Tag Archives: British postal service

The BPMA Handstamp Collection

by Freya Folåsen, Cataloguer (Collections)

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) museum collection has just about any object type one can think of when it comes to the British postal service: postal stationary, pens and stamps; letterboxes and sorting machines; vehicles and uniforms. A very large part of the collection consists of handstamps: these are implements used to apply a postmark by hand. The BPMA has several thousand handstamps which are in the process of being catalogued and made available online, and 952 handstamps were added to our online catalogue yesterday.

The impression of a rare Dumb Canceller Obliterating Handstamp, which has a wooden die

The impression of a rare Dumb Canceller Obliterating Handstamp, which has a wooden die

The handstamp collection shows the history of the Post Office from the 18th Century to the present day. It also covers most parts of the UK, from Penzance to Canterbury, London to Haroldswick and Llandeilo to Belfast. The majority have a metal or rubber die with a wooden handle, but there are also some with plastic handles and even some rare handstamps with wooden dies. Handstamps often have a permanent inscription with the name of the town or post office around the edges with space in the centre for the date, either made up of loose slugs or a revolving dateband. Many handstamps have an office numeral in the inscription to identify the office it was stamped at and some have numbers to identify the individual postal worker who used it.

An impression of a parcel handstamp from Hadley, Wellington, Shropshire

An impression of a parcel handstamp from Hadley, Wellington, Shropshire

When thinking of handstamps it is often the ones used by Post Office Counters that spring to mind, such as date, registered and parcel handstamps (2009-0336/1). These make up a large proportion of the collection but there is an amazing array of different handstamp types.

Provincial penny post handstamp impression from Hounslow, Middlesex, circa 1838

Provincial penny post handstamp impression from Hounslow, Middlesex, circa 1838

Older handstamps include some used prior to the introduction of the uniform penny postage reform in 1840, such as a provincial penny post handstamp from Hounslow, Middlesex dated around 1838, as well as uniform penny post handstamps with a numeral and the abbreviation ‘d’. The latter type was used to denote cash prepayment as an alternative to adhesive stamps during the 1840s and early 50s (2009-0429/12).

A To Pay handstamp for the postcard rate

A To Pay handstamp for the postcard rate

Surcharge, or ‘To Pay’, handstamps range from the simple, unframed version with the value to be paid in a prominent numeral and the post office numeral below; framed handstamps with ‘TO PAY’ at the top with the explanation for the surcharge, such as ‘POSTED UNPAID’ or ‘LIABLE TO POSTCARD RATE’; to the later all-purpose handstamps without office numerals and with five reasons for the surcharge.

An impression of a special handstamp celebrating the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890

An impression of a special handstamp celebrating the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890

Special handstamps are used on mail posted on special occasions and they come in many different styles, covering all types of events such as the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890; the first aerial post in 1911 (OB1995.341); the opening of a Volkswagen headquarters in 1978 (2009-0336/2); and a host of anniversaries, naming ceremonies; birthdays; and special events.

The impression of an address handstamp for GPO Headquarters, St Martins Le Grand

The impression of an address handstamp for GPO Headquarters, St Martins Le Grand

Apart from all the handstamps used on the covers of letters, there are also ones used in less official capacities. For example, there are address handstamps to stamp outgoing business letters, promotional material or notices from post offices, sorting offices and district offices. There are also similar handstamps used by individuals within the postal service, with their job title and contact details, as well as title handstamps used to sign documents (2009-0313/05).

Impression of a handstamp celebrating the opening of the National Postal Museum (now BPMA) on 19th February 1969

Impression of a handstamp celebrating the opening of the National Postal Museum (now BPMA) on 19th February 1969

In addition to the many handstamps from Royal Mail there are also some handstamps made especially for the National Postal Museum, now the BPMA. There are special event and address handstamps, but the most exciting example is the handstamp used by HM the Queen at the opening of the National Postal Museum on the 19th of February, 1969.

These are just a few of the many handstamps now available on the online catalogue. The cataloguing of the collection is ongoing and there will be even more treasures uncovered as the work continues.

The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opens

After several years work by our Curatorial team, The Museum of the Post Office in the Community opened to the public yesterday. The launch of the Museum was the final stage in our project at Blists Hill Victorian Town, which saw the BPMA collaborate with the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust to build a replica Victorian Post Office and a permanent exhibition exploring the history of the British postal service.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the post office.

The replica Victorian Post Office at Blists Hill. The Museum of the Post Office in the Community is located above the Post Office.

You can read all about the process of the project on this blog or by visiting our website. And for those unable to visit Blists Hills we have also produced an online version of the Post Office in the Community exhibition.

Below are some photos of the Museum of the Post Office in the Community, which is located above the Blists Hill Post Office.

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The stairwell leading up to The Post Office in the Community exhibition

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

The Counter Services display with GPO2 model and Hen & Chicks

Counter Services display

Counter Services display

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Counter Services display with BSA Bantam motorcycle

Delivering the Mail display

Delivering the Mail display

Letter Boxes display

Letter Boxes display

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

The Hen & Chicks pentacycle, which was trailed for mail delivery in Horsham, Sussex in 1882

Changing Times display

Changing Times display

Selling the Air Mail service

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

With the rapid development of Air Mail services from the 1920s onwards, the Post Office was faced with the challenge of marketing the concept to the British public. Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson, Director of Postal Services, summed up the problem in a lecture to the Post Office Telephone and Telegraph Society of London in November 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14): “the British user of the Postal service is extremely conservative” “it takes a long time and a considerable amount of persuasion to induce him to take up readily or on a large scale any new service” “what is essential in a new service such as this is to bring its advantages under the notice of those who are likely to use it”.

The question of appropriate publicity for the developing service was one of the major items for discussion by a specially appointed ‘Air Mail Committee’ at this time; as early as March 1930 Air Mail labels were issued in the three shilling stamp book, services were also advertised in a special leaflet and in the Post Office Daily List, but take up was slow.

Publicity ideas developed over time; a suggestion for the use of advertising posters on mail vans in December 1930 was dismissed as “undesirable” (POST 33/2912A file 16), but by 1933 a Post Office Circular dated 31 May (p 208) announced that a poster on the subject of air mail services was to be displayed on mail vans until the end of August (a copy of this poster can be found in POST 33/2912A file 22). The display of this poster tied in with the launch of a successful press campaign which helped to achieve a “growth of something like half a million Air Mail letters” (POST 50/24, p 14).

Building on this achievement, the newly formed Public Relations department produced a number of posters designed to sell the service, some of which can be seen in the exhibition: Designs on delivery: GPO posters from 1930 to 1960.
 
Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson suggested back in 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14) that it would be a good idea to “familiarise the youthful mind with the possibilities of air services”; accordingly two key posters from the 1930s were produced for use in schools. One of these formed part of a series on the theme of ‘Overseas Communications’, it shows airmails for the empire being loaded at Croydon in 1934 (PRD 142, POST 110/3174C).

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

The second displays a map of ‘Air Mail routes’ and was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer in 1937 (PRD 146, POST 110/3177). 

Airmail routes

Airmail routes designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer was also responsible for designing a poster to be displayed in Post Offices in 1935; this poster emphasised the speed of the service (PRD 111, POST 110/2488).

Quickest Way by Air

Quickest Way by Air

Another poster introduced in this year, designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott, showed the upward trend in air mail traffic between the years 1927 and 1933 (PRD 78, POST 110/2487).

Into the Air

Into the Air

Posters for display on mail vans were also produced along with a series of leaflets publicising the expansion of available services; these were meant to further stimulate the appetite of a public, who were increasingly excited by the prospect of a more speedy service for their overseas mail.

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Speed the Air Mails

Speed the Air Mails

South African Air Mail

South African Air Mail

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Designs on Delivery
Well Gallery, London College of Communication
7th October to 4th November
- Online ExhibitionFlickrArchives Hub -  The Guardian

Human Letters: The Post Office and women’s suffrage

Earlier this year Dr Katherine Rake, Director of the Fawcett Society spoke at the BPMA about women’s suffrage and other equality campaigns. This talk is now available through our podcast. But if the connection between the women’s suffrage movement and the British postal service doesn’t seem immediately obvious, all will be explained. 

“Human letters” – Telegraph messenger boy A.S. Palmer delivers Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan to 10 Downing Street.

“Human letters” – Telegraph messenger boy A.S. Palmer delivers Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan to 10 Downing Street.

On 23rd February 1909 two suffragettes, Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan, posted themselves to 10 Downing Street, in an attempt to deliver a message personally to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. At this time Post Office regulations allowed individuals to be “posted” by express messenger, so the two women went to the West Strand Post Office and were placed in the hands of A.S. Palmer, a telegraph messenger boy, who “delivered” them to Downing Street. There, an official refused to sign for the “human letters” and eventually Miss Solomon and Miss McLellan were returned to the offices of the Women’s Social and Political Union.

Another connection to both the Post Office and women’s suffrage was Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the wife of the political economist, suffrage campaigner, Liberal MP and Postmaster General (1880-1884) Henry Fawcett. At the time of the human letters incident Millicent was the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She and her organisation were more moderate campaigners than the Women’s Social and Political Union, but eventually they achieved their goal.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett who was honoured with a stamp in last year’s Women of Achievement series.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett who was honoured with a stamp in last year’s Women of Distinction series.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett is regarded as having been instrumental in the campaign for votes for women, in particular the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed women over 30 the right to vote if they were married to a member of the Local Government Register, as well as women to enter parliament on an equal basis with men.

Garrett Fawcett’s work and that of the NUWSS lives on in the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between women and men in the UK on pay, pensions, poverty, justice and politics. In her talk, Dr Katherine Rake outlines the Society’s work, giving both a sobering and optimistic appraisal of what has been achieved.

To find out more about this and our other podcasts visit www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast.

The education pack Messages Through Time (suitable for Key Stage 3 history students) contains colour facsimile archive documents related to the human letters and can be downloaded from our website.

What does the Post Office mean to you?

by Julian Stray, Assistant Curator

What does the Post Office mean to you? An interesting question and probably not one that we often consider. Is it the loss of our favourite local post office, or is it the continued success of this everyday resource with a friendly face behind the counter, where a single stamp is provided with the same enthusiasm as a bulk dispatch of eBay packages? What do you think of when a holiday postcard is dropped onto your doormat? It is unlikely that any of us spare a thought to the process that bought it from a resort to our house for the modest cost of a stamp. It is also unlikely that we view with such warmth the steady stream of monthly bills or ‘junk’ mail that invades our homes on a far too regular basis!

An oral history drop-in session in progress.

An oral history drop-in session in progress.

Many of us have spent a few weeks, possibly as a student, working as a ‘casual’ over the busy Christmas period. Or possibly you may have completed ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years service for the Post Office, Royal Mail, Parcelforce or Romec. These days, with a changing mails market, increasing numbers of people are actually employed by competitors within the mail business; employed by TNT, DHL, Business Post, City Link or one of the many others vying for space. How do you feel about these changes in the home mail market?

If you have an opinion on any of the above or other associated matters, The British Postal Museum & Archive are interested in your views. We will be hosting two ‘drop-in’ sessions in 2009 where the one big question will be asked: “What does the Post Office mean to you?” Speaking to one of the BPMA curators, we are offering the opportunity for anyone to have their view recorded, be it a three minute rant or a longer discourse on a fondly remembered service. It is the BPMA’s aim to capture a snap-shot of people’s views and opinions during the most radical shake-up of the domestic mail market seen in over 150 years.

The first of these sessions will be held at the BPMA Museum Store on 21 stMay 2009 (full details below). No booking is necessary; simply turn up to have your views recorded for posterity. Please note that some recordings may be closed from public access for a period of years if deemed necessary. So if you are an employee of Royal Mail, or of one of its competitors or simply an interested member of the public, come and tell us… ‘What does the Post Office mean to you?”

BPMA Oral History Drop-In Sessions 2009
May Drop-In Session – Thursday 21st May, 10am-3pm at the BPMA Museum Store
October Drop-In Session
- Tuesday 20th October, 10am-3pm at The British Postal Museum & Archive

200 Years of Australia Post

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Over the weekend philatelists and postal heritage buffs in Australia celebrated Australia Post’s bicentenary. As you might expect of a former British colony, Australia’s postal service was much influenced by Britain’s. Browsing Australia Post’s fascinating 200th Anniversary website I discovered many interesting parallels and connections between the two postal services.

The postal service began in Australia with the appointment of Isaac Nichols – a former convict who had been transported to New South Wales for stealing – as the first Postmaster of Sydney on 25th April 1809. Mail distribution prior to Nichols’ appointment was “haphazard” according to Australia Post’s website. It also says of this period:

“Life was often bleak and lonely for the first settlers as they waited for news from home. It could be many months before a ship was sighted offshore and this was enough to generate near pandemonium on the wharves.”

And so it wasn’t until two months after his appointment that Nichols performed his first duty, which was to board the brig Experiment as it docked in Sydney Harbour and take delivery of the mail. He then took the mail back to his home in George Street, Sydney, and placed an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette to alert recipients that mail awaited them.

The practise of not home delivering the mail was common at the time. In Britain prior to the introduction of free home delivery, letters would often be delivered to a convenient local place, such as a coffee shop. Although the first “letter carriers” (postmen) were appointed in Sydney in 1828 it appears that home delivery was not free in New South Wales at this time, as recipients paid for letters rather than senders. In Britain free home delivery was not granted to every household until 1897 (this was a concession to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria) although by 1859 93% of letters were not subject to a delivery charge.

Another important milestone for the Australian postal service was the introduction of the first public post boxes in Sydney in 1831. These were receipt boxes placed in front of letter receiving houses for the collection of (unpaid) letters. Receipt boxes were introduced in the UK in 1814 and underwent many stylistic changes throughout their existence, such as changes to the angle of the aperture (letter slot) from vertical to horizontal. The boxes introduced in Sydney in 1831 are likely to have been the same as their British counterparts.

Paris Letter Box 1850, an inspiration for early Australian letter boxes.

The first pillar boxes arrived in New South Wales in the late 1850s, a few years after UK trials had taken place in the Channel Islands. The Postmaster General of New South Wales announced that he would replace the existing receipt boxes with cast-iron letter receivers in Sydney and an invitation to tender was placed in the Government Gazette on 2nd November 1855. The boxes that followed were the famous Bubbs Boxes, which were modelled on those already in use in Belgium and Paris (which had also provided the inspiration for the first British roadside pillars). One of the stamps in Australia Post’s 200th Anniversary stamp issue shows an early Bubbs Box. A slightly different model manufactured in 1870 can be found in the collection of the National Museum of Australia and an image of this and others from the NMA’s collection can be seen on Wikipedia. Flickr shows an image of a similar box manufactured for the Western Australian postal service, bearing the Western Australian emblem of a black swan.

Australia Post’s website also notes that letter sheets pre-stamped with an albino embossing were introduced in New South Wales in 1838, pre-dating the Penny Black by almost two years. There is some debate about whether these letter sheets should be regarded as stamps or postal stationary. Those who feel they are postal stationary note that special letter sheets showing an eagle with the Cross of Savoy were sold in Sardinia in 1819. Either way, the letter sheets were inspired by British postal reformer Rowland Hill. James Raymond, the New South Wales Postmaster at this time, had been in communication with Hill and was much influenced by Hill’s 1837 pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, which recommended the introduction of prepayment for postage using pre-printed envelopes and stamps. But Raymond’s pioneering letter sheets did not prove popular and moves were made to introduce postage stamps. The first postage stamps were released in New South Wales on 1st January 1850. Victoria followed on 3rd January 1950 and other Australian colonies introduced stamps between 1853 and 1860.

Britains first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Britain's first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Another philatelic first claimed by Australia was the release of the world’s first charity stamps in 1897 in New South Wales. The stamps were to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee with proceeds going to a Consumptive’s Home (images of these stamps can be seen on the Stamps of Distinction blog and Linns.com). It is important to note that Greece had released charity stamps in 1831, although the New South Wales Consumptive Home stamps were the first to include a charity surcharge. Britain’s first charity stamp was issued in 1975 to support health and handicap charities.

I am indebted to BPMA Curator Julian Stray for providing much of the information in this post. The following online resources were also extremely useful.
BPMA: Key Dates in the British Postal Service
BPMA: online catalogue
Australia Post: Our History
Australia Post: 200 Years
Wikipedia: Postage stamps and postal history of New South Wales
Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue: Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps