Tag Archives: Christmas cards

A Curious Culture of Letter Writing

In December 2011, as some of you may remember, BPMA and the BBC produced a collaborative radio series entitled the People’s Post. One episode of that series focussed on the culture of letter writing. Ever since this episode I have been intrigued by this subject and the many different forms letters have taken, particularly in the 19th and early 20th Century. As a result I decided to delve into the BPMA collection to see whether a culture of letter writing was reflected in the objects and files in the collection.

On Thursday 20th June at 7pm I’ll be giving a talk in which I use objects from our collection as a basis to explore how postal reform helped the development of this culture of letter writing and sharing some of the weird and wonderful things I’ve discovered.

Postcard sent in 1914. (OB1997.35)

Postcard sent in 1914. (OB1997.35)

Some of the broader themes I’ll be looking at are the introduction of the penny post, the development of envelopes and postcards, as well as the sending of cards for special occasions such as Christmas. I am by no means a postal historian and this is much more an introduction to some of the main changes in the 19th Century postal system and how these are reflected in the objects I’ve found within the BPMA’s collection and the social history they tell.

Embroidered card with an embossed Christmas border. (OB1995.162/24)

Embroidered card with an embossed Christmas border. (OB1995.162/24)

These objects range from various Curious Addresses – the name given to envelopes where the address is presented in a different format such as a poem or a picture; Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland Postage Stamp Case; the Express Delivery form used by suffragettes to post themselves as ‘human letters‘ and an account of a kitten being sent through the post as well as numerous postcards and letters.

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, exterior – printed with chromolithographic images, 1889. (OB1995.415/1)

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, exterior – printed with chromolithographic images, 1889. (OB1995.415/1)

Come along to the Phoenix Centre, London, on Thursday 20th June at 7pm to find out more…

– Emma Harper, Curator

See images from the Curious Culture of Letter Writing on Flickr.

Christmas cards in bundles

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster recommending that mail be tied in bundles to assist with the Christmas mail, designed by Kenneth Bromfield, c. 1967. (POST 110/2581)

Poster recommending that mail be tied in bundles to assist with the Christmas mail, designed by Kenneth Bromfield, c. 1967. (POST 110/2581)

Until as recently as the 1990s it was common for the Post Office to request that large numbers of letters or cards be posted in bundles. Assuming the public bundled the letters and cards correctly, this assisted greatly with mail sorting during the busy Christmas period.

Royal Mail no longer asks that you bundle your letters and cards as a great deal of mail is now sorted by machines which electronically read the address and postcode on each item of mail.

Post Early at Christmas

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising final posting dates for the festive period; featuring a Christmas tree and a candle, designed by Hans Arnold Rothholz, 1951. (POST 110/1276)

Poster advertising final posting dates for the festive period; featuring a Christmas tree and a candle, designed by Hans Arnold Rothholz, 1951. (POST 110/1276)

From the 1930s until the 1960s the Post Office ran its annual “Post early” campaign, encouraging people to send their letters and parcels as early as possible to avoid a rush in the week leading up to Christmas. We have previously blogged about this campaign and how it became a victim of its own success. A Post Office Regional Director’s Conference paper of 1966 (RD (66) 2, POST 73/122) concluded that the campaign had proved to be “somewhat of an embarrassment since it produces a large volume of traffic before we are ready for it”.

The above poster from 1951 shows the last posting dates as 19 and 20 December, Royal Mail’s recommending posting dates for 2012 can be found on their website. If you are sending a Christmas card or parcel to Canada, Eastern Europe or the United States today is the last day – do not delay!

You can purchase a selection of “Post early” Christmas greeting cards from our online shop. For delivery within the UK please place your order by 18 December.

The History of the Christmas Card

BPMA Archivist Anna Flood previews her upcoming talk on The History of the Christmas Card

It’s a treat as we head towards Christmas to showcase some of the festive items we have in our collections. Last year I had the pleasure of delving into our extensive Christmas card collection for a talk which I will be repeating this December at the BPMA.

Using a wide variety of cards from our museum collection I’ll be discussing the inception in 1843 of the Christmas card as we know it today, and how the custom took off to great proportions up to the mid twentieth century, a period during which the most attractive, intricate and inventive cards were produced.

Audience members will be able to see how cards could become covetable objects for Victorians, particularly those with novel qualities such as perfumed and fan-shaped cards.

Chromolithographed card from scrapbook, 1866 (E10869)

Chromolithographed card from scrapbook, 1866 (E10869)

Some of the cards really are works of art, produced using innovative printing and paper-cutting methods, paper lace, and embroidery. However, there will also be several prime examples of Victorian gaudiness!

Raphael Tuck and Sons celluloid Christmas card, c. 1914-1918 (OB1995.162/41)

Raphael Tuck and Sons celluloid Christmas card, c. 1914-1918 (OB1995.162/41)

The exchange of Christmas cards as a romantic gesture will be illustrated by images of some of the prettiest and most delicate cards in our collection. Alongside these ornamental numbers will be examples of the practical uses of Christmas cards, given as gifts which doubled as National Savings stamp books, and printed in the form of tradesmen’s calling cards to solicit tips.

Postman's Christmas greetings card, issued to customers in the hope of receiving a gratuity (POST 30/1813)

Postman’s Christmas greetings card, issued to customers in the hope of receiving a gratuity (POST 30/1813)

The touching messages, cheerful colours and spring-like floral embroidery of some of the First World War cards will reflect how sending Christmas greetings was important to sustaining morale and providing comfort to soldiers on the frontline and their girlfriends, wives and mothers back home.

Embroidered Christmas card by Visé Paris, c.1914-1918 (OB1995.162/30)

Embroidered Christmas card by Visé Paris, c.1914-1918 (OB1995.162/30)

I’ll also provide examples of Victorian cards which debunk the common belief that the rotund, red-suited Father Christmas was the creation of Coca-Cola advertising in the 1930s. Other themes, including pagan imagery, humour, religion and romance will also be discussed, alongside the significance of the custom of exchanging Christmas cards as a reflection of social relations, tastes and fashions.

Raphael Tuck and Sons Christmas card, c.1900 (Acc. No. 2005-0101/3)

Raphael Tuck and Sons Christmas card, c.1900 (Acc. No. 2005-0101/3)

The talk on the ‘History of the Christmas card’ will be held on Tuesday 4 December, 7-8pm, in the Phoenix Centre next to the BPMA. For further details please visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/talk-christmas.

Items from the BPMA’s Christmas card collection can be viewed by appointment. Please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk for details.

Get 20% off Christmas cards purchased at the BPMA Shop until 19 November. Read our blog on GPO Christmas Posters to get the discount code.

GPO Christmas Posters

The tendency of many people to post letters at the very last minute poses a considerable problem to the Post Office and Royal Mail especially in the run-up to Christmas. The large volume of post, late in the day or only a few days before the Christmas holidays, has made the allocation of resources and the efficient provision of service much more complex and costly since the 1930s. When the GPO Public Relations Department was created in 1934, a poster campaign to educate the public to “Post Early this Christmas” started and some striking and wonderful poster designs were produced. We wrote about this successful campaign in a previous blog and now want to present some of our favourite poster images to set the mood for Christmas – and to remind you to “Shop Early – Post Early.”

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

Shop Early – Post Early poster (Holly Leaf) by Derek Hass from 1953 (POST 110/4243)

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the Post Office commissioned well-known designers like Jan Lewitt & George Him, Tom Eckersley or Barnett Freedman for posters informing the public about the correct use of the postal service. Just like modern advertising campaigns, the designers used animals, striking colours and humour to get their message across. Tom Eckersley’s “Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early” poster from 1955 features a pantomime horse in two halves: the front half (“Be First”) is smiling, the back half (“Not Last”) frowning. Dogs, Cats, Reindeer, Doves and Owls were equally popular motives to educate the public and prevent the Christmas rush.

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Be First, Not Last – Travel Early – Shop Early – Post Early by Tom Eckersley from 1955 (POST 110/1340)

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Post Early (Dachshund) by Leonard Beaumont from 1950

Santa Claus himself also appears in different shapes and sizes – “on wheels” with his beard flying in the wind (Manfred Reiss, 1952), skating on ice (POST 110/3213 John Rowland Barker c.1951), or flying over a smoking chimney with a bag of parcels (Eric Fraser, 1946).

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Travel Shop Post Early (Father Christmas) poster by John Rowland Barker a.k.a. Kraber from 1951 (POST 110/3213)

Post Early and get 20% off BPMA Christmas cards!

Buy your Christmas cards by the 19 November 2012 from the BPMA Online Shop and receive 20% off your Christmas cards order over £10 (before Postage & Packaging). Enter POSTEARLY2012 discount code at checkout, or visit our Public Search Room in London.

BPMA Open Afternoon

Join the staff and Friends of the British Postal Museum & Archive at our annual Open Afternoon on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

Interior of Travelling Post Office

Interior of Travelling Post Office, 1935 (POST 109/375)

See a showcase of our fascinating collections, take part in a range of activities, talks and tours, and find out more about who we are, what we do and what we’ve been up to in the last year. Events will run from 1pm until 8pm, and everyone is welcome to drop in at any time and share a mince pie with us!

Activities include…

Hands-On Family Research: Was your ancestor a postie? Our Archive Search Room Team will show you how to research your family tree.

The Post Office in Pictures exhibition – for the first time in London! View the iconic photographs of the Post Office at work in the community sourced from the BPMA Archive.

Behind the Scenes Tours: Discover the treasures of the Archive – from GPO Posters to philatelic gems – led by our Archive & Curatorial Teams.

Tour of our Archive collections which fill over 2.5 miles of shelving and cover social, postal and design history from 1636 to today – at 2pm, 4pm and 5.30pm.

Tour of the Philatelic Studio led my our Curator, Philately at 3.30pm.

Booking welcome; subject to availability.

The History of the Christmas Card: Learn more about the origin of this custom with material provided by our Cataloguing team.

Preservation Surgery: Ask for advice from our conservator on caring for your own collection of family history records, postal history, stamps or photographs – bookings welcome!

Learning Activities Sample Sessions: Find out how our Access & Learning team engage school children and young people in our postal heritage with a range of activities and resources.

Mail Trains: Watch the classic Auden-Britten film production Night Mail (1936), talk to our curators about the Travelling Post Office and join a talk about the history of delivering the mail by rail at 7pm.

Still from Night Mail

Still from Night Mail

For more information and for booking a place on a tour or the Preservation Surgery, please call 020 7239 2037.

The History of the Christmas Card

A talk I am giving at London Metropolitan Archives on December 1st on ‘The History of the Christmas Card’ gives me an excellent opportunity to highlight our most festively appropriate museum collection.

Dating from 1843 up to the present day, our Christmas card collection incorporates a large number of Victorian and Edwardian cards, as well as wartime, National Savings, and General Post Office departmental cards. We also have an original copy of the earliest known surviving British Christmas card, and the first believed to have been sold commercially, which is that commissioned in 1843 by Henry Cole, the first Director of what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum. I will provide more details about the origins of Christmas card-giving, and other contenders for the first card, in my talk.

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Winifred M. Ackroyd Christmas card, c.1920 (OB1994.298/3)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Universal Postal Union Christmas card, 1889-1890 (Acc. No. 0353)

Cards were produced for all tastes and none, and few in the collection display the Christian themes we often see on cards today. Instead, traditional pagan imagery was a popular feature, and ivy, holly, and robins feature on many nineteenth and early twentieth century cards.

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

St Nicholas Christmas card, 1891-1892 (E1502.20)

Victorian and Edwardian cards were often exchanged between lovers, who covertly conveyed their feelings through the language of flowers to deceive the prying eyes of their elders.

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

Embossed Christmas card, c.1880 (OB1995.27/5/02)

The Christmas card became a fashionable and affordable luxury indulged in by those who could afford to spend as little as a halfpenny or as much as five guineas. Aware of the charm of novelty cards, some manufacturers produced designs to appeal particularly to feminine fancies, and we have some very pretty, and well-preserved, examples.

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

Embossed fan-shaped Christmas card, c. 1880 (OB1995.27/1)

If we are to judge by the quality of the cards alone, their recipients must have been held in high esteem by the senders. Embroidery, paper-lace, gilding and silk adorn several cards, and one wonders which lucky lady was on the receiving end of a Rimmel perfumed card!

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

Perfume sachet Christmas card with paper-lace and silk, c.1860-1880 (OB1995.27/8/01)

The seminar, organised by the group ‘Archives for London’, will provide a detailed history of the custom of giving Christmas cards, and their design, production and sale. For more details, and to book a place, please email Jeff Gerhardt at Jeff.Gerhardt@cityoflondon.gov.uk, or telephone 020 7332 3816.

Items from the BPMA’s Christmas card collection can be viewed by appointment. Please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk for details.

– Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloguing)