Tag Archives: penny black

Queens’ anniversaries

This June not only marks the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on 2 June 1953 but also 175 years since another female British monarch was crowned; the young Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom on 28 June 1838. Both queens have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee and are the United Kingdom’s longest serving monarchs – a remarkable achievement, which is also reflected in the eventful periods that mark their reigns spanning over decades of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Victoria oversaw a whole era of innovation, which was particularly true in postal affairs. The world’s first postage stamp, The Penny Black, was issued during her reign on 6 May 1840 and featured the young queen’s portrait.

The Penny Black and "Machin" stamp designs.

The Penny Black and “Machin” stamp designs.

Since Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne in 1952, many ground-breaking changes have taken place in every part of British life. In stamp design, the Queen’s head was almost removed from pictorial stamps but finally a new timeless and classic design was finally commissioned for definitive stamps: the “Machin stamp”, featuring Queen Elizabeth II’s effigy. Based on the white cameo relief created by Arnold Machin this iconic design has been reproduced on stamps over 200 billion time since 1965.

To commemorate these two extraordinary anniversaries, the British Postal Museum & Archive Shop is now offering a unique set of Wedgwood Jasperware plates featuring the two classic portraits of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II from stamp design. A Black Basalt plate shows Queen Victoria’s portrait from The Penny Black, and a Portland Blue dish features Queen Elizabeth II’s image from the “Machin Head”. The plates are 11cm in diameter with a white wreath of laurel leaves on the border and come beautifully presented in a Wedgwood box. You can now purchase this ideal souvenir of the coronation anniversaries in 2013 as a set for £17.50 from the BPMA online shop (plus P&P).

Wedgwood Jasperware Set.

Wedgwood Jasperware Set.

A Cup of Tea and its Consequences

Chris West explains how he came to write the book First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps.

Chris West

Chris West

Like many of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I had a stamp collection. A rather mediocre one… But one Sunday, I went to tea with my great uncle.

I happened to mention that I collected stamps, and Uncle Frank said he’d done that too. He disappeared and came back with a dark blue ‘Lincoln’ album. Inside was a treasurehouse of stamps featuring Edward VII and Queen Victoria – including a Penny Black (it had a corner missing, but still…) Frank then said that he didn’t really bother with them any longer – did I want them? The album became my pride and joy. I even took it to school to show everybody. Sadly, one viewer was so impressed that he stole half the stamps. The collection never felt the same afterwards, and vanished into an attic. Forty years later, I was cleaning out the attic when I came across the album. For a moment an old fury came back, but then I decided that a much healthier reaction was to reassemble the collection.

The 'Seahorse' stamp.

The ‘Seahorse’ stamp.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

British Empire Exhibition 1924 stamp, 1d value.

As I did this, I found myself ever more intrigued with the stamps, as items of beauty but also as tiny pieces of history. Who stuck this Penny Black on an envelope, and what was in the letter? More generally, what was Britain like at the time? I found envelopes that had been sent in Ireland around the time of the appalling famine, a Seahorse sent just before World War One, a stamp celebrating the British Empire Exhibition of 1924 (an event I had never heard of, but which was as big as the Olympics in its day), an envelope that had enclosed a censored letter from World War Two, the classic 4d stamp celebrating the 1966 World Cup win… Stamps, I realised, tell stories.

Finally, I assembled these stories into a book, that would tell the nation’s tale through its stamps – or 36 of them, anyway. It’s been a joy to research and write. And all thanks to my great uncle and a cup of tea one Sunday afternoon.

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps by Chris West (cover)

First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps is available from the BPMA online shop.

Chris West will give a talk based on First Class: A history of Britain in 36 postage stamps at the BPMA on Thursday 21 February 2013.

Put Your Stamp on the New Centre Exhibition Space

We have been working hard with our appointed creative designers Haley Sharpe Design on early plans for the main exhibition space of the Calthorpe House New Centre. The 500m2 gallery will be split into five zones, each covering an era of postal history.

Zone 1 will look at the early days of the Royal Mail, with the BPMA’s 18th Century Mail Coach as its centrepiece, whilst in Zone 2 visitors will meet Rowland Hill – a visionary Victorian, who devised solutions to the short-comings of the postal service in its early days. On display visitors will find a variety of objects and records related to the design of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage, as well as other examples of great Victorian inventions that facilitated the sending and receiving of mail.

Visualisation of Zone 2: "Reform and Innovation".

Visualisation of Zone 2: “Reform and Innovation”.

Between Zones 2 and 3, visitors can read profound and moving stories reflecting events from postal history during the early 20th Century, such as the story of the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) Titanic, the suffragettes who posted themselves to the Prime Minister, and the role of the Post Office during WWI.

Visualisation of Zone 3: "The Post Office in Conflict".

Visualisation of Zone 3: “The Post Office in Conflict”.

In Zone 3, visitors will step into a reconstruction of life in WWII London, whilst Zone 4, by contrast, will present a bright, visual feast, vividly demonstrating the time from the 1930s to the 1960s when the Post Office was a leader in style and design in Britain.

Visualisation of Zone 4: "Style and Design".

Visualisation of Zone 4: “Style and Design”.

Zone 5 will consider the modern Post Office, including the competition and challenges of 21st Century Communications, as well as the role of the service at the heart of isolated rural communities.

Work is currently underway to work up a long-list of objects and records from the Museum and Archive collections to populate the exhibition and illustrate the stories and themes outlined above. Whilst the ‘usual suspects’ (such as items from early Mail Coach Guards and the many photos and posters held in the Archive) are, of course, under consideration, the BPMA are keen to include ‘hidden gems’ that may not have been seen in previous exhibitions – something for which we would like your help…

Tell us which artefacts from the BPMA collections you would like to see on display in the new exhibition!

Blog readers are invited to suggest a museum object or archive record that they would like to see included in the new gallery displays, with an explanation as to why you have chosen that particular item. The best suggestion, as selected by the BPMA Access and Learning Team, will win a signed copy of Julian Stray’s book Mail Trains. Results announced in January.

Please send your suggestions by 30 November 2012 to: Andy Richmond – BPMA Access & Learning Manager, andy.richmond@postalheritage.org.uk.

New Lower Prices on BPMA Products

The BPMA Shop now offers new lower prices on selected products:

Original Post Office Green Papers. In the 1930s the General Post Office hosted lectures on various new or innovative aspects of its business, from engineering to public relations. The Green Papers were published versions of these lectures, and they have become an invaluable resource for information about the postal past. These are the original copies of the Green Papers from the 1930s, 40s and 50s – so numbers are strictly limited.
Was £5.00 – NOW £3.00 each – or get 5 copies for the price of 4! Enter GR33N544 discount code at the online shop checkout when ordering 5 copies of more to receive the discount.

Original GPO Green Papers

Speeding the Mail – An Oral History of the Post Office from the 1930s to 1990s Audio CD. Covering 60 years of postal history, this superb audio CD provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes to see how the job was done. Postal workers past and present talk about the way they used to work – recollections from the days of the GPO; stories by those who delivered letters, packets, parcels and even pairs of rabbits; stamp designers and those postal workers serving the public behind the Post Office counter.
Was £11.99 – NOW £5.99

Speeding the Mail – An Oral History of the Post Office from the 1930s to 1990s Audio CD

Postal Reform & the Penny Black – A New Appreciation. Douglas N. Muir, BPMA Curator (Philately), describes the long campaign for postal reform in this important study. He illustrates his account of the period leading to the issues of the Penny Black and the Mulready Covers with a wealth of contemporary designs, proofs and other philatelic material.
Was £5.99 – NOW £4.99

Postal Reform and The Penny Black – A New Appreciation, by BPMA Curator (Philately) Douglas N. Muir

Night Mail T-Shirt. The striking poster design of the GPO Film Unit classic Night Mail (1936) has been adapted for these shirts. Like the film itself – a classic work.
Was £9.00 – NOW £5.00

Night Mail T-Shirt

You can find all these products and more in our online shop www.postalheritage.org.uk/sale.

The BPMA Shop now also has a new postal address and phone number for shop orders and enquiries:

BPMA Product Sales
Room 309, 3rd Floor
5 Almeida Street
N1 1AA
Tel. 0044 (0) 207 354 7272

And finally, a little reminder that Christmas is approaching fast – so ‘Post Early’ and order your Christmas cards soon from the BPMA Shop: www.postalheritage.org.uk/greetings.

BPMA Summer Sale

The BPMA Shop summer sale starts today: It’s 20% off all orders! But hurry – this amazing offer only lasts for one week. Enter SUMM3R2012 in the appropriate field at checkout (excludes P&P) and place your order by 31 July 2012.

Savings Greetings Card Set

Savings Greetings Card Set

Choose from our range of unique postal heritage gifts: Learn more about our postal history and design with our publications, let someone know they’re the best with our First Class Greetings Card, get through this British Summer with our big BPMA Umbrella, or simply smarten up your standard business dress with a Penny Black Tie.

And just in time for “the greatest show on earth” the new book by the President of the Society of Olympic Collectors, Bob Wilcock, The London 1948 Olympic Games: A Collectors’ Guide is now also available.

Visit the BPMA show at http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/shop.

Delegation from China visit BPMA

On Wednesday 18 April, the BPMA were delighted to welcome a delegation from China, including Lu Xinghua, Deputy Director of China Post Literature & History Centre, Song Yunli, Curator of China Post Archives of China Post Literature & History Centre and Danny Kin Chi Wong, FRPSL, Royal Philatelic Society London China Representative.

Chinese Delegation

BPMA Director Adrian Steel showing records in the BPMA's collections relating to China to the Chinese visitors

Gavin McGuffie, Acting Head of Archives and Records Management at the BPMA, took them for a tour of the Royal Mail archive, including looking at records in the collections relating to China, such as documents about delivery of mail via packet ships from the mid-19th century [POST 43/157] and a copy of a history of the British postal service by a Chinese postal official [POST 33/6013]. They also got to see three telegrams sent in response to the Post Office’s concern about its employees and the mail onboard the RMS Titanic (please see a previous blog on the RMS Titanic telegrams).

The visitors had the unique chance to hold a sheet of Penny Blacks from the BPMA's secure philatelic vault

The delegation was then treated to a tour of the secure philatelic vault with BPMA Philatelic Curator Douglas Muir, where they were shown Penny Blacks, Tyrian Plums, dies, rollers and Olympic stamp artwork.

Rowland Hill & the Penny Black

Rowland Hill, the great postal reformer, was born in Kidderminster, near Birmingham, in 1795. Originally an educationalist, it was in 1837 that he published his seminal pamphlet Post Office Reform; Its Importance and Practicability.

As heard in today’s episode of The Peoples Post, before 1840 postage rates were very high, and they were normally paid by the recipient. Charges were by distance and by the number of pages in the letter, rather than by weight. To send one sheet from London to Edinburgh cost 1s 1½d, a considerable sum in those days. The cost to the Post Office, however, was calculated by Hill at a fraction of 1d. There were also a number of anomalies whereby MPs’ mail, for example, was carried free, a system which was widely abused.

'Sir Rowland Hill' – oil painting attributed to Mary M Pearson, 1836 (2004-0154)

'Sir Rowland Hill' – oil painting attributed to Mary M Pearson, 1836 (2004-0154)

Hill’s proposal was three-fold: that postage should be prepaid; that it should be based upon weight, not distance or the number of sheets; and that the basic cost should be drastically reduced to a uniform 1d, making it affordable to all. The first mention of a label for prepayment – later the adhesive postage stamp – came in a reply to an official enquiry:

a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash.

In fact, Hill suggested four types of prepayment, all confusingly referred to as “stamps” – lettersheet, envelope, label and stamped sheets of paper.

Penny Black stamp used on the first day of issue, 6 May 1840 (POST 141/04, Phillips Collection - Volume IV)

Penny Black stamp used on the first day of issue, 6 May 1840 (POST 141/04, Phillips Collection - Volume IV)

Afraid of fraudulent imitation of the labels Hill said

there is nothing in which minute differences of execution are so readily detected as in a representation of the human face…I would therefore advise that…a head of the Queen by one of our first artists should be introduced.

That portrait of Queen Victoria was based upon a medal by William Wyon and was engraved by Frederick Heath, with the labels being printed by Perkins, Bacon & Petch. The Penny Black was put on sale in London on 1 May 1840, becoming valid for postage on 6 May. The experiment was a great success and was eventually imitated throughout the world.

In our collections at The British Postal Museum & Archive we hold unique treasures illustrating the history of postal reform and the design and production of the stamps. These include proofs, the Old Original die from which all the printing plates were made, and the only sheets of Penny Blacks in existence.

Old Original Die (Penny Black)

Old Original Die (Penny Black)

For his services Hill received many accolades and was knighted in 1860. When he died in 1879 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

– Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately

For more on today’s episode of The Peoples Post see our webpage The Penny Black. Further images can be found on Flickr. Use the Twitter hashtag #PeoplesPost to comment on the show.

The Peoples Post

Monday 5th December sees the launch of an exciting new series on BBC Radio 4. The Peoples Post is a 15 part series exploring the history of the postal service through the people that use and work for it. The series begins in the 16th century in the reign of Henry VIII and explores some of the key moments in the nearly 500 years since then. Each weekday there will be a new 15 minute episode touching on a different part of this fascinating and evolving story.

London Chief Office - Artwork for a poster by Grace Golden on the subject of postal facilities, 1948. (POST 109/198)

London Chief Office - Artwork for a poster by Grace Golden on the subject of postal facilities, 1948. (POST 109/198)

The first five episodes, during the first week, will look at the early history of the postal service. It will cover the days of the postal service as an instrument of state and consider the expansion of the system, first under Charles I and then later in the 18th century with the post being used increasingly to assist trade. The final episode in week one will look at a postal system that was becoming ripe for improvement and this episode will link to week two where we see the postal service undergoing its most important change, postal reform.

'The Country Letter Carrier' - Oil Painting by J P Hall, 1859 (OB1997.8)

'The Country Letter Carrier' - Oil Painting by J P Hall, 1859 (OB1997.8)

Week two opens with the story of the Penny Black and how postal reform changed the world. Throughout the week the massive expansion of the Royal Mail will be explored and the effect it had on the lives of people. From the expansion into the parcels posts in the 1880s through the development of social post and the part the post office played in the community, to the industrial unrest in the 1890s with the first postal workers’ strike.

The first 'First Day Cover' in the world, showing a Penny Black used on 6 May 1840, the first day of validity. (Phillips Collection Vol IV/3, POST 141/04)

The first 'First Day Cover' in the world, showing a Penny Black used on 6 May 1840, the first day of validity. (Phillips Collection Vol IV/3, POST 141/04)

The final week looks at some of the innovations and changes that were to impact on the industry. The rise of new technologies such as the telegraphs and later developments such as the introduction by Royal Mail of the postcode, and the way that system evolved to form a part of everyone’s life. This week will also consider the post office in the First World War, the impact of the loss of male workers and the employment of women, and also the massive new role of delivering mail to a world at war and managing censorship.

Norwich addresses need postal codes, GPO poster from 1961 (POST 110/4323)

Norwich addresses need postal codes, GPO poster from 1961 (POST 110/4323)

The series is supported throughout by the BPMA. With each episode there will be new content loaded onto the website, Flickr and this blog, exploring some of the issues in more detail. Links to these will be provided via Facebook, Twitter and Google+ – and you can live tweet the show on the hashtag #PeoplesPost. Much of the research for the series has also been drawn from the Royal Mail Archive, which is managed by the BPMA. Images and details from the BPMA’s rich collections will illustrate each episode.

The BPMA were involved with the series from the very beginning and a number of members of BPMA staff were involved in developing the links with the series producers and the BBC. Most particularly the BPMA would like to thank Peter Sutton for his role of researcher, helping to find the links within the collection, and Jenny Karlsson and Alison Bean for helping to build the links and develop the online content.

– Chris Taft, Curator

What would you do with £1,053,090?

… Buy a stamp, of course! This phenomenal price tag is how much an anonymous telephone bidder paid on June 28, 2011 for the coveted ‘Post Office Mauritius’ two penny blue stamp during a sale at Spink Auctioneers, making it the most valuable stamp ever sold in the UK. The stamp hails from the impressive Chartwell Collection, which contains over 80 stamp albums, collected by Sir Cyril Humphrey Cripps.

Example of the 'Post Office' Mauritius in the Royal Philatelic Collection

Example of the 'Post Office' Mauritius in the Royal Philatelic Collection

Sir Humphrey (1915-2000) was a successful English businessman and philanthropist. He began collecting stamps almost by chance in the 1950’s, picking the hobby up from his son, Robert. Robert eventually lost interest in stamp collecting as he returned to school, but his son’s fleeting interest in the hobby transformed itself into a life-long passion for Sir Humphrey. He studied philately and the existing marketplace, focusing on Great Britain and the British
Empire. In 1972, he purchased the ‘Post Office Mauritius’ 2d. blue for £29,000, which was quite expensive at the time. He was later offered an even greater sum for the stamp, but Sir Humphrey rejected it—proving that his love was the act of collecting and the collection itself, rather than the monetary value of what it contained. This extraordinary stamp became a part of his British Empire Collection, which contained stamps from primarily Bermuda, Mauritius, the Virgin Islands, as well as Canada, New Zealand and theTurks Islands.

The stamp collection also included the Great Britain Collection, from which hails other big items in Spink’s ongoing auction of Sir Humphrey’s stamps, which included several examples of 1840 Penny Black plates and an accepted die proof for the ‘One Penny Stamp’. You can see some related items from the BPMA collection: lantern slides of a proof sheet of the 1840 Penny Black and the original die used for the 1840 Penny Black’s production.

‘Proof Sheet of the 1840 Penny Black’ – Lantern Slide (2010-0411)

‘Proof Sheet of the 1840 Penny Black’ – Lantern Slide (2010-0411)

The Original Die Used For Production of the 1840 Penny Black (BPMA collection)

The Original Die Used For Production of the 1840 Penny Black (BPMA collection)

Sir Humphrey’s collection is said to be one of the finest British stamp collections in private hands, a statement only reinforced by the estimated £20 million that the collection is expected to bring in over the course of its auction within the next 18 months. But what is possibly more fascinating than the price that the Mauritius stamp fetched and the value of the objects within the collection is Sir Humphrey’s evident love of stamp collecting, a passion that has assisted with the preservation of Britain’s postal heritage.

If you’d like to have a further look at the above items from the BPMA Collection, feel free to have a look at our website or catalogue. For Spink Auctioneers and Daily Mail articles on the sale of the Mauritius stamp, you can find them here and here.

– Sarah Cooper, Intern

Treasures of the Archive

Recently our Assistant Curator Vyki Sparkes gave a talk about our current Search Room exhibition Treasures of the Archive. A recording of this talk is now available on our podcast.

Moses James Nobbs: Last of the mail coach guards

Moses James Nobbs: Last of the mail coach guards

In her talk Vyki highlighted three of her favourite objects in the exhibition – a watercolour of Moses James Nobbs: the last of the mailcoach guards, Frederick G. Gurr’s World War 2 scrapbook and an evidence bag from the Great Train Robbery – all of which have fascinating stories attached.

The Treasures of the Archive exhibition features many other unique and interesting items from our collection, including the first ‘First Day Cover’ in the world, showing a Penny Black used on 6 May 1840, the first day of validity; original artwork for Greetings Telegrams and stamps; and the United Kingdom’s first pillar box. Find out more on our website.

Download the Vyki Sparkes podcast for free at www.postalheritage.org.uk/podcast