Tag Archives: Father Christmas

Christmas airmail

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 Christmas air mail services; featuring a flying Father Christmas with wings made out of Air Mail stickers, designed by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland, 1962. (POST 110/4254)

Poster advertising Christmas air mail services; featuring a flying Father Christmas with wings made out of Air Mail stickers, designed by Dick Negus and Philip Sharland, 1962. (POST 110/4254)

This poster from 1962 gives the last posting dates for Christmas mail sent by airmail in that year. Airmail is usually associated with international mail services but after the Second World War the Post Office began to use scheduled inland flights to carry mail between major centres.

Since 1979 Royal Mail has developed an inland network of nightly flights between provincial centres. Its national air network, Skynet, ensures millions of letters reach their destination the day after posting. Thanks to Skynet some of your Christmas cards and parcels will have gone by air for part of their journey without the need for an airmail sticker.

If Skynet sounds a bit Terminator and not as fun as this Father Christmas with angel wings of airmail stickers, we can only apologise.

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.

Letters to Santa

For many years children writing to Santa were disappointed when he appeared to return their letters without a word. Until 1963, letters addressed to him care of a fictional address were returned to sender because of the legal requirement to treat them as undeliverable. But in 1963, Royal Mail’s scheme to reply to letters sent to Santa began. Mail addressed to Father Christmas c/o Snowland, Toyland, Reindeerland or any other fictional address would be dealt with separately. The Post Office would send a card from Father Christmas inside an envelope with a ‘Reindeerland Postage Paid’ cancellation stamp.

Letter to Santa Claus, 1963

Letter to Santa Claus, 1963

Not all letters to Santa would be dealt with by the Post Office. There were already some commercial and charitable organisations providing this service, and the Postmaster General did not want to divert mail away from them. So letters marked ‘Father Christmas, c/o Gamages’ for example, would still be delivered to that address. Similarly, the Post Office was obliged under international regulations to continue to forward the 80,000 letters address to Santa in other countries, most commonly Greenland and Denmark, to be dealt with by their respective postal services.

Reply from Santa Claus which appeared in a specially designed greetings card, 1963

Reply from Santa Claus which appeared in a specially designed greetings card, 1963

Other countries had different schemes in place, and the Post Office considered the advantages and disadvantages of their methods before adopting one. In Denmark, for example, the postal service asked children to enclose a postal order for one kroner, in return for which children received a gift and profits were donated to charity. However, this idea was considered too controversial and legally complex, and in the end the Post Office opted for the free and simpler scheme similar to the one already in place in France.

Thank you letter to Santa Claus

Thank you letter to Santa Claus

At the start of the scheme it was difficult to predict how many letters would actually need answering. Only those letters with return addresses could be responded to of course, which was about a quarter of the total sent. At Post Office Headquarters in 1963 five clerical assistants carried out the work of opening, sorting and addressing the envelopes. That year 8000 cards were sent.

Specially designed reply card from Santa, 1964

Specially designed reply card from Santa, 1964

The scheme was very well received by the press, and the Postmaster General Reginald Bevins was labelled Santa ‘Bevins’. Since then, Santa has continued to work hard sending out cards each year, and he even has his own postcode: SAN TA1! This year, children hoping to receive a response from Father Christmas have until 15 December to post their letters to him.

Sources: POST 122/6325POST 122/6339, Royal Mail Archive