Tag Archives: Margaret Calkin James

Post Office: Publicity artwork and designs

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

POST 109 is now available for browsing on our online catalogue. It contains original artwork produced for posters and leaflets, as well as designs produced for a variety of purposes, including greetings telegram forms, logos and logotypes, vehicle livery and postal equipment. Material includes paintings and pencil and ink drawings, as well as photographs, transparencies and annotated final proofs.

Much of the artwork in the series was commissioned by the Public Relations Department, which was first created in 1934, under the first Post Office Public Relations Officer, Stephen Tallents. Right from the conception of the department, it assumed responsibility for commissioning designs for posters, which it considered to be a vital part of Post Office publicity; it did this initially in consultation with a ‘Poster Advisory Group’, but from 1937 it operated in its own right.

A postman wheels his bike down a country lane

Sketch for rural postman: artwork for a poster, by John Nash, 1935

The department approached leading artists for the production of posters of two kinds, known respectively as ‘Prestige’ and ‘Selling’. ‘Prestige’ posters fell into two categories: those specially prepared for distribution to schools and those for display in Crown Post Offices and non-public offices in Post Office buildings, they were intended to be more formal in style, eye catching rather than persuasive. ‘Selling’ posters had a direct ‘selling’ appeal and were intended to persuade the beholder to use a particular service or buy a particular product.

POST 109 includes a number of adopted poster designs, but it also contains examples of commissioned artwork that was rejected. Artworks include an Edward Bawden poster about the Post Office Underground Railway (later known as Mail Rail)  (below), John Nash’s watercolour depicting a rural postman (above left), an oil painting by Edgar Ainsworth showing a night scene at a sorting office (POST 109/507), and George Charlton’s Interior of Travelling Post Office (POST 109/375).

A drawing of the Post Office underground railway, a driverless train system which carried mail under the streets of London

Post Office Tube Railway: artwork for a poster, by Edward Bawden, circa 1935

The collection also includes rejected designs by artists more usually ‘favourites’ of the Public Relations Department, such as Tom Eckersley (POST 109/15) and Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 109/602-605 and below).

A poster design depicting a postman dragging a giant envelope

Post much earlier this X-mas: Artwork for a poster, by Jan Lewitt and George Him, 1950

The Public Relations Department was also instrumental in commissioning artists to design forms for the Greetings Telegram Service, which was introduced in 1935 as a means of revitalising the telegraph service.

Greetings telegrams were to be associated with special occasions and as such, designs had to be particularly attractive, with an element of luxury, this was encapsulated in the golden envelope designed to accompany the form.

POST 109 includes many examples of adopted designs; for example, the design produced by Margaret Calkin James for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935 (below).

Bordered with a red and black design, the telegram form has a clean centre for typing the message

Margaret Calkin James' design for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935

It also includes a number of unsuccessful designs, including one produced by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis (below), two by Alan Reynolds Stone (POST 109/649 and POST 109/659) and one by Rex Whistler (POST 109/692); Whistler also produced two other designs for greetings telegram forms that made it into print.

Featuring a decorative border with bows and stars.

Greetings Telegram artwork by Cliff & Rosemary Ellis, 1937

Other items in POST 109 include artwork for the familiar GPO monogram, produced by Macdonald Gill in 1934, pillar box designs by Tony Gibbs from 1977 and artwork produced by Ben Maile for inclusion in the book: First Post: From penny black to the present day (Quiller Press, 1990).

Greetings Telegrams

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Great Britain on 24 July 1935; for the payment of an extra 3d (three pence) people could have their telegrams delivered on a specially illustrated form complete with a golden envelope.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "A new way of saying Many Happy Returns"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

Greetings telegrams had already proved popular in other countries and they were an instant hit with the British public with nearly 25,000 telegrams being sent in the first week.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "Send a Greetings Telegram"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

For the Post Office, greetings telegrams were a means of revitalising the telegraph service; according to E T Crutchley in his book ‘GPO’ (p140), it gave the service ‘a chance to play its part in the joyful occasions of life’, helping it to ‘dispel that atmosphere of dread and sorrow with which the telegram was so often surrounded in the past’.

In 1935 George V sent a message to the Postmaster General congratulating him on the 300th anniversary of the Post Office, he chose to send his message via the recently launched Greetings Telegram service on a form designed by Margaret Calkin James.  This message was reproduced and displayed in post offices around the country in order to advertise the service.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices (POST 104/14).

The Post Office employed several key artists to produce telegrams; these included Frank Newbould, Claudia Freedman, Edward Ardizzone and Rex Whistler. Whistler designed the very first St Valentine’s day greetings telegram in February 1936; it proved popular and thereafter St Valentine’s day greetings telegrams were issued annually.

The St Valentine's day telegram is bordered with cherubs holding arrangements of leaves and fruits.

St Valentine’s day greetings telegram form 1936 designed by Rex Whistler (POST 104).

The Post Office also issued exhibition souvenir greetings telegrams.

A souvineer telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936. The telegram has a thick blue border and a drawing of a telegram messanger boy aboard a motorcycle.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936 (POST 104/26).

The telegram has a blue and red border featuring a Christmas tree and an image of a telegram messenger boy.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Young People’s Post Office Exhibition (POST 104/26).

In 1937, Macdonald Gill was commissioned to produce a special telegram to celebrate the coronation of George VI. In 1953, this idea was used again when Harold Lynton Lamb designed a telegram to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II.

The telegram is bordered by the monarch's coat of arms, surrounded by official flowers of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

George VI coronation telegram designed by Macdonald Gill, 1937 (POST 104).

Up until December 1940, greetings telegrams were delivered in a distinctive golden envelope, this colour was intended to emphasise the special nature of their contents. The outbreak of war necessitated the introduction of a new envelope, which was printed on white paper in blue to enable telegram delivery boys to read the addresses more easily during blackout periods.

Wartime exigencies brought about the suspension of the Greetings Telegram service on 30 April 1943; prior to this, economies had been made, with telegrams being issued in a more basic format to save on ink and paper.

The service was not reintroduced until November 1950 when the end of paper rationing saw the launch of a new greetings telegram form, designed by Claudia Freedman, together with a new yellow envelope, printed with red and black.

The return of the Greetings Telegram service was welcomed and the ensuing years saw designs by eminent artists such as, Eric Fraser, Balint Stephen Biro and John Strickland Goodall.

On 1 March 1957, in an attempt to boost usage of the service, a special ‘deluxe’ style of greetings telegram was introduced; this was a large folded card which came with a matching envelope, similar to a greetings card. The first of these, designed by Elizabeth Corsellis, was a wedding congratulations telegram, this was the first in a range of telegrams intended for specific occasions including birthdays and new births.

In 1982 the Inland Telegram service was axed by BT, although the Telemessaging service, which involved the sending of special occasion cards containing telephoned or telexed messages, continued to fulfil a similar function to the greetings telegram.

The book Bringers of Good Tidings by Ruth Artmonsky explores the Greetings Telegram is more detail. It is available now from our online shop.