by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)
In my last blog there was a picture of a letter box with Mickey Mouse on it. This is just one of many items in the Wilkinson Collection that has images of characters from popular culture on it. Some of these have specifically postal links, the most obvious being Postman Pat, others are there because the objects are primarily directed at children. It may be that you collected objects with Disney characters on, or were a fan of Danger Mouse when you were younger, or still do now! I know I was particularly excited when I found a money box tin in the shape of the old Police public call boxes only to find that it was in fact a model Tardis with none other than Tom Baker as Doctor Who on the front, complete with his iconic long stripey scarf, something that brought back memories of my own childhood. There are many items like these in the Wilkinson Collection.
After Postman Pat, the most postally relevant popular character to appear in the Wilkinson Collection is Danger Mouse and his side-kick, Penfold, named after the designer of one of Britain’s best loved pillar box. Despite the name Penfold, the pair actually lived in an Anonymous pillar box and it is this that ensured their inclusion in the collection. One of the items that features the pair is a model plastic letter box which was also a bubble bath container. Another is a container for talcum powder (left) which shows Penfold holding onto a rope inside the letter box with Danger Mouse standing next to him. That a programme such as Danger Mouse can use a letter box as the hero’s home shows how instantly recognisable letter boxes are and makes an everyday object part of another world.
Some of the model letter boxes in the collection are also musical boxes. One of these shows the dog ‘Dougal’ from the television series ‘The Magic Roundabout’. However, this object also has a more serious message as on the back is a decimal currency conversion chart complete with pictures of the new coins. This is another common theme used on model letter boxes made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, – the period when Britain changed from an imperial to a decimal currency – and shows how important an issue it was. Indeed, the post office itself was involved in organising aspects of the change-over.
Ian Wilkinson also collected model post vehicles (pictured below), one of which shows a US mail car being driven by the ‘Peanuts’ comic strip character Snoopy. The car has paw prints on it and ‘SNOOPY/ US MAIL’ is inscribed on the sides. Maybe seeing their favourite cartoon character drive a mail car inspired some children to work as a postman/ woman when they were older, I’m sure Postman Pat must be responsible for a few recruits! Other popular characters that appear throughout the collection are Paddington Bear, Felix the cat and Spot the dog. There is also a tin depicting Coronation Street, which includes a letter box!
I had a lot of fun cataloguing these items as not only were they things I had enjoyed as a child, but they were also not what I had expected to find in the collection. This highlights how diverse and unusual collections can become. If you recognise any of the objects mentioned here, or have similar ones do please respond with your own memories!