of the most exciting work produced in what is now known as ‘mid-century modern’ poster design.

The BPMA is fortunate in holding a treasure trove of Twentieth-Century poster design, a small portion of which was the subject of our recent exhibition, Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters 1930-1960. The exhibition included many excellent examples of public information campaign posters produced by the Post Office and we were delighted with the positive response to it. The Guardian online included a slideshow version of highlights from the exhibition and the winter issue of Illustration Magazine featured an article on our poster collection.

A GPO poster encouraging people to pack parcels carefully is illustrated by a shattered cow-shaped milk jug. The cow has a tear in its eye.

Please Pack Parcels Very Carefully by Tom Eckersley

Also smitten were the designers at ‘poptastic’ greetings card producer Umpen Editions who have developed ‘Post Modern’, a new range of cards based on eight posters from our collection. This includes several featured in the exhibition. The ever-popular, if heart-rending (please somebody put him back together!!!) ‘please pack parcels very carefully’ broken dog design by Tom Eckersley is included, making this design now available in greetings card, print-on-demand poster, fridge magnet, and fridge magnet with virtual gift formats.  A cow design from the same campaign is featured, as is Pat Keely’s poster artwork for the GPO film, Night Mail. Lesser known, but equally visually appealing work by artists Harry Stevens and Robert Broomfield are in the range, along with a wartime poster image from artist Hans Schleger (aka Zero). We are delighted with the new cards – everyone in the office has their own personal favourite.

The poster for Night Mail shows a railway track and railway signals at night.

Pat Keely's poster for Night Mail

Poster campaigns, public information films, and documentary photography emerged from the Post Office during the 1930’s under the auspices of its first Public Relations Officer, Sir Stephen Tallents, who joined the department in 1933 towards the end of George V’s reign. Indeed it was the social change, coupled with developments in mass communications techniques and processes which had occurred earlier during the King’s reign which enabled production not only of some of philately’s now most loved stamp issues (‘British Empire Exhibition’, ‘Seahorses’ and ‘PUC Pound’ issues for example) but that also laid the basis for a subsequent ‘heyday’ of GPO poster design.

The events and innovations of this extraordinary period in philatelic design history will be the focus of the BPMA’s major exhibition for 2010: Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery. The exhibition, part of the London 2010 Festival of Stamps, will look at the passions of King George V, the ‘philatelist king’, alongside an extraordinary period of innovation in the General Post Office which took place during his reign.

The Post Modern card range will be available shortly from the BPMA’s webshop.

The Wilkinson Collection

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

In 1989 the National Postal Museum (a predecessor of the BPMA) received a collection which has since been known as the Wilkinson Collection, named after the original collector, Ian Wilkinson. Since the Collection entered the Museum it has been somewhat sidelined, until now. Over the next few weeks and months I will be cataloguing the Wilkinson Collection, but due to the large number of objects in the Collection (estimated at 3,000!) this could take some time. In the meantime I will be writing a series of these blogs, highlighting different aspects of the collection and keeping you up-to-date on progress. When the project is completed the entire Collection will be available on the BPMA’s online catalogue for all to see.

A photograph of some of the Wilkinson Collection as displayed in Ian Wilkinsons home.

A photograph of some of the Wilkinson Collection as displayed in Ian Wilkinson's home.

The Wilkinson Collection could be surmised as ‘any object with a letterbox on it’, but it is so much more than this. It covers such a range of material and events that, whatever your interest, there is probably something that will prompt a smile or a memory; whether it is a model china letter box celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, the Dinky Toys you played with as a child and now treasure as an adult, or, as in my case, the Postman Pat stories and games that still prompt a rendition of the theme tune. The Wilkinson Collection is also possibly one of the largest collections of letter box material in the country.

Ian Wilkinson began collecting when he was a small boy, being attracted by anything from stamps to Dinky Toys. Unfortunately, his childhood collection was destroyed during a bombing raid in World War Two and he did not resume serious collecting until the 1960s, when a shop proprietor agreed to look out for any items related to Chesham (where Wilkinson lived). The first item purchased as a result of this agreement was a small tin money box shaped like a letter box, similar to one Wilkinson had had as a boy.[1] From this object an entire collection spread and grew and, in 1976, Wilkinson and fellow collectors formed The Letter Box Study Group, which is still going strong with around 800 members.

The Wilkinson Collection shows how collecting can be an exciting and strange experience. It can lead in many different directions, both for the collection and the collector. Maybe it will encourage others to start their own collections. In future blogs I shall be focussing on how once a collection enters a museum, another phase of its life begins.

To find out more about The Letter Box Study Group visit their website at www.lbsg.org.


[1] ‘The Wilkinson Collection’ in National Postal Museum’s The Philatelic Year 1989, ed. Douglas Muir, p.11.