Tag Archives: post box

Postal thoughts from Penang

Writer Rebecca Mileham has been working with us on the text for the interactive exhibition galleries at The Postal Museum. She shares how a recent trip brought home to her the impact and influence of the postal service around the world.

Streets of

Streets of Penang

In the scorching heat of Penang in Malaysia, you’ll find all the spicy flavours and intriguing scents of a tropical island. As you sit in an open-air coffee shop and order a plate of sizzling noodles or an ice kacang, it all feels truly exotic and different.

But Penang has one very familiar sight that reminded me of home, as I discovered on a trip there a few weeks ago. At the side of a busy road, I spotted a red pillar box, complete with the initials VR – Victoria Regina.

P1020003

Still in daily use, this sturdy piece of Victorian heritage stands next to two local Pos Malaysia mailboxes. Together, they’re a great reminder of the influence of the Post Office around the world, and the way it changed communications forever.

At The Postal Museum, we are preparing to share the vivid stories of hardship, heroism, intrigue and ingenuity that have shaped the postal service over the last five centuries.

From the earliest years as a mail service for Henry VIII, to the reforms that brought penny postage in reach of everyone in Britain, the museum will also trace the vital role of the post during wartime. The picture comes up to date with striking new designs, new technologies and new ways to keep in touch – and looks at how the Post Office and Royal Mail still deliver vital services today.

We’ll use the museum’s collections of objects, images and original letters to reveal the answers to mysterious questions. How did a lion once delay the post? Why would people die to save the mail? Did the Penny Black stamp really change the world? Who once sent themselves in the post to 10 Downing Street?

Special delivery to the Prime Minister from suffragettes

Special delivery to the Prime Minister from suffragettes

You can also have a go at sending mail by pneumatic tube, or seeing how you look in a letter carrier’s uniform.

The archive and collections have incredible tales to tell and we’re putting the finishing touches to the text now in time for the opening in late 2016. See you then.

-Rebecca Mileham
rebecca.mileham.net

Pop it in the Post: NEW family touring exhibition

Over 160 years ago novelist Anthony Trollope suggested an idea which would change how people communicated forever – the UK pillar box! The first box was installed in 1852, in Jersey, in the Channel Islands. We have never looked back and the iconic red pillar box is now known as a national icon.

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To mark Anthony Trollope’s momentous suggestion and the bicentenary of his birth – we have developed a brand new family exhibition that looks at the communications revolution that followed the introduction of the world’s first stamp, and the UK’s first pillar box  (so-called because of its resemblance to a pillar or to a column).

Early pillar box designs

Early pillar box designs

Pop it in the Post: The World at the end of your street opens at Islington Museum on Saturday 28th March, until 2nd May.

For over 160 years, people in Britain have been able to stick a stamp on a letter and post the letter into a pillar box- sending their news to friends and family across Britain, and then further afield. The exhibition begins by exploring life before stamps and pillar boxes, when only the privileged few could afford to send letters.

We then look at the ground-breaking introduction of stamps, and pillar boxes. The popularity of pillar boxes and other post boxes grew throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Post boxes of all shapes and sizes were soon available in cities, towns and villages. Meet the individuals who made this possible, and discover how millions of people’s lives were changed. The world was now available to everyone – simply through the pillar box at the end of your street.

Street letter box number 1855, corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Road

Street letter box number 1855, corner of Fleet Street and Farringdon Road

This small exhibition will include original Victorian pillar boxes, replica Victorian letter carrier uniforms available to try on, and also activities and games available for families and children. Throughout the exhibition run there will also be some fun daytime drop-in sessions for children on selected days. Please check our website for more information nearer the time or contact BPMA Exhibitions Officer on 0207 354 7287.

Future exhibition venues:

3 October to 21 November 2015
Mansfield Museum
Leeming Street, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire NG18 1NG

6 January – Saturday 26 March 2016
Havering Museum, Essex
19-21 High Street, Romford RM1 1JU

-Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Visit to the Postal Museum Store

Photography student Stuart Matthews has written this guest blog for us…

On Saturday 6th April I ventured to Loughton, Essex to visit The British Postal Museum Store for the Pillar Box Perfection open day. Currently studying photography at the University of Bedfordshire, I’m now in my final year working on my final major project. The visit was in aid of my university project ‘POST’ a project which looks at pillar boxes and how my generation rarely write any more.

"Pillar box alley" at The British Postal Museum Store.

“Pillar box alley” at The British Postal Museum Store.

We live in an age now where we are constantly tuned into our digital social lives by texting, instant messaging and emailing. In my generation the everyday analogue process of posting a letter is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Postboxes lie dormant, statues and monuments of a bygone era. Fond of analogue tradition I decided I wanted to get myself and as many people involved as possible mailing postcards in the form of photographs.

The premise is simple:

  1. Take a photograph of a pillar box (Has to be taken landscape)
  2. Get the photo printed at the 6×4 (Postcard size)
  3. Once printed, write directly on the back of the photograph (Write whatever comes to mind, your thoughts on pillar boxes, maybe the digital age, something personal? A quote, or song lyrics? Maybe describe the location of the photo?)
  4. Then stick on a stamp, add my address and send it to me in the post:
    166 Vandyke Road
    Leighton Buzzard
    Bedfordshire
    LU7 3HS
Postcard showing a Queen Elizabeth II wall box.

Postcard showing a Queen Elizabeth II wall box.

By getting people to photograph postboxes I hope to create a large topology to showcase the results, which will I hopefully display in a gallery space. For the time being I’ve set up a blog site where I’ve regularly up load all the entries sent to me. Which you can visit here: www.thegreatpostproject.wordpress.com.

As I love a challenge, I am hoping that my project will make people take notice of postboxes again and in the grander scheme get younger people involved in writing letters and postcards. Although it may be wishful thinking, only time will tell.

Postcard showing the message "What's the Rush!!".

Postcard showing the message “What’s the Rush!!”.

The open day at The British Postal Museum Store was a great way to learn more about the history of the pillar box. Discovering the different types whilst being able to identify them I found it to be a rewarding experience. It really has helped me, by giving me a historical outlook which I can now apply to the project.

The staff were tremendously helpful giving talks throughout the day, and answering all my questions. A big thank you to those who work and are involved in The British Postal Museum & Archive you generosity hasn’t been unnoticed.

Their generosity also allowed me to visit London this week to participant in my very own From Pillar to Post: GPO London walking tour as I was unable to go last month! (It was only natural that I dropped in to say Hello at the Royal Mail Archives)

If you are reading this and feel intrigued by my project feel free to visit the POST blog site and get involved, and last but not least please do visit the The British Postal Museum Store when you can, it is worth it!

‘Well adapted for the purpose…’

In November 1840 Rowland Hill proposed an experiment whereby letter boxes would be erected throughout London and other towns. He felt that this would “add greatly to the public convenience”, however little came of his proposal beyond the use of sacks and baskets being placed at letter receiving houses and main railway stations.

Following Postal Reform there was an explosion in the use of the Post Office. The volume of letters rose as did the complaints of a populace starved of an efficient system of collecting letters now prepaid by the sender. The 1850s was a decade where the Rural Letter Post System underwent radical change. It was Rowland Hills’s wish that the free delivery of letters be extended to all villages and hamlets where it could be justified. Post Office Surveyors were instructed that any place that received 100 letters each day should be awarded a delivery. However the revision did not proceed as fast as Headquarters wished and one particularly resourceful and efficient Surveyor’s Clerk, Anthony Trollope, was given the job of speeding things up in several districts.

In 1851, Trollope was heavily involved with his review of the postal services of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Monmouthshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire, and the six southern Welsh counties, as well as the Channel Islands. In November 1851 Trollope was sent to the Channel Islands to make recommendations on how to improve their postal service. His reports were then assessed by his superior George Creswell, the Surveyor for the Western District of England and passed to postal headquarters in London.

There had been many complaints from the islanders regarding the delay to their mail and the efficiency of the clerks charged with sorting the mail for delivery on Jersey quickly came under Trollope’s scrutiny, he was scathing in his assessment of their work. They were advised that if a great improvement in their work did not take place then they may be discharged. Each of the five letter carriers was receiving 8/- per week for an average walk of between 30 and 40 miles. If the amount of mail delivered was particularly large following the arrival of a packet boat, they could not complete their delivery on the same day and a reply via the same packet was impossible. Trollope’s proposals originally centred on keeping the same number of delivery staff but pre-sorting correspondence at the head office and then despatching it to rural offices where each messenger would collect it. As part of the revision, horses were provided to the five letter carriers, the workforce was increased to eight and the walks sub-divided. Unfortunately this also meant a reduction in their pay to 7/- per week.

However, it was another of Trollope’s proposals to his superior Creswell that is of particular interest to anyone with an interest in street furniture:

There is at present no receiving office in St. Helier, and persons living in the distant parts of the town have to send nearly a mile to the principal office. I believe that a plan has obtained in France of fitting up letter boxes in posts fixed at the road side, and it may perhaps be thought advisable to try the operation of their system in St. Helier – postage stamps are sold in every street, and therefore all that is wanted is a safe receptacle for letters, which shall be cleared on the morning of the despatch of the London Mails, and at such times as may be requisite. Iron posts suited for the purpose may be erected at the corners of streets in such situations as may be desirable, or probably it may be found more serviceable to fix iron letter boxes about 5 feet from the ground, wherever permanently built walls, fit for the purpose, can be found, and I think that the public may safely be invited to use such boxes for depositing their letters.

Pillar boxes had been in use on the continent for just a few years previous. It is fairly obvious from the surviving correspondence that the use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office was already being considered within the upper echelons of postal headquarters. However, beyond a few wooden boxes or bags hung in railway stations and apertures in windows, the introduction of anything more substantial had not occurred in Britain. Trollope recommended the experimental use of pillar boxes at four sites in St. Helier in Jersey

John Tilley (also Trollope’s brother-in-law) who was to later succeed Rowland Hill as Secretary to the Post Office, stated that their use on Jersey would be a “good opportunity to try the system. Creswell also agreed with Trollope’s proposal, adding that – “… no better opportunity of trying the experiment of ‘roadside’ letter boxes could be selected”. Within the month, the Postmaster General had approved the experimental introduction of the pillar boxes. Trollope immediately followed this up with a request to extend the trial to St. Peter Port on neighbouring Guernsey and another three boxes were approved.

I beg to recommend that similar road side letter boxes may also be trialled at St. Peter Port in that island

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

Introduction of pillar boxes. (POST 14/35)

In December 1851, Tilley wrote to the Postmaster General regarding Trollope’s findings and proposals in Jersey, he finished his letter:

Mr. Trollope appears to have given much attention to the subject and your Lordship may perhaps think it right to inform him that you are much satisfied with the manner in which it has been treated

The Postmaster General agreed. Certainly, it was Trollope that aside from revising rural posts and pushing for efficiency also had the vision to see the potential for the first use of pillar boxes by the British Post Office and actually recommend and see through their introduction.

In a letter to the Postmaster General, Tilley referred to the proposed pillar boxes as being “well adapted for the purpose”. A local contractor – John Vaudin was engaged in July 1852 to construct the boxes for both Jersey and Guernsey at a cost of £7 each. Trollope’s roadside letter boxes, referred to as ‘assistant post offices’ by the Jersey Times, came into use on 23rd November 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

Post Office notice: Letter Boxes, Jersey, 1852.

The pillar boxes were hexagonal, cast-iron, about four feet high and red in colour (though red as a standardised colour for post boxes was not settled on until 1874). The Royal Arms appeared on three sides, the words ‘Post Office’ on two sides, and on the remaining face, the words ‘Letter Box’ beside the vertical aperture. Boxes were mounted on a granite block, two feet deep and raised four inches from the ground. The boxes were “very favourably received by the public”. One box at the head of Bath Street in St. Helier was found to be too small for the amount of correspondence posted and was resited in Five Oaks, to the North-East of St. Helier. A replacement larger box was authorised in July 1853 but was too large and would have caused too much of an obstruction. Not to be put off, the Post Office simply arranged for a wall to be knocked down and rebuilt to make room for it. In 1853, Creswell was already proposing another eight boxes for rural districts on Jersey.

Trollope also carried out similar revision of the rural posts on Guernsey and Alderney. On 8th February 1853, the boxes on Guernsey opened for business. The authorities in St. Peter Port had been so approving of the new pillar boxes that they had agreed that if the Post Office provided another box then they would meet the cost of construction of another two, making six in total.

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

1853 Guernsey pillar box, still in use today. (P5856)

Sadly, none of the boxes erected in Jersey in 1852 survive today, however one of those on Guernsey, first erected in 1853, is still receiving mail today. Another of the 1853 boxes originally in use on Guernsey survives in the BPMA collection as does one of the first mainland boxes erected the same year.

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

Pillar box errected on Guernsey, Channel Islands, 1853. (OB1996.653)

The first box on mainland Britain was manufactured by Abbott and Company and was erected at Botchergate, Carlisle around September 1853. That box too, has not survived the intervening years. Soon after, approval was given for Trollope’s proposed installation of pillar boxes in Gloucester while he was revising the rural posts there. It appears to be the case that each District Surveyor then became responsible for the establishment of pillar boxes in his district, sourcing not only the manufacturer but also frequently being responsible for the design. A National Standard design of pillar box was approved in 1859 but development in design carries on to this day.

Julian Stray – Curator

Visit our website to read more about the history of Letter Boxes, or go to Flickr to see images of some interesting pillar boxes.

The BPMA Shop is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the pillar box with a special offer on our Pillar Box Postcard set (set of 4 cards, £2.50) and Museum Collection Guide booklet & postcard set (1 guidebook and 1 set of 6 postcards, £7.00) – with images and information of the historic letter boxes from the BPMA Museum Collection. They are available online at www.postalheritage.org.uk/postcards and you can get them with FREE Postage & Packaging until 30 Nov 2012 – just enter the discount code L3TT3RBOX at checkout.

Pillar box gold

Team GB’s gold medal winning athletes are not only finding themselves appearing on stamps within 24 hours of their victory, they are also being honoured with a gold letter box in their hometown.

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

One of the gold letter boxes (image from Royal Mail Stamps & Collectables Facebook page)

As with the Gold Medal Winner stamps Royal Mail are dispatching staff to re-paint the letter boxes within a day of each athlete’s victory. There are now gold letter boxes from Penzance to Lossiemouth, with (hopefully) lots more to come.

The gold letter boxes are getting a lot of attention in the media and many people have asked us whether it is unusual to see letter boxes in colours other than the traditional red. In fact it isn’t. When letter boxes first appeared in the British Isles they were painted green so as not to intrude on the landscape.

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

One of the first pillar boxes to be used in the British Isles, introduced in the Channel Islands circa 1852-1853 (OB1996.653)

Unfortunately the colour green proved too unobtrusive and people were unable to find them. After experimenting with a chocolate brown colour, the Post Office finally settled on the bright red we know today.

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

The familiar red pillar box, a rare example of one produced during the reign of Edward VIII, 1936 (OB1994.45)

In the 1930s some boxes were also painted bright blue to promote the new Air Mail service. Our curator Julian Stray restored one of these rare blue boxes several years ago and you can read all about that on this blog.

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

A rare blue Air Mail pillar box

Visit http://www.goldpostboxes.com/ to see the locations of all the gold boxes, or read our article on Letter Boxes to find out more about their history.

Morten Collection Object of the Month: April 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.

by Bettina Trabant, Postal Heritage Officer, Bruce Castle Museum

Red letter boxes have been a familiar sight around Britain and are popular with tourists; tins and pencil sharpeners are only some of the many letter box shaped souvenirs available. However, very few people are aware of variations in their design or indeed know anything about their history.

Letter boxes are in fact a relatively recent phenomenon in the British Isles and their introduction has to be seen very much in conjunction with Rowland Hill’s postal reforms, together with the increase in literacy due to the demands of the industrial revolution. With an increase in literacy and therefore an increase in letter writing the old system of a post boy walking around the streets ringing a bell for people to come out and hand deliver him the letters to be posted was no longer efficient. The need for letter boxes, as used in Paris from as early as 1653, became apparent.

It was thanks to Anthony Trollope (who worked for the Post Office before finding fame as a novelist) that letter boxes were introduced to the UK. Trollope installed four pillar boxes in St Helier, Jersey, as an experiment on 23rd November 1852. The trial was successful, and in 1853 pillar boxes were erected in mainland Britain.

A wooden post box which is part of the Bruce Castle postal history collection

A wooden post box which is part of the Bruce Castle postal history collection

In the collection at Bruce Castle we hold a poster that shows the development and variation of pillar boxes prior to the red design familiar to us. Very early pillar boxes differ in two respects. Firstly, they do not bear the monarch’s cipher, and secondly they were green in colour, making them less visible to passers by, resulting in a number of people walking into them!

For this Object of the Month I have chosen a model of an 1857 pillar box, of which we hold two slightly different copies. The model is made of wood, is about 50cm high, has a slot for letters, and a plate with times and prices on it.

More on Letter Boxes can be found on the BPMA website.

Join us for Britain Loves Wikipedia

Britain Loves Wikipedia logo

Britain Loves Wikipedia

Throughout February, Britain Loves Wikipedia, a scavenger hunt and free content photography contest, will be taking place in museums and cultural institutions around Britain, including the British Postal Museum & Archive. People from all ages, backgrounds and communities can take part in this contest, which encourages the public to take photographs of the treasures of Britain’s museums and galleries, and then upload them to the Wikipedia site under a free licence, where they can be used to illustrate articles.

Philatelists and postal historians sometimes complain about the accuracy of articles on Wikipedia, but we hope that by participating in this initiative we can increase and improve the coverage of postal history on Wikipedia. Whether you’re a postal historian, a keen photographer, a Wikipedia article writer or just curious, join us at the British Postal Museum Store on Saturday 20 February to take part in this event.

The British Postal Museum Store, located in Debden, Essex houses our unique collection of postal vehicles, post boxes, telephone kiosks, sorting equipment, and more. It is different to a typical museum experience in that the Museum Store is a working space not designed specifically for public use, but one advantage of this for photographers is that none of the objects are behind glass, making photographing them much easier.

Pillar boxes on display at the Museum Store

Pillar boxes on display at the Museum Store

Participants in Britain Loves Wikipedia are asked to photograph objects which fit the themes of Love, Conflict, Transport, Daily Life and Freedom. The person who takes the best photograph at the Museum Store will win a trio of DVD box-sets celebrating the work of the GPO Film Unit.

As well as offering participants the chance to photograph some fascinating objects, we’re happy to offer guidance to anyone wanting to write and research new articles about postal history for Wikipedia. We’ll have some resources available on the day and we’ll be screening some of the GPO Film Unit films to inspire you.

Around 20 institutions around the country are participating in Britain Loves Wikipedia. More information about the initiative can be found at http://www.britainloveswikipedia.org/, or visit http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/blw for more details on our event. You don’t have to book to attend, but if you plan to come please RSVP on Facebook so we can get an idea of numbers.

The Wilkinson Collection on Flickr

Model letter box cigarette holder

A model letter box made of metal and brown leather. Quite decorative in style, it may well have been used to hold cigarettes.

Today we added some photos of items from the Wilkinson Collection to Flickr. The Wilkinson Collection is named after the late Ian Wilkinson, who collected over 3000 objects related to post boxes and the postal service. Amongst the items are money boxes, model letter boxes and model vehicles; some feature characters such as Snoopy, Mickey Mouse or Postman Pat, or were manufactured by companies such as Lego, Fisher Price or Dinky.

The BPMA’s predecessor, the National Postal Museum, received the Wilkinson Collection in 1989, but it is only in the past year that it has been catalogued by Collections Cataloguer Emma Harper, and made available on our online catalogue (read more about this in Emma’s blogs).

The photos we’ve put on Flickr today show some of the Collection’s highlights and oddities, from a Mickey Mouse money box to a letter box cigarette holder. There really is something for everyone in the Wilkinson Collection!

The Big Draw at the Museum Store

by Laura Dixon, Learning Officer

BPMA will be holding a Big Draw event on Saturday 10 October at the BPMA Museum Store from 10.00am – 4.00pm to fit in with this year’s theme of Colour in the Big Draw.

The Big Draw aims to get everyone drawing – adults and children alike. BPMA is delighted to be working with designer and illustrator Izzy Jaffer, who will be helping visitors create their own detailed colour drawings of objects on display. If you think you can’t draw, Izzy will show you otherwise. She says “…anyone can draw anything by simply breaking down the subject into simple shapes and adding in the detail once the shape and proportion are right.”

Drawing sessions will be drop in from 10.15am – 12.30pm and 1.30pm -3.30pm. All are welcome at this free, day long event, but please book (see details below).

As well as the drawing workshops, this open day will also feature tours of the Store with our Curator, films, worksheets and quizzes and the chance to win special BPMA prizes!

A selection of GPO Film Unit films will be chosen to fit in with the theme of Colour – such as Night Mail 2, an updated version of the classic 1936 Night Mail, made in 1986 in colour with poetry by Blake Morrison.

We will also show some of the pioneering colour films made for the GPO in the 1930s by experimental director and artist Len Lye. One of Lye’s films, A Colour Box (1935), was made without a camera; Lye painted directly onto the celluloid and in doing so created a film which divided audience opinion at the time between adulation and derision.

Other Lye films to be shown include Rainbow Dance (1936), a 5 minute ‘film ballet’, and Trade Tattoo (1937), which uses some leftover footage from other GPO films (such as the first Night Mail) to make a short film about the British working day, whilst also encouraging viewers to Post Early.

The open day offers an exciting opportunity to see many of the BPMA’s collection of objects on display in a working store.

What is a Store?

Visitors should be prepared for something different from a traditional museum when coming to the Store. Because the BPMA does not currently have the space to display all of its larger objects on a permanent basis, they are kept safely in the Store at Debden. There aren’t the usual interpretive panels you would see in a museum, and there may be some items that are undergoing repairs, as well as some new acquisitions.

The BPMA Store contains objects ranging from the desk of Rowland Hill (founder of the Penny Post), to a carriage from Post Office Underground Railway, letter boxes, bicycles, motorcycles and more.

To book your place, please contact info@postalheritage.org.uk or phone 020 7239 2570 and state whether you would like to com in the morning or afternoon.

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