Tag Archives: penny post

TALK: Glad Tidings: A history of the Christmas card

For our annual Christmas talk, we are welcoming Curator Steph Mastoris of the National Waterfront Museum. As a social history curator he has been fascinated for over two decades by the custom of sending Christmas greetings to family and friends, and the billions of cards that are produced. Get a sneak peak at what to expect from his Christmas talk next Tuesday.

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The Christmas card has been very close to the heart of the British postal service from just after the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840. Moreover, the Half-Penny Post of 1870 was an important catalyst for the widespread popularity of the Christmas card. Starting as a wealthy middle class novelty, the tradition of sending Christmas cards became and still is a massive activity.

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In my talk I will discuss how very recent research is suggesting that the first published Christmas cards were produced some years before the famous one commissioned by Henry Cole in 1843.

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As the history of the Christmas card is fundamentally about how people have used them, I will talk about projects that look into how we use the postal service over the holiday season. One of the current projects, People’s Post, gives you the chance to share your memories of receiving cards and gifts in the post. After the talk, there will be an opportunity for the audience to contribute their stories. The information provided may well get built into the interpretation of the new Postal Museum when it opens in 2016!

Join us next Tuesday (2 December) at 7pm at the Phoenix Centre to find out more!

The Last Post

The final episode of The Peoples Post reminded us of some of the postal service’s great innovations. These included William Dockwra’s Penny Post, the development of the Mail Coach system, Rowland Hill’s postal reforms, the invention of the postage stamp, and the introduction of curb-side letter boxes.

Exterior of a Sub-Post Office, Bristol, 1980 (H11401c)

Exterior of a Sub-Post Office, Bristol, 1980 (H11401c)

Throughout the series we have also heard about how the postcode has changed our lives, and the ways in which cheap postage and telecommunications, developed in Britain, have made it easier to keep in touch and send our love.

With Christmas just two days away many of us are preparing to travel to be with family and friends. Seeing people in person is the ultimate way to communicate, but if you can’t there’s always the post. Leave your views on The Peoples Post series as a comment below, on our Facebook page, or tweet us using the hashtag #PeoplesPost.

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

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.

Cruchley’s Postal District Map, 1859

Each month we present an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

This month, Bruce Robertson, a retired town planner from East London, who has been a volunteer working on the postal history collections at Bruce Castle Museum, chooses his favourite object:

Cruchley's Postal District Map, 1859

Cruchley's Postal District Map, 1859

“As a town planner interested in postal history, one of the postal maps was always going to be my favourite object.

Cruchley’s Postal District Map of 1859 was produced when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Rowland Hill’s postal reform, postage stamps, the Penny Black and universal Penny Postage – and District Post Offices – were all part of everyday life. The use of ‘the post’ had grown so much, and there used to be three or four deliveries a day. To aid the sorting of the mail, London had been divided into postal districts – the start of the post-code system we use today”.

Postal Uniforms: 1855

by Claire McHugh, Cataloguer (Collections)

To continue from my last blog on early postal uniforms, the adoption in 1840 of a Uniform Penny Post and other related reforms initiated by Rowland Hill encouraged the development of the Post Office; this growth was reflected in the increasing workforce and the amount of uniform needing to be issued. In 1851 it was estimated the amount of individuals being supplied with post office uniforms had risen to about 1,700.

Parisian postman circa 1850

Parisian postman circa 1850

1855 marked the replacement of the previous cut-away tail coat by a skirted scarlet frock coat. The wearer’s identification number was no longer on the buttons but had now transferred to being worn on the collar, while the beaver hat was replaced by a glazed hat modelled on one used by the Parisian postmen.

Though scepticism over its practicality was present from the start, even from those involved with its production; a contemporary English contractor suggested that the hat would probably not be very comfortable to wear owing to ‘its lack of resiliency’, even being quite impractical due to ‘its attraction [sic] the rays of the sun; in cold weather the japann becomes so brittle that the least pressure or fall would cause it to crack’.

Nevertheless, the counter plea won with the response that what was satisfactory in France should prove satisfactory in Britain. The vogue for this hat soon waned as the predicted problems became apparent; in 1859 the glazed hat was superseded by a hard felt hat, which later was replaced by the single-peaked shako.

A letter carrier in the new uniform, The Illustrated Glasgow News, 30 June 1855

A letter carrier in the new uniform, The Illustrated Glasgow News, 30 June 1855

Other additions to the uniform included the issuing of a waterproof tippet (cape) to protect the easily soiled coat. But most importantly the outfit included grey trousers – the letter carriers no longer had to wear their own much maligned, tattered and unmatching trousers. This resulted in a much neater appearance which saved the letter carriers blushes – and if a letter from the wives of postmen addressing the Queen with the request that their husbands be given trousers is to be believed, their wives too (POST 92/1144).

Reaction to the new uniform was mixed; on the one hand it was admired for its smarter more coherent look, contemporary newspapers even going as far to say that ‘The unmarried portion of the corps will now have so many admirers that doors will open spontaneously, knockers will rust on their hinges, and bells will only be rung to celebrate the merry peal and the utter extinction of bachelors in red habiliments. We have heard that all the domestic servants are now in a flutter of excitement when the double knock is heard.’ (The Illustrated Glasgow News, 30 June 1855).

'The Postman's Knock' - Colour lithographic song sheet. c.1860

'The Postman's Knock' - Colour lithographic song sheet. c.1860

But on the other hand there was criticism of the new outfit. Punch (1855) found the uniform to ‘glaring’ and ‘more fitted for the Fire Brigade’ and couldn’t ‘comprehend the taste which has pinned a large pair of scarlet skirts to the coat of the postman, and caused us to mistake him for a sentinel off his post, by his resemblance to a Foot Guardsman’. This criticism of the military aspect of the frock coat design can be seen in others derisive comments, for example one paper questions whether ‘the coats or the [scarlet] cloth at least, must have been cabbaged from the Crimea.’

Regardless of the criticism, 1855 can be regarded as the first collective post office uniform that created a smart and more coherent look for the Post Office, as it successfully brought the London District and the General Post letter carriers (who up until then had worn separate uniforms) into line, as both classes now appeared in the same scarlet uniform. Over the next few years this issue gradually spread to the provinces until the next significant uniform change in 1861.

‘Centuries of Innovation and Industry’ at Royal Mail Letters

An early pillar box on display at Rathbone Place

An early pillar box on display at Rathbone Place

by Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

Recently a small display of objects from the BPMA’s collection was installed in the new reception area of Royal Mail Letters at Rathbone Place. Rathbone Place is a busy mail centre and this hopefully means that the display will be seen by many people, both from within Royal Mail itself as well as any external visitors to the building.

On their website Royal Mail describe themselves as having ‘centuries of innovation and industry making our business what it is today’ and it is this theme that we have taken as the basis for the display. This includes looking at ‘First Innovations’ such as the introduction of the Penny Post, letter boxes and standard time; a section entitled ‘From Land to Sky’ charting the many different forms of transport that have been used to carry mail; and, linked to this, ‘Mail by Rail’ concentrating on the Post Office underground railway (aka Mail Rail) that connected sorting offices in London to mainline railway stations.

Emma Harper installs objects at Royal Mail Letters, Rathbone Place

Emma Harper installs objects at Royal Mail Letters, Rathbone Place

Highlights of the objects on display include a model Mail Coach, a Mail Guard’s timepiece, a railway sign that used to hang on the Post Office railway station at Rathbone Place and an early example of a letter box. We hope these objects will not only show how important Royal Mail’s heritage is, but also promote our role in preserving and presenting their long history. It is for this reason that we are always pleased to work with Royal Mail on displays such as this and hope that it will be enjoyed by those who see it.

New to our online catalogue

Over 4,000 descriptions were uploaded to the online catalogue last week, bringing the total of records available for public consultation to 87,635. The latest batch of records available include:

From the Royal Mail Archive

  • POST 109 – an additional 900 records of publicity artwork and designs;
  • POST 68 – 1250 records of rules and instructions;

From the Museum collection

  • Approximately 1800 descriptions of handstamps;
  • Approximately 120 descriptions of badges and buttons;
  • And an additional 69 book titles to the Search Room library.
One of David Langdon’s cartoons on safe driving

One of David Langdon’s cartoons on safe driving (POST 109/564)

The latest records show a great variety in the collections held by the BPMA. Handstamps were items in everyday use at post offices and sorting offices across the country and our collection includes a cross-section of the types of handstamps used. From special event handstamps, such as the Littlewoods Challenge Cup 1989 Wembley handstamp (2010-0033/2) to the local penny post handstamps, such as the Aycliffe handstamp from early –mid nineteenth century (2009-0334).

Post 109 new entries include David Langdon’s series of cartoon artwork on safe driving (POST 109/564-567) and Jan Lewitt and George Him’s artwork for “x-mas” postings (POST 109/602-605).

Post 68 includes a broad range of instructions, manuals, rule books and circulars from all areas of the Post Office. This series of records will prove interesting to anyone wishing to know more about Post Office operations and services. Some of these rules also contain a surprising wealth of personal and local information, such as the instructions for the postmaster of Garn Dolbenmaen (POST 68/920) which contain details about the postmen’s walk schedule in 1880.

Valued volunteer and postal historian retires

Recently one of our most highly valued volunteers, Mike Bament, retired, hanging up his tweezers for the last time. Mike has been volunteering at the BPMA for more than 20 years and is also a well-known postal historian.

This is the earliest recorded example of a mileage mark, 65 ARUNDEL, struck on a letter sent to Horsham in Sussex on 1st October 1784. The BB stands for By-Bag.

This is the earliest recorded example of a mileage mark, 65 ARUNDEL, struck on a letter sent to Horsham in Sussex on 1st October 1784. The BB stands for By-Bag.

The study of postal markings is often called “postal history”. Postal markings include datestamps, rate markings and indications of the origin, route and arrival of mail. With more modern mail they also show evidence of automatic cancelling and sorting. The BPMA’s extensive collections cover all these, as well as more than 200 albums dating from before and after the introduction of the first adhesive postage stamp in 1840, including entire letters, covers, envelopes, postcards and postal stationery.

Before the advent of airmail all British mail going abroad, and coming from abroad, had to travel by sea. The earliest known handstamps were not recorded until early in the eighteenth century when the first handstruck stamps were issued by the General Post Office indicating that mail had arrived by sea.

A letter sent from Liverpool to New York in 1841

A letter sent “pr Britannia” from Liverpool to New York on 19th April 1841. The postage was ‘PAID AT / LIVERPOOL’ where the BCC type 60 framed handstamp with chamfered corners and dated was struck in red. This type of handstamp is found on some maritime mail from about 1840 to 1850.

One of Mike Bament’s recent projects has been to compile postal history material, which have then been digitised for the BPMA website, making them accessible to more people.

The latest listings went online recently and consist of four postal reform listings: Ship Letters, India Letters, ‘Paid at’ Stamps and Postal Reform. This is a continuation of the project which saw postal history items for the listings Penny Posts (including 5th Clause Posts), Mileage Marks and Missent Marks go online early last year.

Mike Bament has contributed invaluable work to the BPMA throughout the years, and he will be greatly missed. His work has and will continue to increase access to BPMA’s unique collections, and will be of great benefit to postal historians researching these subjects.

Would you like to volunteer at the BPMA? Visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/support/volunteer/ to find out more.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: January 2010

Each month, for ten months, we’ll be presenting an object from the Morten Collection on this blog. The Morten Collection is a nationally important postal history collection currently held at Bruce Castle, Tottenham.

As part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, Pistols, Packets and Postmen, the BPMA, Bruce Castle Museum and the Communication Workers Union (the owner of the Collection) are working together to widen access to and develop educational resources for the Morten Collection.

If you have any comments on the objects or the Collection we’d be grateful to hear them. At the end of the ten months we hope we’ll have given you an overview of the Collection, highlighting individual items but also emphasising the diverse nature of the material. For further information on the Morten Collection, please see our blog of 16th December 2009.

This month’s object: Travelling Post Office Mail Bag Apparatus

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

Model of mail train bag apparatus in wood

The Travelling Post Office (TPO) was first introduced in January 1838, travelling on the Grand Junction between Birmingham and Liverpool. The TPO is closely linked with Rowland Hill’s penny postage, which led to an increase in letter writing and the need to transport more mail at speed. The TPO ceased operation in 2004 as more and more people used emails rather than letter writing to communicate.

Travelling Post Offices functioned as mobile sorting offices, allowing post officers to sort up to 2000 mails an hour while on the move. In its heyday there were some 77 services from London to Plymouth, Bristol, Newcastle and others.

In 1936 the GPO Film unit produced a film about the TPO entitled Night Mail that contained a poem by W.H. Auden and music by Benjamin Britten.

The picture featured here shows a wooden and metal model of a mail bag exchange apparatus and forms part of a set consisting of track, carriages, a hut and smaller items relating to the Travelling Post Office.

Mail bag exchange apparatuses like this were used between 1852–1971 on Travelling Post Offices to pick up and put down mails without the need for trains to stop. The concept of exchanging mail whilst in transit is nothing new to railways and was used before where mail bags were often thrown onto and off coaches while in motion.

Mail bag exchange apparatuses operated in the following way: Mail was simply put into leather pouches weighing between 20lb and 60lb that were attached to an arm which would suspend it 5ft above the ground and 3ft away from the carriage side. The carriage was equipped with an extendable net, fitted to the body side, with an opening into the carriage behind it to catch incoming pouches.

It is alleged that the duty of putting the bags on poles was so unpopular that some postmen paid others to do the duty for them.

For more on TPO’s see the BPMA’s online exhibition The Travelling Post Office.

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.