Tag Archives: Kathleen Atkins

80th Anniversary of Greetings Telegrams

Earlier this month, you met Abi, our work placement student, who helped out around the BPMA, getting a taste of what it’s like to work in a museum and archive. While she was here she did some research for us into greetings telegrams, which were introduced 80 years ago this month. To celebrate we’re offering free shipping on a beautifully illustrated book of telegrams, which Abi gives us a sneak peak of in today’s blog.

Featuring images showing the progression of postal delivery transportation methods through the ages along the top. Artist: Bouttell, C J. Media: Gouache

Featuring images showing the progression of postal delivery transportation methods through the ages along the top. Artist: Bouttell, C J. Media: Gouache

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Greetings Telegrams, and having been quite taken with their striking designs I thought it was rather appropriate to read into their history. Ruth Artmonsky’s book, ‘Bringers of Good Tidings’, very eye-catching in itself, combines  beautiful examples of Greetings Telegrams with stories of their controversial history,  which really gave me an insight into why they became so popular.

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Greetings Telegram service. Artist: Henrion, Frederic Henri Kay. Media: Not known.

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Greetings Telegram service. Artist: Henrion, Frederic Henri Kay. Media: Not known.

Within the book we are introduced not only to the background of these, at the time revolutionary, telegrams, but also to the people behind them, including their champions, designers and the ‘Telegram Messenger Boy’. Whilst reading I also came to understand the need that was felt to dispel the negativity attached to receiving telegrams, which had gained a reputation as bringers of bad news during the First World War. I have to say that these decorated telegrams could not be mistaken for being anything other than positive, a lot of them were altogether too brightly coloured!

Featuring a floral border and a wedding scene. Artist: Corsellis, Elizabeth. Media: Watercolour, ink, board, poster paint.

Featuring a floral border and a wedding scene. Artist: Corsellis, Elizabeth. Media: Watercolour, ink, board, poster paint.

Flicking back through the copy of the book in front of me I’m struck by how special it would be to receive one of the beautiful messages in their gold envelopes, a feeling that birthday texts just don’t create, however well-meaning they are. Perhaps I need to put a little extra effort into my Christmas cards this year!

Featuring a border with roses and stars. Artist: Freedman, Claudia. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Featuring a border with roses and stars. Artist: Freedman, Claudia. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Get free delivery on ‘Bringer of Good Tidings: Greetings Telegrams 1935-1982’ when you enter code TELEGRAM80 at the checkout.

Featuring a village wedding scene. Artist: Atkins, Kathleen. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Featuring a village wedding scene. Artist: Atkins, Kathleen. Media: Watercolour, ink, paper.

Valentines Greetings Telegrams

At this time of the year the postal service is kept busy delivering love letters and cards on Valentine’s Day, but in the 20th Century cards and letters weren’t the only ways to send a romantic message. In 1936 the General Post Office introduced the Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, which enabled people to send a 9 word message for just 9d. This was 3d more expensive than sending a standard telegram, but it meant that the message would arrive on a specially-designed form.

Valentine's greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Valentine’s greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Denmark in 1907, and in Sweden in 1912. By the time Britain introduced them in 1935 most of Europe, the USA and many other countries had such a service. Between 1935 and the cessation of the service in 1982 a variety of greetings telegrams forms had been issued, enabling customers to send greetings for weddings, birthdays, coming of ages, Christmas and the Coronation, as well as Valentine’s Day.

The 1936 Valentine’s Day greetings telegram was seen as an experiment by the GPO, and it was the first telegram form to be printed in multiple colours. 50,000 Valentines telegrams were sent in 1936, which provided a much-need boost to the telegram service at a time when it was facing stiff competition from the telephone service.

During the Second World War the greetings telegram service was downscaled, and an “all in one” telegram form was introduced in 1942. It was less elaborate and colourful (to save on ink and paper during wartime shortages), and was carefully designed to be appropriate for many occasions. The design shows a village scene: a young couple have just been married in the church, an older couple are sitting on a bench together (perhaps having a low-key wedding anniversary celebration, or consoling each other after a loss), and a stork is delivering a baby to another couple.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegrams returned in 1951, with new forms issued in both 1952 and 1953. Thereafter it became common to re-issue greetings telegram designs from previous years. Rosemary Kay designed the last new Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form in 1961.

Valentine's Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Visit us on Flickr to see a selection of Valentine’s Day greetings telegram forms and Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form artwork.

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