Tag Archives: Favourite Object

My Favourite Object: Pentacycle

In this month’s edition of My Favourite Object, find out why the Pentacycle is Head of Fundraising Emma’s absolute favourite.

Perhaps the perfect symbol of the Victorian spirit of invention, often seen as eccentric by today’s standards, the Pentacycle was invented in 1882 – not long after the more famous “Penny-farthing” and before safety bicycles, more recognisable as ancestors of the bikes we ride today, were introduced.

Front of Player's Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as 'Hen and Chicks'.

Front of Player’s Cycling cigarette card showing four postmen on Centre cycles, otherwise known as ‘Hen and Chicks’.

Designed by Edward Burstow, an architect from Horsham in Sussex, the Pentacycle was conceived to enable larger postal loads to be carried and delivered with ease. Although popular with postal delivery workers in Horsham, it did not catch on more widely, and certainly does not look an easy or comfortable ride by today’s standards!

I have a couple of reasons for choosing the Pentacycle as ‘My Favourite Object’; firstly because it is just such a fantastic looking machine. It is large, awkward-looking and, although I have no idea what it would be like to ride, certainly does not look user-friendly (and that’s with its capacious mail baskets empty). Yet, despite all of this the very concept feels ambitious and visionary…why wouldn’t it catch on? It’s this sense of optimism and spirit of adventure that really make me connect with the Pentacycle.

Me with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Debden.

Selfie with the Pentacyle at our Museum Store in Essex.

I also love its nick-name “the Hen and Chicks”. The reason for this excellent name can be understood simply from viewing the image below, and lends such personality to this ungainly invention. It perhaps conveys the affection with which the postmen who rode the bikes referenced them, and the interest visitors to the collection are still compelled to show the Pentacycle on seeing for the first time.

Pentacycle Debden

Pentacyle at our store in Essex.

 

Although the Pentacycle, or a 1930s replica of one, is currently housed at the BPMA’s Museum Store in Debden, Essex, it will be the central object on display in the ‘Revolutionising Communications’ exhibition zone of The Postal Museum when it opens. This gives it an important role, along with many other unique and surprising objects which will be on permanent display to the public from late 2016, in providing a window on the past through the perspective of the postal service.

View from below

View from below

Working at the BPMA I feel uniquely privileged to have more of an insight into the collection, and to be able to explore and connect with items such as the Pentacycle or ‘Hen and Chicks’. Bringing remarkable items, such as this, to a wider audience than ever before is exactly why The Postal Museum and Mail Rail will be so important. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing visitors of all ages explore, experience and be inspired by this history of adventure and the pioneering spirit that has driven communications forward over the past 500 years and will continue to do so into the future.

-Emma Jhita, Head of Fundraising

My Favourite Object: Prosthetic Hand

Asking a Curator to choose their favourite object is like putting a kid in a sweet shop and then telling them they can only have one! In fact, some of you may remember that I shared my favourite object with you last year, a truncheon issued to Post Office employees before the Chartist riots of 1848. Today however my favourite object is a recent acquisition of a Postman’s Hand, which is not quite as sinister as it sounds, I promise!

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Prosthetic hand with letter

 

Besides all the pun based opportunities this object has provided (for the last few weeks I have been constantly asking my colleagues if they need a hand with anything…) it is actually a very important addition to the BPMA’s collection, as it reveals an often hidden aspect of history.

The hand in question is not a real one but is made of wood covered with leather and has an adaptor to fit it into the wrist unit of a prosthetic arm. Some of the earliest prosthetics in history were also made of wood and leather but this hand fits into the advanced development of prosthetic limbs that occurred after the Second World War to aid rehabilitation of the many soldiers who had limbs amputated as a result of the conflict.

Postman's hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.

Postman’s hand on adaptor to fit a prosthetic arm.

The Post Office as an employer has always made a concerted effort to advance employment opportunities for disabled people, including veterans, as has been shown in previous posts and this was particularly so after the Second World War. Hands like this were in use from the 1950s through to the 1970s – this example bears its date on it ‘4/11/64’ – and were designed to hold letters. What is particularly revolutionary about this object though is that it has a roller, or wheel, under the thumb which allowed one letter to be removed while still keeping grasp of the others. This enabled disabled employees to sort letters with greater ease and efficiency than with the previous, more basic, prosthetics. Feeling the hand it is quite heavy and it has made me think what it would have been like to use.

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Profile of hand

 

This object was kindly donated to us from the Limb Fitting Centre at the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, which was founded to care for soldiers wounded in the First World War, and has since become renowned as a limb fitting and amputee rehabilitation centre. They were able to tell us that the hand had been developed by Hugh Steeper Ltd, major manufacturers of prosthetics at the time. This was the only remaining postman’s hand at Roehampton and it was returned to them by a retiring postman in the early 1970s.

As you can see the BPMA’s collection is constantly developing and this object adds to our knowledge of an important part of our history which is relatively under-represented. It is fascinating objects such as this that will form the bedrock of the new Postal Museum but they are nothing without the stories of the people who used them. If you have a story to share please email us at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk and help us achieve our ambition of filling our brand new museum with the voices of real people. Thank you!

-Emma Harper, Curator

My Favourite Object: GPO Posters

In this month’s edition of My Favourite Object, find out why our collection of poster artwork is so popular with Archivist Anna.

I am biased, having worked extensively with our collection of posters, but I believe the loveliest items in our archive collection are the artworks for posters produced by the General Post Office (GPO). They are catalogued and organised as a series, POST 109: Publicity Artwork and Designs, and comprise over 1200 items, including artwork for greetings telegrams.

Possibly my favourite of the lot is this one.

POST 109/517 Post Office Lines of Communication, poster artwork by Lewitt-Him, c.1950

POST 109/517 Post Office Lines of Communication, poster artwork by Lewitt-Him, c.1950

It was created by the artists collectively known as Lewitt-Him (Jan Le Witt and George Him), sometime around 1950. The artwork is a combination of paint on board, with a photomontage silhouette of a postman carrying a GPO mail sack, depicting a sorting frame. The colours are lovely, and still as vivid today, whilst the design is so effective, clever and simple that it’s a real shame it doesn’t appear to have made it to publication.

The artists, Le Witt and Him, set up the Lewitt-Him design partnership in Warsaw, moving to London in 1937, where they found themselves amongst a growing number of talented artistic émigrés. They produced a number of war time posters, book illustrations and advertisements, including posters for the GPO in the 1940s and 50s, which we are lucky to have in our collections.

We hold eight poster artworks on the Post Office Lines of Communication theme, by artists including Hans Schleger (Zero), John Rowland Barker (Kraber), Frederic Henri Kay Henrion, and Pat Keely. Schleger and Henrion were also émigré artists.

Having done a bit of investigation a few years ago into the background of these Lines of Communication artworks I was disappointed not to uncover any information in our archives regarding their commission or production. This blog reaches a similar conclusion that they were probably never produced.  Incidentally, this is a great blog for vintage poster enthusiasts and has often featured a number of the gorgeous posters we have in our collections at the BPMA.

Before I sign off, here are a couple of other poster/artwork images from our collections I adore. Chosen solely because looking at them makes me happy! I think it has something to do with the eyes – the contented expression of the fish, snugly wrapped up in greaseproof paper, and the elongated and multicoloured eyelashes of the telephonist. I bet she had a lovely voice! She’s actually part of a series of posters, which I wrote about a few years ago, and the others in the series are equally gorgeous and well worth a look.

 POST 110/2606, Pack your parcels carefully, poster by Hans Unger, 1960


POST 110/2606, Pack your parcels carefully, poster by Hans Unger, 1960

POST 109/23, Speak Clearly Always!, poster artwork by Pieter Huveneers, 1958

POST 109/23, Speak Clearly Always!, poster artwork by Pieter Huveneers, 1958

-Anna Flood, Archivist (Cataloging)

My Favourite Objects: Birdcage Valentine

More of a celebrator of Anna Howard Shaw Day than Valentine’s Day on 14 February, I never really spent much time down the card aisle hunting for the perfect valentine. That was until I took a journey through the valentines section of our archive.

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

Boxes and boxes full of Valentines

We have nearly 1000 individual valentines in our collection spanning from the oldest in 1790 to ones as recent as 1996. As you can see in the picture above, they fill the shelves from floor to ceiling! One of the runner’s up for my favourite object was a Vinegar Valentine. You can’t help but be in shock by the rude (and downright nasty) nature of these. Just take a look at the following transformation card.

vinegar

My favourite object is a much more humbling valentine of a birdcage from 1817. It doesn’t look like your traditional valentine with hearts and love sprawled across it, and from the picture below it doesn’t look like anything too special.

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

Birdcage valentine (OB1995.49)

However, the image above really doesn’t do it any justice through! In the centre is a string to pull. We haven’t tried to open it for quite some time, so after a bit of a pep talk Curator Emma demonstrated how the card works for me and now with you!

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Nearly 200 years old, this card is beautifully illustrated with the bird on the front and the two little mice on the inside. Way before laser cutting, the detailed cuts that form the cage were done by hand. Valentines sent during the 19th century, apart from Vinegar Valentines, were usually handmade mementos of affection – a lot of time was spent making these cards. This is why the Valentine Birdcage is my favourite object, because of its individual nature. It isn’t a generic card on the shelf but made specifically for the receiver. In other words, the admiration for the receiver is in the details NOT in the number of pink hearts.

What’s the best valentine you ever received or sent? We would love to see it!  Tweet us @postalheritage or send us an email at peoplespost@postalheritage.org.uk.

See even more valentines on our new online exhibition.

-Rachel Kasbohm, Digital Media Manager

 

Favourite archive item: the Great Train Robbery

For our final blog for Explore Your Archives week Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager tells us about his favourite item from the archive, which, as you probably know from Head of Archives Vicky’s blog earlier this week, is no easy task!

When asked to pick my favourite object I (eventually) chose a Great Train Robbery file in part because I have worked  with it a lot so know it well but also because I feel it’s something people are surprised to find out we have. Although the train in question was a Travelling Post Office people don’t always associate the incident with the postal service. This particular file  is the main investigation report compiled by the Post Office’s own police force, the Investigation Branch (IB), into the infamous August 1963 robbery.

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Most of the file is made up of an in depth 40 page account of the robbery, investigation and subsequent trial, prepared by IB Assistant Controller Richard F Yates in May 1964, nine months after the robbery took place.

The file also includes schedules of arrests and prosecutions, a ‘confidential list of 28 suspects given to the IB by the Police’, memoranda, correspondence, details of the attempts to locate missing suspects, press cuttings, and a police poster showing wanted suspects. It also has snippets of people’s personal experiences of the incident and investigation such as that in the image below where Yates starts his report with an indication of how he became involved with the investigation.

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Yates’ in depth report details key events in the investigation including establishing the amount of money stolen, the journey on the night of the robbery, the systematic search of the Cheddington area, the discovery of the robbers hideout at Letaherslade Farm, and the subsequent arrests of the suspected robbers. It also includes notes on how the investigation was conducted, on page 10 he explains: ‘The extensive publicity given to this case inevitably produced an enormous amount of inaccurate and bogus information and this had to be examined with more than the normal care having regard to the seriousness of the offence.’

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Despite the investigation coming to an end around 1970 this year, over 50 years after the incident took place, there was interesting development. Gordon Goody, regarded as the mastermind of the robbery, unveiled Patrick McKenna as the Ulsterman . McKenna’s name is glaringly absent from all the files we have at the BPMA. Despite the Sun suggesting last year that the IB’s chief suspect was a ‘Thomas’ O’Reilly, our records show that they and Tommy Butler quickly dismissed him as a possibility: ‘[Butler] does not consider, however, that any useful purpose would be served by questioning [James Patrick] REILLY [incorrectly identified by the Sun as a railwayman]’.

I like this file for several reasons. It shows how the investigation developed over time, what the Post Office considered important at the time (Ronnie Biggs, subsequently the most famous of the robbers, being merely a footnote), and how they continued investigating and observing behavior for many years after the robbery. It demonstrates complex, messy history as it is happened and developed. Given that it was written almost a year after the robbery it is an exaggeration to call Yates’ report the first draft of history but draft it is, complete with amendments and footnotes based on subsequent knowledge. There is no neat ending simply a petering out as the last of the robbers Bruce Reynolds was caught in 1968, Biggs remained a missing fugitive, the driver of the train Jack Mills died and some of the investigators involved retired.

This is just a snapshot of the contents of one of many files on the Great Train Robbery. You can find out more about the robbery itself and the investigation that followed from our online exhibition on Google Cultural Institute.

-Gavin McGuffie, Archive Catalogue and Project Manager

Behind the object: the seemingly, uninteresting GPO truncheon

In this post, we asked Curator Emma Harper to talk about her favourite object. You will be surprised about what she came up with!

Asking a Curator to pick their favourite object is a bit like asking a child what they’d like to be when they grow up, in most cases the answer will change from day to day!

Should I choose the earliest letter box in our collection used in trials on the Channel Islands; the pneumatic rail car that was used to test the idea of using an underground railway to move the mail; or perhaps our recent acquisition of the diary of Post Office Rifleman, Thomas May, written when he was fighting in France in 1915.

Truncheon issued to GPO staff, 1848 (Curator Emma's favourite object)

Truncheon issued to GPO staff, 1848 (Curator Emma’s favourite object)

All of these are fascinating objects which help to illustrate the many interesting stories that our collection can tell. Instead however, I have chosen a truncheon. Now this may seem a lot less interesting than the items I’ve listed above but it is often the unassuming, apparently ‘boring’ items that can surprise us and this item, in my opinion, does just that.

A runner-up for Emma's favourite object: 19th century pneumatic railcar.

A runner-up for Emma’s favourite object: 19th century pneumatic rail car.

It is a fairly plain wooden truncheon with the handle painted white and the rest painted black. If you look closer however it not only has ‘GPO’ [General Post Office] inscribed on the back but also bears the coat of arms of the City of London, Queen Victoria’s cipher and a date ‘10/ APRIL/ 1848’. 1848 has become known as a year of revolutions and this particular date in April was the date of the Chartist’s mass demonstration on Kennington Common and procession to present their third National Petition to Parliament.  The Chartist movement was named after the People’s Charter which demanded political and electoral reform and in particular called for all males over the age of 21.

William Edward Kilburn - View of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common.

William Edward Kilburn – View of the Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common.

It was feared by the government that the Kennington Common rally would spark revolution not just in London but across the country and that government organisations such as the General Post Office could well be targeted. As the Illustrated London News stated on 15 April 1848: ‘the speeches of those gentlemen [the Chartists] had led the public to anticipate some serious disturbance of the peace of the metropolis, the Government and the civil authorities had made some extensive and well-arranged preparations to suppress effectually any violation of order or tranquility, should such be attempted.’ As a result, the government issued GPO staff with truncheons, including the one now in our collection, in order to protect themselves and Post Office property.

In the end the day passed off with relatively few violent outbreaks and, as far as I know, no direct attempts on the GPO.  While it may never have seen action, I hope I have shown how even the plainest of objects can add to our knowledge and understanding of history and our collection.

-Emma Harper, Curator