Tag Archives: India

Why I Collect Stamps…

We were recently contacted by Jai Sidpra, a young stamp collector from Berkshire. Jai was keen to find out more about the BPMA, in particular our collection of philatelic material. This is what Jai had to say about his passion for stamp collecting…

Jai Sidpra with his collection.

Jai Sidpra with his collection.

10c Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika stamp, issued 1 May 1935.

10c Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika stamp, issued 1 May 1935.

I started collecting stamps when I was seven years old, I suppose because I have always been interested in history – and stamps offer a keenly appreciated insight into some aspects of it – for example, my Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika (K.U.T.) stamps offer information about the British Empire.

1¼a Silver Jubilee stamp from India, issued 6 May 1935.

1¼a Silver Jubilee stamp from India, issued 6 May 1935.

In addition, my grandfather and father collect stamps – so they introduced me to the whole concept. They lived in East Africa (Kenya) for a long time – and my grandfather and father travelled a lot with work and for leisure – giving the opportunity to allow for the hugely varied collection that I now have – from around 113 countries globally – and comprises of 3800 – 4000 stamps.

1pi value stamp from Cyprus, issued 12 May 1938.

1pi value stamp from Cyprus, issued 12 May 1938.

– Jai Sidpra (13) , stamp collector.

Jai will be sharing his newfound knowledge of the BPMA with his classmates in a presentation. We’d like to wish him the best of luck!

Find out more about our Stamps in Schools programme, which offers free Outreach workshops for budding stamp collectors in schools throughout the UK.

Foreign Postal Workers

Like many Museums and Archives, we have a number of items in our collection which we don’t know very much about. The recent cataloguing of lantern slides, mostly dating from the early 20th Century, brought to our attention a number which show images of postal workers from around the world. While many are illustrative of the British Post Office’s international operations (there are a few showing Indian postal workers and the Indian Post Office was under British control at this point) it is unclear exactly why these lantern slides were produced.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a group of men and women Post Office officials. (2012-0030/19)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a group of men and women Post Office officials. (2012-0030/19)

One theory is that they could have been shown to students at the London Postal School (LPS), which trained postal workers in a variety of duties. Perhaps the slides were used to highlight to the trainees that by working for the General Post Office (GPO) they were part of a global communications network? However, this does seem a little counter to the very practical emphasis at LPS, where a typical lesson saw students role-playing various scenarios, including counter transactions.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a Landes postman on stilts delivering a letter to a woman, France. There is another woman standing on the door-step behind and a man seated in front of a spinning wheel in the bottom right hand corner. (2012-0030/04)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a Landes postman on stilts delivering a letter to a woman, France. There is another woman standing on the door-step behind and a man seated in front of a spinning wheel in the bottom right hand corner. (2012-0030/04)

Another theory is that the slides were used in magic lantern slide shows, which were a very popular form of entertainment at the turn of the 20th Century. Lanterns shows could cover a variety of subjects, and slides such as the ones in our collection may have been produced for GPO lantern shows or acquired from other shows due to their postal connection.

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a parcel postwoman standing beside the horse of the horse-drawn mail coach, Germany. (2012-0030/02)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a parcel postwoman standing beside the horse of the horse-drawn mail coach, Germany. (2012-0030/02)

Whatever the reason for their existence, these slides give us a fascinating insight into postal operations around the world, including the myriad of uniforms and modes of transport employed by different postal administrations. One particularly nice example shows a postman in a top hat riding a donkey!

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a rural postman in Dominica, British West Indies, wearing a light blue top hat, white trousers and a blue jacket whilst riding a white donkey. (2012-0030/16)

A hand-coloured photographic lantern slide of a rural postman in Dominica, British West Indies, wearing a light blue top hat, white trousers and a blue jacket whilst riding a white donkey. (2012-0030/16)

In addition to the images illustrating this blog we have uploaded a number to our Flickr site. Search our online catalogue to see more of our lantern slides.

What does the BPMA have about…India?

Today is International Archive Day. As part of the celebrations of this event our Archivists will be highlighting some of our records relating to overseas postal services on Twitter as part of #AskArchivists Day.

Staff load mail into large cargo nets at the platform of Calais Station.

Staff load mail into large cargo nets at the platform of Calais Station (POST 118/419).

Among the holdings of the BPMA are various records relating to postal services to India in the nineteenth century. In the 1820s Thomas Waghorn established an overland route between Alexandria and Suez. This resulted in a significant reduction in the time taken for mail to travel between England and India. Mails which had previously taken up to three months to reach India now arrived in just 35 days.

Detail of letter showing 'Carried by Waghorn' cachet, c. 1850 (POST 118/1017)

Detail of letter showing 'Carried by Waghorn' cachet, c. 1850 (POST 118/1017)

There was also a special India Mail Service for diplomatic mail between the countries. This involved specially appointed Post Office staff of higher grades accompanying the mail from London to Marseilles where responsibility was transferred to the P&O purser of a ship bound for India. These staff were known as India Mail Officers. They carried out three trips a year, and were expected to be on stand by for a further three.

Prior to the independence of India in 1947, the British Post Office also played a role in the operation of postal services within India. Mail services in the country were opened to the public in 1774 by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of British India. In 1850 a report was commissioned into the working of the Post Office in India. This report introduced uniform postage rates for letters based on weight, mirroring developments in England. In also recommended a Manual of Instructions to be issued to postmasters to encourage uniformity of practice. The reforms had mixed results with old practices continuing in many areas.

Poster promoting airmail routes to India, c. 1938 (POST 110/1167)

Poster promoting airmail routes to India, c. 1938 (POST 110/1167)

More information on the Postal History of India can be found
on our website: http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/india.
We will also be highlighting details of our international collections on Twitter today – follow us on @postalheritage.

Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary

Forty years ago today the General Post Office released the first British stamp to commemorate an overseas leader and the first to be designed by an overseas artist. The stamp in question celebrated the birth centenary of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, although it was released to coincide with Indian Independence Day (15th August), rather than Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October).

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 stamp

The designer of the stamp was Biman Mullick an Indian graphic designer and illustrator then teaching at the Folkestone School of Arts and Crafts. Mullick’s design was simple but effective, showing Gandhi in front of the Indian flag. “The design brief gave complete freedom to the designers,” Mullick said. “Mahatma Gandhi maintained an extremely simple life style. This was a lead for me. I set out to achieve stark simplicity in this design.”

Scans of newspaper articles and other material related to the stamp issue can be seen on Mullick’s website. One interesting item is a Post Office press release from 14th May 1970 stating that the Indian Philatelic Society gave the Gandhi stamp a Gold Medal at the international Gandhi stamp exhibition in Calcutta that year. Mullick’s website also contains information about Bangladesh’s first stamps, which he designed following that country’s independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The British Postal Museum & Archive holds a great deal of material about the Gandhi stamp, including essays and unadopted designs. Six other artists submitted designs for the stamp – Bradbury Wilkinson, Rosalind Dease, Harrison & Sons, Philip Sharland, R. Stribley and Martin Stringer – and many of the un-adopted designs included the Charkha (spelt “Chakra” in our archives) or spinning wheel.

“The spinning wheel eventually became the symbol not only of Gandhi, but also the symbol of the Indian Congress Party,” noted a caption for one rejected design. “Ashoka’s Wheel, on the Indian National Flag of today, has a clear link with Gandhi’s spinning-wheel” it continued.

While the Charkha did not appear on the Gandhi stamp, it was used in poster advertising for the issue.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 poster

A rejected design by Mullick also featured Gandhi’s honourary title Mahatma (“Great Soul”) in devanagari, the script used for many South Asian languages.

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Gandhi Centenary Year 1969 unadopted stamp design with Charkha and Mahatma in devanagari

Apart from Benjamin Franklin, Gandhi is the only overseas leader to have been honoured with a British stamp.