Tag Archives: money box

Different uses of objects in the Wilkinson Collection

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

I mentioned in my last blog that a large number of objects in the Wilkinson Collection, whilst collected because they had a letter box on them, also had a particular use or function. It is this wide ranging group that I thought I would focus on in this blog.

Mickey Mouse money box

Mickey Mouse money box

The most common functional item that Ian Wilkinson collected is the money box in the shape and design of a letter box. These are as varied in their design as letter boxes themselves, and probably deserve an entire blog post. Some have characters such as Mickey Mouse on them, others are traditional reproductions. Most have a small plastic plug in the base to retrieve the money. However, some designers seemed to have forgotten this important item, resulting in a few of the money boxes having scratch marks around the apertures from attempts to rescue the money.

Sammy the Stamp Bug stamp wetter

Sammy the Stamp Bug stamp wetter

Some of the functions of the model letter boxes are postally relevant. For example, there are a couple of models that also act as letter racks as well as some letter openers with models of the Penfold letter box at the end of the handle. Perhaps the most postally relevant and unusual item is the model letter box that is a portable stamp wetter. This consists of a plastic container in the shape of a letter box in red and black. On one side is inscribed the instruction ‘Fill capsule with water and use to wet your stamps’. This ingenious device also features ‘Sammy the Stamp bug’ who was a promotional feature of the Royal Mail Stamp Bug Club, founded in 1980 to encourage young people to collect stamps. After the first six months the club already had 25,000 members; the cost of joining was just 50 pence.

Postman Pat pencil case

Postman Pat pencil case

Other model letter boxes have uses across many different areas. For example, in the kitchen you might find a letter box teapot, jug, or salt and pepper shakers. In the office you could keep your letters in a letter box letter rack and keep your papers tidy with a letter box paperweight. Brush your hair with a letter box comb; keep your place in your favourite book with a letter box bookmark. Kids can keep their pens and pencils in a letter box pencil case with Postman Pat on the front, and finally, when you leave the house, you can lock the door with your keys firmly attached to a letter box key ring!

All of these items and more can be found in the Wilkinson Collection. This not only shows the wide ranging influence of the letter box but also shows the many different directions that collecting can take you in. I’m sure Ian Wilkinson had little concept of the diverse range of objects that portrayed letter boxes when he started to collect them, yet the collection is all the more interesting for it.

A group of novelty items in the Wilkinson Collection

A group of novelty items in the Wilkinson Collection

The Wilkinson Collection – Model china letter boxes.

By Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

A large part of the Wilkinson Collection consists of model china letter boxes and it is these that I have been cataloguing over the past weeks. Although many of the objects collected by Ian Wilkinson were collected for their visual interest – the fact that they depicted a letter box in some way – they were normally manufactured as partly functional objects, such as money boxes. However, the model china letter boxes are unusual, in that they are purely decorative.

Plate 1: Chesham model letter box

Plate 1: Chesham model letter box

One of the main jobs of a cataloguer is to describe each object as well as possible without spending a day on each object! The main aspects that are recorded are the size, material, colour and condition of the object as well as any distinguishing features such as inscriptions. This information helps to identify objects and allows potential researchers to judge whether an object is of relevance or interest to their research. This also prolongs the life of the objects, as it decreases handling, which can affect an object’s condition.

Plate 2: Good Luck from Worthing

Plate 2: Good Luck from Worthing

The object in plate 1 shows the standard form these models take. They are usually, but not always, white, with some form of decoration and motto on them. Many of them celebrate a particular town or county and it is easy to see how they would be attractive to residents as well as holiday momentos for tourists. The two common mottos found on these letter boxes – ‘I can’t get a letter from you so send you the box’ and ‘If you haven’t time to post a line, here’s the letter box’ – also suggest that these were bought almost as 3D holiday postcards. Indeed, the letter box in plate 2 says ‘Good Luck from Worthing’ on the top.

Plate 3: Rugby model letter box

Plate 3: Rugby model letter box

The letter box in plate 1 celebrates the town of Chesham, where Ian Wilkinson lived. As is the case here, a lot of the model china letter boxes show a coat of arms for the town or county in question. These can be useful for dating the objects as for some places their coats of arms were granted relatively recently. For example, plate 3 shows a letter box with the coat of arms for Rugby, which was granted in 1932. However, in the mid 1970s the borough was enlarged and a new coat of arms was granted in 1976. As a result it is likely that this letter box (bearing the old coat of arms) was produced sometime between 1932 and 1976. However, dating objects using this method is not always reliable as the coat of arms shown on Chesham letter box (plate 1) is a different coat of arms than the official one used by Chesham.

Having said that these model china letter boxes take a standard form this is not to say that they are all the same. As plate 4 shows they come in different shapes, some have apertures (letter slots) on the front, some have inscriptions on the top, some on the back, some are quite elaborate, others quite plain. As with the Wilkinson collection as a whole, variety is the spice of life!

Plate 4: Different model china letter boxes from the Wilkinson Collection

Plate 4: Different model china letter boxes from the Wilkinson Collection

The Wilkinson Collection

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

In 1989 the National Postal Museum (a predecessor of the BPMA) received a collection which has since been known as the Wilkinson Collection, named after the original collector, Ian Wilkinson. Since the Collection entered the Museum it has been somewhat sidelined, until now. Over the next few weeks and months I will be cataloguing the Wilkinson Collection, but due to the large number of objects in the Collection (estimated at 3,000!) this could take some time. In the meantime I will be writing a series of these blogs, highlighting different aspects of the collection and keeping you up-to-date on progress. When the project is completed the entire Collection will be available on the BPMA’s online catalogue for all to see.

A photograph of some of the Wilkinson Collection as displayed in Ian Wilkinsons home.

A photograph of some of the Wilkinson Collection as displayed in Ian Wilkinson's home.

The Wilkinson Collection could be surmised as ‘any object with a letterbox on it’, but it is so much more than this. It covers such a range of material and events that, whatever your interest, there is probably something that will prompt a smile or a memory; whether it is a model china letter box celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, the Dinky Toys you played with as a child and now treasure as an adult, or, as in my case, the Postman Pat stories and games that still prompt a rendition of the theme tune. The Wilkinson Collection is also possibly one of the largest collections of letter box material in the country.

Ian Wilkinson began collecting when he was a small boy, being attracted by anything from stamps to Dinky Toys. Unfortunately, his childhood collection was destroyed during a bombing raid in World War Two and he did not resume serious collecting until the 1960s, when a shop proprietor agreed to look out for any items related to Chesham (where Wilkinson lived). The first item purchased as a result of this agreement was a small tin money box shaped like a letter box, similar to one Wilkinson had had as a boy.[1] From this object an entire collection spread and grew and, in 1976, Wilkinson and fellow collectors formed The Letter Box Study Group, which is still going strong with around 800 members.

The Wilkinson Collection shows how collecting can be an exciting and strange experience. It can lead in many different directions, both for the collection and the collector. Maybe it will encourage others to start their own collections. In future blogs I shall be focussing on how once a collection enters a museum, another phase of its life begins.

To find out more about The Letter Box Study Group visit their website at www.lbsg.org.


[1] ‘The Wilkinson Collection’ in National Postal Museum’s The Philatelic Year 1989, ed. Douglas Muir, p.11.