Tag Archives: postage stamps

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.

Christmas stamps 2011

Each Christmas Royal Mail processes 2 billion items of post; many sent this year will feature the new Christmas stamps issued today.

Christmas 2011 minisheet

Christmas 2011 minisheet

Royal Mail’s policy for Christmas stamps is to alternate non-secular and secular themes. The 2010 stamps featured children’s characters Wallace and Gromit, and this year the Nativity is the theme. The seven new stamps are inspired by verses from the Gospels of Mathew and Luke, and recognise that 2011 is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

2nd Class – Joseph visited by the Angel
Inspired by Matthew 1:21 where the angel tells the sleeping Joseph: ‘And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins’

1st Class – Madonna and Child
Inspired by Matthew 1:23, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us’

2nd Class Large – Joseph visited by the Angel
Inspired by Matthew 1:21 where the angel tells the sleeping Joseph: ‘And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins’

1st Class Large – Madonna and Child
Inspired by Matthew 1:23, ‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us’
The wider format of the Large stamp reveals the stable in the background.

68p – Baby Jesus in the Manger
Inspired by Luke 2:7, ‘And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn’.

£1.10 – Shepherds visited by the Angel
Inspired by Luke 2:10, ‘And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people’.

£1.65 Wise Men and Star
Inspired by Matthew 2:10: ‘When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy’.

Two first day of issue postmarks, also inspired by the King James Bible, are available.

Christmas 2011 postmarks

Christmas 2011 postmarks

Stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/stamps and the Royal Mail eBay shop, and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Great British Railways

Are trains and railways the most covered topic on British commemorative stamps? A survey of the topic certainly suggests as much. We counted 19 British stamp issues which feature something related to the railways – toy trains, famous trains, railway stations and infrastructure, the invention of steam power and the locomotive, even a pub sign with a train on it. Now a 20th issue – Great British Railways – can join the list.

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways stamp issue

Great British Railways, issued today, celebrates the ‘Big Four’ railway companies and features some of the classic locomotives manufactured and used in the UK. The stamps also mark the 50th anniversary of the building of the last UK steam locomotive, British Rail’s Evening Star.

By the end of the 19th century, numerous private railway companies competed fiercely across the British Isles, but by 1923, with profits waning due to the increasing competition from cars, buses and lorries, over 120 private railway companies were merged into the Big Four.

These comprised of the London, Midland & Scottish (including the Northern Counties Committee in Northern Ireland), the London & North Eastern, the Great Western – which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year – and the Southern Railways.

After the Second World War the Big Four became British Railways in 1948, and in March 1960, Evening Star brought to an end over 130 years of steam-locomotive building for Britain’s mainline railways, leaving Swindon Works in a blaze of publicity in 1960.

The nostalgia for classic locomotives and trains perhaps explains why the railways have featured so frequently on stamps, along with the historic importance of the railway network to the British postal service. Below are some of the best-known British stamp issues to feature trains, which is your favourite?

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975

150th Anniversary of the Public Railways, 1975. This issue came about partly as a result of interest amongst philatelists and railway enthusiasts for a set of stamps featuring trains.

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980

150th Anniversary of Liverpool to Manchester Railway, 1980. Designed by David Gentleman, these stamps commemorate the world’s first timetabled intercity railway.

Famous Trains, 1985

Famous Trains, 1985. This set was issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway Company.

The Age of Steam, 1994.

The Age of Steam, 1994. A celebration of the railways using archival black and white photographs.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Opening of the Channel Tunnel, 1994. Similar designs were also issued in France.

Classic Locomotives, 2004

Classic Locomotives, 2004. These stamps commemorate some of the UK’s finest preserved steam locomotives.

The Great British Railways stamps are now available from Royal Mail Stamps & Collecting.

Artistamps 2010: An International Mail Art show organised by the Shopping Trolley Gallery

by Martha Aitchison, Mail Artist

In June the Beckenham Sorting Office hosted a small exhibition, very different from the usual art show. This was an international exhibition of fake postage stamps, made by artists and therefore called Artistamps, to which 53 artists from 18 countries responded.

Mail art from all over the world

I organised it in recognition of the contribution made by the postal services to Mail Art, an art movement that started in the 1960’s, consisting in the postal exchange of artwork among artists. It is not known how many of us are involved in this very democratic activity where no work is ever rejected and nothing is ever sold. We mount shows in unusual places; my favourite is my shopping trolley. In the Mail Art universe there are virtual countries and even virtual planets. Most artists have a nickname, or two, and it is all about friendship and fun but opinions are expressed on serious issues as well.

Mail art from all over the world

With many Mail Artists now using the Internet for their art exchanges, some of us are fighting to keep alive our dear ‘Snail Mail Art’, as artwork sent by post is affectionately called. My own contribution to the show is a stamp on this subject.

Mail art from all over the world

Here are photos of the Shopping Trolley Gallery (STG) and of my stamp, and then of some of the stamps in the show. To see all the Artistamps 2010 Show please visit my web site: www.mailartmartha.org.uk

The shopping trolley gallery

The shopping trolley gallery

And follow the shopping trolley around…

King George V Registration Sheets

by Stuart Aitken, Collections Assistant

The entire collection of King George V registration sheets is now fully accessible on our online catalogue. Registration sheets, often imperforate, exist as the very first prints taken from the printing plate for each stamp in sheet form. The collection consists of 1,027 sheets in total.

The reign of King George V (6th May 1910 – 20th January 1936) marked one of the most fascinating eras of British postage stamps; a period of change, progression and vast improvements with stamp production. The King himself was a proud philatelist so it is no great surprise that such diversity and experimentation occurred during this time.

2½d Downey Head 1911

2½d Downey Head 1911

The first King George V stamps, the ½d and 1d Downey Head, released on the 22nd June 1911 to coincide with the King’s coronation, immediately faced a storm of criticism as it was the first time a three-quarter profile of the monarch had been used (up to this stage all Great Britain issues had previously used a side-on profile). It was also argued that the use of a typographed image from a photograph had not been hugely successful. Consequently the Downey Head was replaced in August 1912 by the designs of Bertram Mackennal, which saw a return to the profile head. Since the Downey issues, all Great Britain stamps have used a profile head design.

½d Photogravure 1935

½d Photogravure 1935

In 1934 a new design for definitive issues was introduced which was printed using the Photogravure process. Utilising high-speed production and at a lower cost, these stamps underwent subtle resizing and modifications over the years to allow improvements. Information such as this can be found in the description field of each catalogue entry, along with a scanned section of each sheet.

1d British Empire Exhibition 1924

1d British Empire Exhibition 1924

The first British commemorative stamps were also issued during the reign of King George V to mark the 1924/25 Empire Exhibition at Wembley, featuring a Lion in a striking stance. Following this issue other commemorative issues were subsequently produced to mark the 1929 London Postal Union Congress and the 1935 Silver Jubilee of the King.

Also included in the collection are registration sheets of the high value Seahorse issues, the first ever postage due stamps, colour trials, black proof sheets and official governmental overprints relating to their official use in various British territories outside the UK.

Each catalogue entry in the collection is detailed, comprehensible and provides a great research tool and insight into this unique collection of British registration sheets.

Empire Mail: last chance to see

Our exhibition Empire Mail: George V and the GPO ends this Sunday after almost three months at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Putting together the exhibition was a huge undertaking for our curators and exhibitions team, as well as many others.

Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at the Guildhall Art Gallery

Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at the Guildhall Art Gallery

We were particularly pleased to work in partnership with the Royal Philatelic Collection – one of the greatest collections of stamps and postal history in the world – and to exhibit some of its treasures alongside our own.

Treasures from the Royal Philatelic Collection on display

Treasures from the Royal Philatelic Collection on display

While there are no plans to re-mount Empire Mail, we have now uploaded photos of the exhibition to Flicker, and you can continue to enjoy the online version of the exhibition on our website.

World Cup stamp designs from 1970 uncovered by archivists

World Cup 1970 stamp design recently uncovered by BPMA

World Cup 1970 stamp design recently uncovered by BPMA

Just days before the 2010 World Cup kicks off, unused postage stamp designs from the 1970 World Cup have been uncovered by archivists at the BPMA. The designs, by one of the UK’s most prolific stamp designers, David Gentleman, were commissioned in the event that England should have a successive World Cup victory following its win in 1966. 

1966 England Winners stamp

1966 England Winners stamp

It’s thought that David Gentleman was briefed to prepare the 1970 designs after the more hasty production of the celebratory stamp for the World Cup four years previously. Although the Royal Mail had produced a hugely popular set of stamps to mark England’s hosting of the World Cup in 1966, when the national team won there was only time to modify the existing stamp with the words ‘ENGLAND WINNERS’ to celebrate the triumph.

Royal Mail was obviously determined to be more prepared in 1970, which is why it commissioned designer David Gentleman, although sadly England didn’t experience the same victory in 1970 and that the stamp designs were filed away and forgotten.

The BPMA holds all the original artwork for both the 1966 stamps and the unseen 1970 stamp designs. Those who would like to see the stamps and the designs may visit The British Postal Museum & Archive, but please see our website for details on viewing philatelic material beforehand.

New records available via our online catalogue

Don’t be a programme pirate

Don’t be a programme pirate (POST 110/4328)

Following an upload to our online catalogue earlier today, we’ve increased the amount of records searchable via our online catalogue to 89,240 – an increase of over 1500 descriptions of objects, documents, photographs and philatelic material.

These new descriptions include additional records of POST 110: Printed Publicity Material. Many of these new records describe posters placed in post offices advertising the latest stamp issues and posters for telephone kiosks advertising a variety of services, including Post Office Savings Bank.

As I grow, My savings will grow. Save regularly with the Savings Bank

As I grow, My savings will grow. Save regularly with the Savings Bank (POST 110/4329)

One telephone kiosk poster in particular tells users ‘Don’t be a programme pirate”, while another (POST 110/4329), showing a young child’s face, declares “As I grow, My savings will grow. Save regularly with the Savings Bank”. Post 110 also includes a sizeable collection of education posters from the 1980s which were aimed for classroom use.

Over 300 descriptions of King George V Registration Sheets have also been added. These comprise of low value Photogravures and Overprints. Many of the overprints were for use in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, now modern-day Botswana.

Harrison and Sons in 1934 pioneered the use of the photogravure printing process in Britain. It introduced high-speed production and reduced the overall cost. The original designs were based on photographs meaning a new issue could reach the printing cylinder stage much quicker than preparing printing plates by the typographic process.

KGV ½d green photogravure, booklet panes of six, imperforate 1935 Jul 26 (POST 150/KGV/B/1557)

KGV ½d green photogravure, booklet panes of six, imperforate 1935 Jul 26 (POST 150/KGV/B/1557)

Search the BPMA catalogue at http://catalogue.postalheritage.org.uk

Notes from the Colne Valley Postal History Museum curator’s workshop

by Steve Wright, Colne Valley Postal History Musuem

With just over a week to go before our first Open Day as part of London 2010: Festival of Stamps, it has been a frantic all-hands-on-deck time to get things ready here at Colne Valley Postal Museum.

The restoration of our 1935 Jubilee Telephone Kiosk has not proceeded as far as I would have liked and it now looks unlikely that it will be on site and complete by May 29th; hopefully it will all be here in time for our second Open Day on 10th July. This was caused by one of the key restorers being stranded in Spain by volcanic dust – which lost us two weeks in the schedule.

Telegraph head at Colne Valley Postal History Museum

Telegraph head at Colne Valley Postal History Museum

The good news is that a third large telegraph pole has arrived and been erected, and fitted with new arms to display 14 different types of insulators from our collection. Together with the two existing poles, this brings to 27 the total of different types of telegraph insulator on display. It also allowed another, different, George V notice plate to be displayed on the correct type of pole. Ultimately, the poles will allow the Push Button A mechanism in the restored kiosk to be connected to the national network. All the poles have been shortened to allow our visitors to get a good view of the signage and pole furniture that would normally be 22 feet above us!

Colne Valley Postal History Museum's Type D pillar box, 1932

Colne Valley Postal History Museum's Type D pillar box, 1932

On the post box front, our Type D pillar of 1932 has now been fitted with a second enamel notice plate – the vertical format “coin drop” notice – and has also been fitted with a Type F booklet dispensing mechanism. This will be operational, sadly at the rate of 50 pence instead of 2d – on the day. Our other George V boxes are being cleaned or repainted and a very special project is lined up for a spare GR wall box we have – watch this space!

Two more vintage Stamp Vending Machines have been restored – one from the early reign of George V. This was shown and demonstrated successfully during our visit to the Post Office Vehicles Club rally in April and it will be available and working on the Open Days for visitors to try. It is believed to date from 1912-1915 and is an original Kermode mechanism.

The Philatelic element has not been forgotten and the displays on the day will feature enlargements of some of the best-known designs from the King George V reign together with our own extensive displays of Seahorse high values overprinted for use abroad: pages from Nauru, British Bechuanaland, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Levant, Morroco, Tangier and the Irish Free State will be on display.

Colne Valley Postal History Museum will be open on 29th May, 10th July and 11th and 12th September 2010, and by appointment to groups. For further information on the open days please see the London 2010: Festival of Stamps website.