Tag Archives: cats

#MuseumCats Day: “Industrial chaos in the Post Office cat world’

For #MuseumCats day, we wanted to share the history of cats in post offices from the first three probationary, rodent-killer to the famous 23-lb goliath Tibs in the 1950s and 60s. Sadly the last Post Office Headquarters official cat, Blackie, died in 1984. Since then there have been no more employed cats, but their 100+ years history is not to be fur-gotten.

Cats were first officially appointed by the Post Office to catch rodents in September 1868 (although there had undoubtedly been cats in post offices before). Three cats worked on probation at the Money Order Office in London, with an allowance of one shilling a week. They were given 6 months by the Secretary of the Post Office to reduce the mouse problem or they would be cut.

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Tibs the Official Post Office Headquarters Cat

Luckily the cats did ‘their duty very efficiently’ and in 1873 they were awarded an increase of 6d per week. The official use of cats soon spread to other post offices with the cost of maintaining them varying.

Letter requesting a cat (POST 121/206).

Letter requesting expenditure for cat (POST 121/206).

Fast forward 80 years to 1952, when there was public outrage at the fact that Post Office cats hadn’t received a raise since 1873! The following year a question was raised in the House of Commons asking the Assistant Postmaster General, Mr L D Gammans, “when the allowance payable for the maintenance of cats in his department was last raised…”

Mr Gammans replied that “There is, I am afraid, a certain amount of industrial chaos in The Post Office cat world. Allowances vary in different places, possibly according to the alleged efficiency of the animals and other factors. It has proved impossible to organise any scheme for payment by results or output bonus…there has been a general wage freeze since July 1918, but there have been no complaints!”

The most popular cat of all, however, was named Tibs, who was born in November 1950. At his biggest, Tibs weighed 23lbs and lived in the Headquarters’ refreshment club in the basement of the building. He not only kept Post Office Headquarters completely mouse-free during his 14 years’ service, but found time to appear at a ‘cats and film stars’ party and have his portrait included in a 1953 book Cockney Cats. Tibs worked diligently until his death in November 1964.

Tibs' obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

Tibs’ obituary from Post Office Magazine 1965.

The last Post Office HQ cat, Blackie, died in June 1984, since when there have been no more cats employed at Post Office Headquarters.

150 Years of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Britain is said to be a nation of animal lovers, so it’s no surprise to see the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home celebrated on a new set of commemoratives released by Royal Mail today. 

Established in 1860 by Mary Tealby as the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs, in Holloway, north London, the charity moved to its present home in Battersea in 1871, and in 1883 started taking in cats. Its motto is simple – “We aim never to turn away a dog or cat in need of our help” – and every year 12,000 animals are taken in by the Home’s three centres in London, Kent and Berkshire.

The 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stamps

The 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stamps

The dogs and cats featured on the new stamps were all abandoned by their owners, but later re-homed by the charity. They were beautifully photographed by Steve Hoskins, and sit proudly amongst the many previous stamp issues featuring dogs and cats.

Constable's painting The Hay Wain as it appeared on a stamp in 1968

The Hay Wain by Constable on a 1968 stamp

The first dogs and cats on British stamps were incidental figures, in the backgrounds of scenes. The earliest example we could find is a dog which can be seen in the background of rural Suffolk scene in Constable’s painting The Hay Wain, featured on a stamp as part of the British Paintings issue, 1968. The dog is a little hard to see, but you can zoom in on the painting to see it at the website of the National Gallery, who own the painting.

Early produce fairs stamp, from the British Fairs issue 1983

Early produce fairs stamp, 1983

The first cat on a British stamp that we could find can be seen in the background of a stamp on Early Produce Fairs, released in 1983 as part of the British Fairs series. The cat, visible as a purple silhouette only, observes the other animals, and the fruits and vegetables, which are on sale. The British Fairs issue was designed by Andrew Restall, and some of Restall’s original sketches for this issue are held by the Aldrich Collection, University of Brighton.

Dogs stamp issue, 1979

Dogs stamp issue, 1979

The first British stamp issue dedicated to Dogs was released in 1979 and features painting of four different breeds of dog by artist Peter Barrett. Barrett is best known for his watercolours and illustrations of wildlife and the countryside.

Kitten stamp from RSPCA 150th Anniversary stamps, 1990

Kitten stamp from RSPCA 150th Anniversary issue, 1990

A kitten appeared on a stamp released as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1990.

And a further set of dogs stamps was released in 1991, celebrating the work of painter George Stubbs (perhaps better known for his paintings of horses). One of the paintings used, A Couple of Foxhounds, is on display at the Tate Gallery. Two of the others, A Rough Dog and Fino and Tiny are part of the Royal Collection. Fino and Tiny belonged to the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, and the painting is presumed to have been painted for him.

Dogs stamp issue, 1991

Dogs stamp issue, 1991

Cats finally got their own set of stamps in 1995. The stamps featured five paintings by the noted Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder.

The Cats stamp issue, 1995

The Cats stamp issue, 1995

A series of artistic black and white photographs by a number of photographers appeared on the 2001 issue Cats and Dogs.

The Cats & Dogs First Day Cover, 2001

The Cats & Dogs First Day Cover, 2001

There were two special first day of issue postmarks for the Cats and Dogs issue, one with a cats claw print and one with a dogs paw print. This idea is repeated for the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

First day of issue postmarks for the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

First day of issue postmarks for the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

Border Collie stamp from Farm Animals issue, 2005

Border Collie stamp, 2005

Finally, how could we forget the Border Collie included in the 2005 Farm Animals issue? Border Collies are working dogs, often used on farms to herd livestock. The illustrations on the Farm Animals stamps were by Chris Wormell, well known for his lino cuts, engravings and children’s book illustrations.