Tag Archives: Postal Union Congress 1929

PUC £1 facsimiles on sale next week

50 of the Postal Union Congress £1 facsimiles that were printed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition will be available to buy from the BPMA from 13 December.

PUC £1 facsimile

The price will be £50 (+ £4.00 postage and packaging), and they will come with a unique numbered insert.

The Postal Union Congress £1 is one of the most desired of all British stamps. It was issued in 1929 to commemorate the ninth Postal Union Congress in London. You can find out more about the PUC £1 on our website.

How to order:
We will not be taking orders until Monday 13th November at 9am.
Telphone: + 44 (0)20 7239 5125
E-mail: mailto:shop@postalheritage.org.uk

UPDATE, 13 December 2010: The PUC £1 facsimiles are sold out.

80 years of the airmail etiquette

Airmail etiquettes reading “By Air Mail / Par Avion” were first used in Britain in mid-August 1920, making them 80 years old this month. Their introduction came less than a year after the first international scheduled public airmail service, from London to Paris, started and almost exactly two years after the French had first applied airmail etiquettes reading “Par Avion” to their airmails, on the inaugural Paris to Saint-Nazaire flight.

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Before the airmail etiquette was introduced in Britain senders would hand write “By Air Mail” on their letters, or a cachet reading “Air Mail Express” would be applied. But the French model of etiquettes, to be attached by the sender, was a more efficient option.

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

The first British airmail etiquettes were light blue in colour, while the first French airmail etiquettes had black text on a dark red background, but at the 1929 Postal Union Congress it was agreed that airmail etiquettes from all nations would be blue.

By the 1930s it was also common practice to include “Par Avion” or “By Air Mail” – or both – on an airmail etiquette, with some countries including up to four languages on theirs. “Par Avion” was added to British airmail etiquettes by 1928, as can be seen on this commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi in 1929.

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

The airmail etiquette also became a way of advertising the airmail service, which was being heavily promoted by the Post Office in the 1930s. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s airmail wings, prominent on airmail publicity at this time, even appeared on the etiquettes of the period.

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

What is perhaps most notable about the airmail etiquette, 80 years on, is how little the design has changed. Today’s airmail etiquettes are still roughly the same shade of blue as in the 1920s, and the wording and design is also very similar – the greatest change has been in the technology, with most of today’s etiquettes being self-adhesive.

Etiquettes: Par Avion by Air Mail, by Frank G. Jones, 1992
George V & the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity, by Douglas N. Muir, 2010

Treasures of the Archive

by Zoe van Well, Archives Assistant

Hi, I am Zoe van Well and this is the first time I have blogged for the BPMA. So why now? Well, recently I contributed to the leaflet for the Treasures of the Archive exhibition. It is housed in the Search Room of the Archive and is free for all to view. You can also download a copy from our website.

In writing the leaflet I was able to not only test my knowledge built up over the past year as an Archives Assistant but also to gain more! I found it so exciting to make connections between the themes highlighted by the Treasures of the Archive exhibition.

The Machin Head mould

The Machin Head mould

One item is The Machin Head mould. Other themes include; Stamps That Never Were, featuring a page from David Gentleman’s design book, and also a World Cup Stamp commissioned for the Scotland team; Design in the GPO, The Mail Coach; and the list goes on!

I found that so many pivotal moments of postal history exposed by the exhibition directly influenced each other. The Machin Head, for example, is a mould sculpted and cast by Arnold Machin and was used to create the definitive stamp still in use today. (Everybody will have used one at some point in their life!) After I read some of Douglas Muir’s book on the topic, titled A Timeless Classic and sold in the search room, I became aware of the challenges which arose during the design process. In particular I realised the roles David Gentleman and the then Postmaster General Tony Benn played, given they were questioning the very use of the Monarch’s Head being present on stamps!

Colour trials for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929

Various colours were trialled for the Postal Union Congress £1 stamp of 1929. Eventually, grey was selected.

This lead to me realising special stamps were very limited in number until the 1960’s, full stop! The Postal Union Congress commemorative stamps featuring George V (of which the £1 Stamp, 1929 is displayed in the exhibition) was only the second Commemorative Stamp to be commissioned. The first were designed for the British Empire Exhibition held in1924 and 1925. These stamps can currently be viewed at the Empire Mail: George V and the GPO exhibition at the Guildhall Art Gallery.

I must say though, whilst looking into these stamps I unearthed other research material which can sometimes be overlooked, including supplements issued in the Philatelic Bulletin. The Philatelic Bulletin is a small newsletter published by Royal Mail, and it includes articles on special stamps about to be issued. One supplement in particular does a great job of explaining the difference between definitive and special stamps. We have a complete collection of these Bulletins in the search room and they can be a great starting point for projects undergone by school pupils. They are also a great way for everybody to learn about events in philatelic history. Of course, if you become interested in an event and would like to see original material relating to it, either I or one my colleagues in the Search Room will be pleased to help you locate some if you wish!

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

One of only eight penny black proof registration sheets, produced before letters were inserted into the plate

Getting back to the Treasure of the Archive Exhibition, don’t forget we also have on display a Penny Black Proof Registration sheet (1st April 1840), of which there are only eight and all are cared for here at the British Postal Museum and Archive. We also have a Queen Victoria Channel Islands Pillar Box, one of the very first to be made and which were trialled on the Channel Islands during 1852 and 1853.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit us while this exciting and rare material is still on display! Why not make a day of it by browsing our catalogue either online or in our search room after viewing the exhibition. You may also prefer to take inspiration from the search room information sheets such as Travelling Post Offices, Mail Rail, Animals in the Post Office, The Post Office in the Second World War, Women in the Post Office and Airmail. If you find something takes your interest, we can help you find a particular item and produce it for you from the repository.

We enjoy showing you original material as it can often be a thrilling experience; both for staff and visitors, whether it is a time bill, a report or a list of ingredients for cancellation inks!

Treasures of the Archive can be viewed in our Search Room until April 2011. For information on visiting the Search Room please see http://www.postalheritage.org.uk/visiting.

The Accession of King George V

Today is National Stamp Day, marking the anniversary of the world’s first postage stamp, the penny black, first issued 170 years ago; today also marks the 100th anniversary of the accession of King George V – the philatelist king. In celebration, and to mark London 2010 Festival of Stamps, Royal Mail has issued a new miniature sheet.

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet features a 1st Class stamp and a £1 stamp.

The 1st Class stamp features the familiar Machin profile of Queen Elizabeth II, superimposed over the profile of George V, designed by the Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal and used on stamps from 1912-1936 (known as the “profile head”).

The £1 stamp shows the Mackennal profile on the right, while the left hand side shows the three quarter profile of George V engraved by JAC Harrison from a photograph by W & D Downey, the court photographers. Known as the “Downey head”, this profile was used on the first definitive stamps of George V’s reign, until the Mackennal head supplanted it in 1912. These are contained within wreaths with a crown centre top and a couchant lion on the lower edge.

The border of the miniature sheet features a detail inspired by the engraving of St George and the Dragon by Bradbury Wilkinson & Co from the 1929 ninth Universal Postal Union Congress stamps.

Two pictorial First Day of Issue postmarks are available; one features the George V crown, the other George V’s cipher.

The Accession of King George V first day of issue postmarks

The Accession of King George V first day of issue postmarks

The Accession of King George V miniature sheet is available from Royal Mail.

More information on the Downey and profile heads, and the commemorative stamps issued during the reign of George V can be found on our website.

Stick it in the Family Album

by Adrian Steel, Director

The Lincoln Stamp Album and The Strand Stamp Album

Two of Frank Steel's stamp albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If philately is the new black, GPO posters are the rock ‘n’ roll!

Royal Mail’s Classic Album Covers stamp issue isn’t the first time that the Post Office has gone ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ – it also happened back in the 1930s when the Post Office began a wide-ranging artist-commissioning programme to drive its public information campaigns. This led to some of the most exciting work produced in what is now known as ‘mid-century modern’ poster design.

The BPMA is fortunate in holding a treasure trove of Twentieth-Century poster design, a small portion of which was the subject of our recent exhibition, Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters 1930-1960. The exhibition included many excellent examples of public information campaign posters produced by the Post Office and we were delighted with the positive response to it. The Guardian online included a slideshow version of highlights from the exhibition and the winter issue of Illustration Magazine featured an article on our poster collection.

A GPO poster encouraging people to pack parcels carefully is illustrated by a shattered cow-shaped milk jug. The cow has a tear in its eye.

Please Pack Parcels Very Carefully by Tom Eckersley

Also smitten were the designers at ‘poptastic’ greetings card producer Umpen Editions who have developed ‘Post Modern’, a new range of cards based on eight posters from our collection. This includes several featured in the exhibition. The ever-popular, if heart-rending (please somebody put him back together!!!) ‘please pack parcels very carefully’ broken dog design by Tom Eckersley is included, making this design now available in greetings card, print-on-demand poster, fridge magnet, and fridge magnet with virtual gift formats.  A cow design from the same campaign is featured, as is Pat Keely’s poster artwork for the GPO film, Night Mail. Lesser known, but equally visually appealing work by artists Harry Stevens and Robert Broomfield are in the range, along with a wartime poster image from artist Hans Schleger (aka Zero). We are delighted with the new cards – everyone in the office has their own personal favourite.

The poster for Night Mail shows a railway track and railway signals at night.

Pat Keely's poster for Night Mail

Poster campaigns, public information films, and documentary photography emerged from the Post Office during the 1930’s under the auspices of its first Public Relations Officer, Sir Stephen Tallents, who joined the department in 1933 towards the end of George V’s reign. Indeed it was the social change, coupled with developments in mass communications techniques and processes which had occurred earlier during the King’s reign which enabled production not only of some of philately’s now most loved stamp issues (‘British Empire Exhibition’, ‘Seahorses’ and ‘PUC Pound’ issues for example) but that also laid the basis for a subsequent ‘heyday’ of GPO poster design.

The events and innovations of this extraordinary period in philatelic design history will be the focus of the BPMA’s major exhibition for 2010: Empire Mail: George V and the GPO at London’s Guildhall Art Gallery. The exhibition, part of the London 2010 Festival of Stamps, will look at the passions of King George V, the ‘philatelist king’, alongside an extraordinary period of innovation in the General Post Office which took place during his reign.

The Post Modern card range will be available shortly from the BPMA’s webshop.

Welcome to the London 2010: Festival of Stamps

After a long time planning and a lot of work by many people at the BPMA and other organisations the London 2010: Festival of Stamps will soon begin.

A 1963 US stamp depicting a broken chain and the words "Emacipation Proclamation", produced to celebrate 100 years since the abolition of slavery.

Stamp from the United States of America, 1963. Courtesy of Sands of Time

We will be making a buzz throughout 2010 about stamps and introduce many new people to the wonderful world of stamps, stamp design and postal heritage. One of the first events of the Festival is Post Abolition: Commemorative stamps from around the world (18 January – 30 June 2010). This new display in the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery of the Museum of London Docklands looks at how the abolition of slavery has been commemorated through the everyday postage stamp. 

The Festival continues with an exciting programme of exhibitions and events planned, with something to appeal to everyone.

As well as celebrating stamps, London 2010: Festival of Stamps also marks the centenary of the accession of George V – the philatelist king. To mark the occasion, don’t miss the BPMA’s major exhibition Empire Mail: George V & The GPO in co-operation with Guildhall Art Gallery and the Royal Philatelic Collection. The exhibition opens at the prestigious Guildhall Art Gallery on 7 May 2010 and runs until 25 July 2010. Many items from the BPMA’s wonderful collections will be on display in this exhibition that explores the life of King George V, through his personal passions as a philatelist and wider world events. There will also be a display of exquisite stamps and stamp artwork from the Royal Philatelic Collection.

Postal Union Congress £1 stamp, 1929. Shows King George V and an English knight on horseback.

Postal Union Congress £1, 1929. GBR02.25

Later in the year, BPMA will be releasing a new book about George V by our curator of philately, Douglas Muir. Based on extensive research, much of it original, this will be an vital addition to anyone interested in the period, which saw some of the most beautiful and highly regarded of British stamps, such as the seahorses and the PUC £1. 

Alongside Empire Mail: George V & The GPO, the BPMA will also be staging a display of Treasures of the Archive at our Search Room in Freeling House. The exhibition will feature unique pieces from the collections of The British Postal Museum & Archive. This includes a sheet of penny black stamps and the original die, among many other items of unparalleled significance in UK postal history.


As well as our own exhibitions, the BPMA is co-ordinating an exciting programme of events with partner organisations throughout 2010.

British Library Philatelic Rarities
British Library
1 February – 31 December 2010
The permanent 1,000 frame ‘Philatelic Exhibition’ will be refreshed with new or not recently exhibited material from the British Library’s world class collections. There will also be a programme of educational talks.

An early air mail envelope

Air mail envelope. Image courtesy of The Trustees of the Bath Postal Museum

King George V Exhibition
Bath Postal Museum
1 February – 30 October 2010
The Bath Postal Museum is staging an exhibition depicting the events that occurred during the reign of King George V (1910 to 1936). Items on display will illustrate how events that occurred during this period resulted in changes to peoples’ lives and their standard of living.

Congo (Katanga): 10 F Stamp with Air Katanga airplane tail

Congo (Katanga): 10 F Stamp with Air Katanga airplane tail

Impressions of Africa: money, medals and stamps
British Museum, Room 69a
1 April 2010 – January 2011
In 2010 17 African countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence from colonial rule. To mark this occasion the British Museum will be holding a small display looking at the images of Africa presented on coins, banknotes, medals, stamps and seals made for the continent during the past 100 years.

Throughout 2010 the Association of British Philatelic Societies (ABPS) will be holding regional events. Please see the London 2010 website to find out more about shows near you.

Other events are still to be confirmed, so don’t forget to visit our new-look website at www.london2010.org.uk for all the very latest news, visitor information and opening times. And please do check details before travelling as dates may change.


Alongside exhibitions and displays, the BPMA will also be holding Festival related activities. Highlights are listed below, but please see the London 2010 website, or the BPMA website to find out more.

Central Telegraph Office (GPO West) decorated with flags for the Jubilee of George V.

Central Telegraph Office (GPO West) decorated with flags for the Jubilee of George V. POST 118 290

Walking Tours

This year, for the first time, we have introduced two types of walking tour. The first type introduces Highlights of GPO London (Saturday 26 June and Tuesday 13 July, 1 ½ hours). The tour takes you in to the heart of old GPO London, exploring over 300 years of postal history, and developments in the buildings and iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The second, longer Extended Walking Tour (Saturday 8 May, Sunday 5 September. Approximately 3 hours) offers the chance to explore GPO London in more depth.  


A special programme of talks has been devised for the Festival, each one covering a different aspect of philately or postal history. The programme starts off on Thursday 11 March (7-8pm, Phoenix centre) with a panel discussion on Stamps in the 21st Century. Guests from across the spectrum of philately and stamp design will discuss stamp design and the future of stamps.

As you can see, 2010 is packed full of events, exhibitions and activities for people to find out more about stamps, postal history and stamp design. We hope you can join us at the London 2010: Festival of Stamps soon!