Tag Archives: British history

First Class: A History of Britain Told Through 36 Postage Stamps

On Thursday 21 February Chris West, author of First Class – a History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps, will give a talk at the BPMA in London. Chris’s book explores British history as illustrated by our most expressive, quirky, beautiful and sometimes baffling stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Drawing on his book, Chris will tell the story of how the Penny Lilac united a nation in 1881 and examine the controversy surrounding the Edward VIII stamp of 1936. More recent history such as the punk era and the Prime Ministership of Margaret Thatcher will also be explored.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

Tickets to the talk First Class: A History of Britain Told Through 36 Postage Stamps can be purchased through our website at the cost of £3 per head, £2.50 for concessions.

Read Chris West’s blog A Cup of Tea and its consequences, or purchase First Class – a History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps through our online shop.

A Cup of Tea and its Consequences

Chris West explains how he came to write the book First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Like many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a stamp collection. A rather mediocre one… But one Sunday, I went to tea with my great uncle.

I happened to mention that I collected stamps, and Uncle Frank said he’d done that too. He disappeared and came back with a dark blue ‘Lincoln’ album. Inside was a treasurehouse of stamps featuring Edward VII and Queen Victoria – including a Penny Black (it had a corner missing, but still…) Frank then said that he didn’t really bother with them any longer – did I want them? The album became my pride and joy. I even took it to school to show everybody. Sadly, one viewer was so impressed that he stole half the stamps. The collection never felt the same afterwards, and vanished into an attic. Forty years later, I was cleaning out the attic when I came across the album. For a moment an old fury came back, but then I decided that a much healthier reaction was to reassemble the collection.

The 'Seahorse' stamp.

The ‘Seahorse’ stamp.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

As I did this, I found myself ever more intrigued with the stamps, as items of beauty but also as tiny pieces of history. Who stuck this Penny Black on an envelope, and what was in the letter? More generally, what was Britain like at the time? I found envelopes that had been sent in Ireland around the time of the appalling famine, a Seahorse sent just before World War One, a stamp celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (an event I had never heard of, but which was as big as the Olympics in its day), an envelope that had enclosed a censored letter from World War Two, the classic 4d stamp celebrating the 1966 World Cup win… Stamps, I realised, tell stories.

Finally, I assembled these stories into a book, that would tell the nation’s tale through its stamps – or 36 of them, anyway. It’s been a joy to research and write. And all thanks to my great uncle and a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps is available from the BPMA online shop.

Chris West will give a talk based on First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps at the BPMA on Thursday 21 February 2013.

Masters of the Post wins award

The Business Archives Council (BAC) has announced that the winner of the 2011 BAC Wadsworth Prize for British Business History is Duncan Campbell-Smith for Masters of the Post – the Authorized History of Royal Mail. The prize was presented to Mr Campbell-Smith by the Chairman of the BAC, Dr Terry Gourvish, on 8 November.

Duncan Campbell-Smith blogged for us last year on the process of researching the book at the Royal Mail Archive. You can also see a video of Duncan Campbell-Smith at the Archive on YouTube.

Masters of the Post is the first complete history of the Royal Mail up to the present day. It presents the whole story of Britain’s postal service — how it was built, how it led the world for two hundred years and how it has struggled to survive in the face of mounting odds since the arrival of the internet.

Masters of the Post - The Authorized History of the Royal Mail

Purchase your copy of Masters of the Post from our online shop.