Tag Archives: National Postal Museum

Stick it in the Family Album

by Adrian Steel, Director

The Lincoln Stamp Album and The Strand Stamp Album

Two of Frank Steel's stamp albums

The start of 2010, year of the Festival of Stamps, has inspired me to retrieve my Grandfather’s stamp collection from my loft and look at it properly for the first time. There is a good range of material that can be found to help explain the stamps, even to a relative newcomer such as myself.

Frank Steel was born in Croydon in 1915, and died in 1990. He served in the Territorial Army in the 1930s, and during the Second World War had various postings in the UK and in India. All his working life was spent at a building supplies yard in Croydon, but throughout this time he collected stamps as a hobby. Indeed, he was responsible for arranging my one and only visit to the old National Postal Museum in 1989. I inherited his collection shortly after my Grandmother moved into a nursing home in 2003, since when it has stayed, boxed up, in the loft.

Two pages of the Lincoln Stamp Album, showing stamps from Gibraltar and Great Britain

Two pages of the Lincoln Stamp Album, showing stamps from Gibraltar and Great Britain

On unpacking the first container, and removing the volumes, I chose to see what stamps I could find from the reign of King George V, which we are particularly celebrating this year. In addition to the first that caught my eye – stamps overprinted for use in Ireland after 1922 – those that particularly stood out were the 1929 Postal Union Congress stamps. He had secured the ½d, 1d, 1½d, and 2½d values; the £1 would probably have been beyond his means.

There is plenty to find online about these stamps, and my grandfather would have been online all day researching if such things had been available to him! BPMA’s catalogue reveals a wealth of resources related to this issue. In the Royal Mail Archive POST class 33 includes files related to the 1929 Postal Union Congress itself. POST 52 has records related to the production of the stamps. There are commemorative handstamps, and a publication in the search room library, the National Postal Museum-produced special stamp history dating from 1998. There are also of course philatelic materials themselves: POST 150 includes registration sheets, proofs, paper samples, colour trials, a first day cancellation, the submitted designs (successful and unsuccessful) and even some commemorative postcards from 1980. And all this just at the BPMA!

Two pages of the Strand Stamp Album, showing stamps from Great Britain

Two pages of the Strand Stamp Album, showing stamps from Great Britain

All the above are detailed on our online catalogue, and there are many images available particularly of the philatelic items. My grandfather got a lot out of studying his stamp albums and keeping his collection in order and up to date. I have discovered that it’s now possible to find out a good deal in a short space of time, so I will have a look through some of his other boxes and see what else he collected.

The BPMA Handstamp Collection

by Freya Folåsen, Cataloguer (Collections)

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) museum collection has just about any object type one can think of when it comes to the British postal service: postal stationary, pens and stamps; letterboxes and sorting machines; vehicles and uniforms. A very large part of the collection consists of handstamps: these are implements used to apply a postmark by hand. The BPMA has several thousand handstamps which are in the process of being catalogued and made available online, and 952 handstamps were added to our online catalogue yesterday.

The impression of a rare Dumb Canceller Obliterating Handstamp, which has a wooden die

The impression of a rare Dumb Canceller Obliterating Handstamp, which has a wooden die

The handstamp collection shows the history of the Post Office from the 18th Century to the present day. It also covers most parts of the UK, from Penzance to Canterbury, London to Haroldswick and Llandeilo to Belfast. The majority have a metal or rubber die with a wooden handle, but there are also some with plastic handles and even some rare handstamps with wooden dies. Handstamps often have a permanent inscription with the name of the town or post office around the edges with space in the centre for the date, either made up of loose slugs or a revolving dateband. Many handstamps have an office numeral in the inscription to identify the office it was stamped at and some have numbers to identify the individual postal worker who used it.

An impression of a parcel handstamp from Hadley, Wellington, Shropshire

An impression of a parcel handstamp from Hadley, Wellington, Shropshire

When thinking of handstamps it is often the ones used by Post Office Counters that spring to mind, such as date, registered and parcel handstamps (2009-0336/1). These make up a large proportion of the collection but there is an amazing array of different handstamp types.

Provincial penny post handstamp impression from Hounslow, Middlesex, circa 1838

Provincial penny post handstamp impression from Hounslow, Middlesex, circa 1838

Older handstamps include some used prior to the introduction of the uniform penny postage reform in 1840, such as a provincial penny post handstamp from Hounslow, Middlesex dated around 1838, as well as uniform penny post handstamps with a numeral and the abbreviation ‘d’. The latter type was used to denote cash prepayment as an alternative to adhesive stamps during the 1840s and early 50s (2009-0429/12).

A To Pay handstamp for the postcard rate

A To Pay handstamp for the postcard rate

Surcharge, or ‘To Pay’, handstamps range from the simple, unframed version with the value to be paid in a prominent numeral and the post office numeral below; framed handstamps with ‘TO PAY’ at the top with the explanation for the surcharge, such as ‘POSTED UNPAID’ or ‘LIABLE TO POSTCARD RATE’; to the later all-purpose handstamps without office numerals and with five reasons for the surcharge.

An impression of a special handstamp celebrating the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890

An impression of a special handstamp celebrating the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890

Special handstamps are used on mail posted on special occasions and they come in many different styles, covering all types of events such as the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890; the first aerial post in 1911 (OB1995.341); the opening of a Volkswagen headquarters in 1978 (2009-0336/2); and a host of anniversaries, naming ceremonies; birthdays; and special events.

The impression of an address handstamp for GPO Headquarters, St Martins Le Grand

The impression of an address handstamp for GPO Headquarters, St Martins Le Grand

Apart from all the handstamps used on the covers of letters, there are also ones used in less official capacities. For example, there are address handstamps to stamp outgoing business letters, promotional material or notices from post offices, sorting offices and district offices. There are also similar handstamps used by individuals within the postal service, with their job title and contact details, as well as title handstamps used to sign documents (2009-0313/05).

Impression of a handstamp celebrating the opening of the National Postal Museum (now BPMA) on 19th February 1969

Impression of a handstamp celebrating the opening of the National Postal Museum (now BPMA) on 19th February 1969

In addition to the many handstamps from Royal Mail there are also some handstamps made especially for the National Postal Museum, now the BPMA. There are special event and address handstamps, but the most exciting example is the handstamp used by HM the Queen at the opening of the National Postal Museum on the 19th of February, 1969.

These are just a few of the many handstamps now available on the online catalogue. The cataloguing of the collection is ongoing and there will be even more treasures uncovered as the work continues.

Famous Philatelists

An unusual item in the collection of the BPMA is the stamp album of the late, great Freddie Mercury. The talented Queen star collected stamps as a boy and his album is one of the few of his personal belongings that still exists in the public domain. 

A page from Freddie Mercurys childhood stamp album

A page from Freddie Mercury's childhood stamp album

Freddie Mercury’s collection includes stamps from a wide range of countries across the world. Many are from the British Empire and those of particular philatelic interest are from Zanzibar, Mercury’s birthplace. The album also incorporates a wide selection of stamps from Eastern Europe and Commonwealth countries. As pop memorabilia and for cultural reference, Freddie Mercury’s collection is priceless.

A stamp from Zanzibar which appears in Freddie Mercurys album

A stamp from Zanzibar which appears in Freddie Mercury's album

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on 5 September 1946 in Zanzibar. Bomi – his father – originally inspired his stamp collecting and it’s believed that Freddie built up his own collection between the ages of nine and twelve.

Following Freddie Mercury’s death on 24 November 1991, the majority of his belongings were burnt in line with his family’s Zoroastrian religious beliefs but Bomi decided to keep the stamp album.

Bomi eventually decided to auction his, and Mercury’s stamp collections and the BPMA, then the National Postal Museum, purchased the album on 17 December 1993. The amount paid was donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust which is the AIDS charity that was set-up by Queen band members John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor, along with Mercury’s friend Mary Austin.

In 1999 Freddie Mercury appeared on the 19p stamp in the Millennium Series: The Entertainers’ Tale commemoratives, alongside 1966 England World Cup captain Bobby Moore, a dalek from Doctor Who and silent film star Charlie Chaplain.

Freddie Mercury isn’t the only famous pop star to have collected stamps. John Lennon’s stamp album (from circa 1950), which features over 550 stamps from several countries including New Zealand, India and the United States, is currently held by the National Postal Museum (part of the Smithsonian Museum) in Washington D.C.

A stamp from the UK-Australia Joint Issue of 1988, featuring John Lennon

A stamp from the UK-Australia Joint Issue of 1988, featuring John Lennon

John Lennon has appeared on postage stamps in many countries including the UK-Australia Joint Issue of 1988 celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement (where Lennon is pictured with William Shakespeare, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and The Beatles stamps of 2007. Fans in the United States have set up an online petition to get the US Postal Service to release a stamp commemorating John Lennon’s 70th birthday in 2010.

Swindon: A new centre for the BPMA

by Jo Sullivan, New Centre Project Assistant

A decision is made
On 16th September 2008, the BPMA’s Board of Trustees chose the former Chain Testing Works at the Churchward Village site in Swindon, Wiltshire, as the intended site of BPMA’s New Centre. This was the culmination of a detailed examination of options and potential sites (of which over 20 were visited) for the BPMA’s plan to provide a new facility for its archive and to restore full physical access to its museum collection.

Why Swindon?
The choice was made after a long and considered site search, including London and other regional centres such as Birmingham and Bristol.  Swindon is a town with a great deal of potential, it has enthusiastic and ambitious leaders who in early 2009 announced a £200 million town centre regeneration scheme.  It is home to a large national and international business community and this is built on excellent transport links.  Swindon is 60 minutes by rail from London Paddington and has regular trains from Bristol, South Wales, the South West and the Midlands.  It is 60 minutes from Heathrow and other airports are easily accessible.

The site
Churchward is just outside the main centre of Swindon and is a 10 minute walk from the station. It is home to the National Trust UK Headquarters, as well as the English Heritage National Monument Record Centre and STEAM (a museum which attracts 100,000 visitors per year). It also houses a designer outlet village (McArthur Glen) which gets close to 3.2 million visitors per year.

Work to the BPMA’s potential home would run alongside the development of residential, business and hotel accommodation nearby, all part of a plan conceived to make the most of an already attractive site.

There would be on-site parking, and greatly improved disabled access, unlike anything we could possibly provide in London. 

The Building
The building offers 43,000 sq ft of ground floor space and there would be a possibly of further increasing the floor space by the use of mezzanine levels.

The building is Grade II Listed and described on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register as “a rare example of a railway chain testing house built in 1873”.  Some of the machinery in the floor inside is Grade II*, as it is the last complete example in situ, and the BPMA would be keen to make a focal point of this.

Our aspirations
The BPMA’s New Centre promises many exciting features for researchers and visitors both old and new. It will be a combined museum and archive, offering the best in access to all the wonderful material the BPMA has to offer.

The Royal Mail Archive will have its home at Swindon, with state of the art storage facilities and a superb public Search Room for researchers, designed to the highest possible standard.  We will provide the most up-to-date equipment but continue BPMA’s excellent face-to-face user service.

The BPMA’s New Centre will have space to exhibit our museum collection, opening up this part of our holdings fully for the first time since the National Postal Museum in London  closed in 1998.

There will be areas for exhibiting from our philatelic and wider holdings and for temporary exhibitions. We would hope to produce interesting programmes for the local community of Swindon, as well as something appealing to visitors from far and wide.

We aim to offer facilities for events, meetings and school visits, a conservation studio, and to house partners on site as well.  We will provide flexible space for those that need it; space for our Friends to meet or space to host an event for societies and interest groups.

There will also be a dedicated educational area, providing a physical base to add to BPMA’s already proven success in offering first class educational provision.

More Information
For further information, comments or ideas on the project please contact:

Jo Sullivan
The BPMA
Freeling House
Phoenix Place
LONDON
WC1X 0DL 
jo.sullivan@postalheritage.org.uk
020 7239 2306