Tag Archives: postmark

Postmarketing: slogans from the seventies

Kim Noulton who has been volunteering with the BPMA blogs about what she has found among a series of Post Office registered files in the Royal Mail Archive which were created by the Marketing Department in the 1970s.

Since August I have been cataloguing second review material; this means that the files have undergone a decision-making process in which they have been selected for permanent preservation. Topics that I have catalogued so far, which are now available to search on the BPMA online catalogue, include files pertaining to strategies conceived by the BBC and GPO on broadcasting capabilities in the event of nuclear fallout from the 1950s; the creation of the postal minibus service, which includes photographs; and postmark slogans from the 1960s to 1980s. It is the last topic that I will be discussing in this post.

At first sight, postmark slogans seem an inoffensive form of marketing; a tool for the Post Office to promote its new postcode system to the public or advertising events on a wide scale. However, one such campaign led to worries about causing offence to the highest office in Britain; the Crown.

File POST 154/3 details how Chessington Zoo, an establishment housing exotic animals since the 1930s, commissioned designs for a postmark in 1972. The result was the slogan ‘Chessington Zoo Open Every Day of the Year’ and a rather harmless-looking monkey which however, when stamped over the Queen’s head, created an outrageously unflattering image. Such was the outcry that the Lord Chamberlain’s office became involved, to which the Post Office responded promptly by creating new designs for the Zoo. Disaster was thankfully averted with the help of an elephant.

The monkey slogan overprinted on a stamp. (POST 154/3)

The monkey slogan overprinted on a stamp. (POST 154/3)

The revised Chessington Zoo slogan featuring an elephant. (POST 154/3)

The revised Chessington Zoo slogan featuring an elephant. (POST 154/3)

The material in the file takes a different perspective when it is revealed that a woman made a complaint to the Post Office about the nature of the postmark. Her concern was that the postmark was forced upon her when receiving a letter, despite her dislike for zoos, circuses and any other institution keeping wild animals in captivity. This raises questions about advertisements in general being forced upon people in receipt of their post without their consent.

One other controversy revealed in this section of Marketing Department files (POST 154, the first part of this series to be available online) concerns the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland  in the early 1970s. The file (POST 154/1) documents the unlawful overprinting of stamps with politically motivated messages, including ‘Support Sinn Fein’ and ‘Dail Uladh 1971’. The file itself shows how something as simple as postmark slogans can create a political storm.

List of stamps on sale from the Irish Republican Philatelic Office, Dublin. (POST 154/1)

List of stamps on sale from the Irish Republican Philatelic Office, Dublin. (POST 154/1)

With the Irish Republican Army (IRA) upping the intensity of their attacks during 1971, such messages caused alarm and great offence, especially to those who had suffered fatal casualties at the hands of the IRA. One serving officer of the Queen’s Regiment explains his view in a letter, stating very clearly that he believes the Irish government knew about the overprinting and was therefore ‘wilfully supporting terrorism’.

An interesting feature of this particular file is that the Post Office’s policy, available to view within the files, was to reject all manner of political statements, with their standpoint to remain unbiased in its place as a public service.

Search for these files on our online catalogue.

UK A-Z Part 1

New stamps issued today by Royal Mail celebrate some of the United Kingdom’s best known and most loved landmarks. UK A-Z Part 1 consists of 12 1st class stamps featuring iconic structures from The Angel of the North to Lindisfarne Priory.

The Angel of the North – a contemporary steel sculpture designed by Antony Gormley, located just outside Gateshead.

Blackpool Tower – a tourist attraction in Lancashire. It was opened to the public on 14 May 1894 and was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Carrick-a-Rede -a rope suspension bridge near Ballintoy, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Originally built by salmon fishermen, the bridge links the mainland to the tiny Carrick Island.

Downing Street – probably the most famous front door in the world, 10 Downing Street is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Government and the official residence and office of the Prime Minister.

Edinburgh Castle – dominating the skyline of Edinburgh, this castle is positioned atop the volcanic Castle Rock. There has been a royal castle here since the reign of David I in the 12th century.

Forth Bridge – a cantilever railway bridge over the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. It was opened on 4 March 1890.

Glastonbury Tor – a hill at Glastonbury, Somerset, which features the roofless St. Michael’s Tower. The site is managed by the National Trust and has been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is believed by some to be the Avalon of Arthurian legend.

Harlech Castle – located in Gwynedd, Wales, Harlech is a concentric castle, constructed atop a cliff close to the Irish Sea. It was built by Edward I during his conquest of Wales.

Ironbridge – a village on the River Severn, at the heart of the Ironbridge Gorge, in Shropshire. The village developed beside, and takes its name from, the famous Iron Bridge, a 30 metre (100 ft) cast iron bridge that was built across the river there in 1779. The bridge was the first cast iron arch bridge in the world.

Jodrell Bank – and an internationally renowned landmark in the world of astronomy. The giant Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank has been quietly probing the depths of space since 1957. It is still one of the biggest and most powerful radio telescopes in the world.

Kursaal – a 20th Century entertainment venue that was at the cutting edge of architectural design. The Kursaal in Southend, Essex included the latest attractions and rides in its heyday before World War II. After a post-war decline, the building was redeveloped in the 1990s and is now a listed building.

Lindisfarne Priory – a monastery on the tidal island of Lindisfarne off England’s north-east coast (also known as Holy Island). It was founded by Irish born Saint Aidan c. AD 635 and was the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England until the 9th Century.

Two different pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ are available for this issue, featuring Edinburgh Castle and Blackpool Tower.

UK A-Z Part 1 stamps and products are available from the Royal Mail website. UK A-Z Part 2, covering letters M to Z, will be issued in April 2012.

350 Years of the Postmark

Today Royal Mail has released a generic sheet to mark 350 years of the postmark. The sheet offers a fascinating visual record for postmark and postal heritage enthusiasts. Alongside the stamps are different postmarks that illustrate, in date order, the development of the postmark.

350 Years of the Postmark Generic Sheet

350 Years of the Postmark Generic Sheet

Henry Bishop, who was Postmaster General from 25 June 1660 until 6 April 1663, is credited with introducing the postmark. Postmarks are believed to have come into use in late April 1661. Bishop later explained the reasons for the postmark’s introduction as follows:

A stamp is invented that is putt upon every letter shewing the day of the month that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carryer may dare detayne a letter from post to post; which before was usual

“Bishop marks”, as these original postmarks were titled, are known to have been used in England, Ireland, Scotland, the North American colonies (including New York, Philadelphia, Quebec and Nova Scotia) and India during the 17th and 18th Century. There were a number of different types, but the best known were round in shape with a horizontal line at the diameter. The first Bishop marks showed the first two letters of a month in the upper half and the days of the moth in the lower half.

Our collections include an example of the Bishop mark which appears on the “Pomery Letter”, a lettersheet addressed to Arthur Pomeroy Esq, Kildare Street, Dublin which is handstamped with three postmarks including a large Dublin Bishop mark and a postmark that reads CLONARD.

Pomery Letter, c. 1747-1797 (OB1996.404/2)

Pomery Letter, c. 1747-1797 (OB1996.404/2)

Close-up of the Dublin Bishop mark on Pomery Letter, c. 1747-1797 (OB1996.404/2)

Close-up of the Dublin Bishop mark on Pomery Letter, c. 1747-1797 (OB1996.404/2)

The letter is believed to have been sent between 1747 and 1797; this date was determined by the type of Bishop mark on the sheet, which shows the month above the day.

Other notable postmarks featured on the generic sheet are marks from the Dockwra penny post and the original Pearson Hill stamp cancelling machine, a War Bonds machine slogan, and a postmark from the final day of the Travelling Post Office.

The generic sheet can be purchased from the Royal Mail website. For an in-depth look at postal markings see our website.

Final Olympics stamps

The final set of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games stamps have been issued today, exactly one year before the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. This is the third set of ten London 2012 stamps issued by Royal Mail in the lead-up to the Games; previous sets of ten stamps were issued in 2009 and 2010.

Final set of London 2012 stamps

Final set of London 2012 stamps

The London 2012 stamps are Royal Mail’s largest stamp commission since the Millennium series, which saw more than 100 stamps issued during 1999-2001. 30 UK artists and image makers have designed stamps for the London 2012 sets, many of whom were first time stamp designers.

Paralympic Sailing, Athletics, Volleyball, Wheelchair Rugby, Wrestling, Wheelchair Tennis, Fencing, Gymnastics, Triathlon and Handball feature on this final set of 10 stamps, which is subtitled ‘Get Ready for 2012’. Three first day of issue postmarks have been produced to accompany this set.

First day of issue postmarks

First day of issue postmarks

In addition to the usual range of philatelic products, Royal Mail has produced a composite stamp sheet which features all 30 stamps from the three Olympic and Paralympic stamp issues on a single sheet.

The stamps, first day covers and other products are available from the Royal Mail website.

Wallace and Gromit Christmas stamps

Today Royal Mail has issued its 2010 Christmas stamps, featuring the well-loved characters Wallace and Gromit.

This year's Christmas stamps featuring Wallace and Gromit

This year's Christmas stamps featuring Wallace and Gromit

Wallace and Gromit were created by animator Nick Park in the 1980s. Since then the pair have starred in a number of films, advertisements and television programmes made by Aardman Animations. Royal Mail’s design team worked closely with Nick Park and Aardman Animations to devise brand new scenes featuring the pair.

The approach to the stamps was similar to how Aardman create a film, with Nick Park drawing scenes and visual jokes involving the characters, before refining the designs so that they would work in a definitive stamp format. Each stamp was then constructed with models, props and background sets – all created especially for the issue.

Wallace and Gromit generic sheet

Wallace and Gromit generic sheet

As with previous Christmas issues, the stamps are available in standard definitive size, except for the 1st and 2nd Large stamps, where the 1st and 2nd images are repeated but with more detail revealed on the wider format stamps.

Wallace and Gromit miniature sheet

A miniature sheet and generic sheet have also been produced, and two special First Day of Issue postmarks are available. As has become traditional with Christmas stamp issues, one of the postmarks is from Bethlehem, Llandeilo, Wales.

Special Wallace and Gromit first day of issue postmarks

Special Wallace and Gromit first day of issue postmarks

All Wallace and Gromit Christmas stamps products are available from the Royal Mail website.

The King’s Stamps

On Tuesday 11th May, right in the middle of the main London 2010: Festival of Stamps activities, we will welcome Paul Eimers of stamp printers Joh Enschedé to the BPMA. Joh Enschedé have printed many British stamps over the years, but their latest work for Royal Mail is The King’s Stamps miniature sheet, to be released on 8th May to mark the start of the International Stamp Exhibition.

The King’s Stamps miniature sheet features two reproductions of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition stamps designed by Harold Nelson set within a contemporary border with the present value (1st) and the Queen’s head profile. In addition two reproductions of the “Seahorses” design by Bertram Mackennal are also featured; both high value definitives, first issued in 1913, are set within a contemporary border with the value (£1) and Queen’s head. The top of the Miniature Sheet’s plain border contains the text: London 2010 Festival of Stamps with a crown.

The King's Stamps miniature sheet, released 8th May 2010

The King's Stamps miniature sheet, to be released 8th May 2010

This sheet is printed in both intaglio and lithography. The red, brown, grey and blue ‘stamps’ are printed intaglio, to be as faithful as possible to the original stamps, while the Queen’s head, stamp values and Sheet surround is printed in litho. The technical and design challenges of producing this miniature sheet will be one focus of Paul Eimers’ talk.

First day of issue postmarks to accompany the King’s Stamps have been produced. The London postmark replicates the lion on the British Empire Exhibition stamps, while the Tallents House postmark features part of the “Seahorses” design.

The King's Stamps first day of issue postmarks

The King's Stamps first day of issue postmarks

The King’s Stamps miniature sheet and related products, including a Prestige Stamp Book written by our Curator of Philately Douglas Muir, will be released on 8th May and can be purchased from Royal Mail.

Tickets to Paul Eimer’s talk on The King’s Stamps are free. For booking details and further information please see the BPMA website.

150 Years of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

Britain is said to be a nation of animal lovers, so it’s no surprise to see the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home celebrated on a new set of commemoratives released by Royal Mail today. 

Established in 1860 by Mary Tealby as the Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs, in Holloway, north London, the charity moved to its present home in Battersea in 1871, and in 1883 started taking in cats. Its motto is simple – “We aim never to turn away a dog or cat in need of our help” – and every year 12,000 animals are taken in by the Home’s three centres in London, Kent and Berkshire.

The 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stamps

The 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home stamps

The dogs and cats featured on the new stamps were all abandoned by their owners, but later re-homed by the charity. They were beautifully photographed by Steve Hoskins, and sit proudly amongst the many previous stamp issues featuring dogs and cats.

Constable's painting The Hay Wain as it appeared on a stamp in 1968

The Hay Wain by Constable on a 1968 stamp

The first dogs and cats on British stamps were incidental figures, in the backgrounds of scenes. The earliest example we could find is a dog which can be seen in the background of rural Suffolk scene in Constable’s painting The Hay Wain, featured on a stamp as part of the British Paintings issue, 1968. The dog is a little hard to see, but you can zoom in on the painting to see it at the website of the National Gallery, who own the painting.

Early produce fairs stamp, from the British Fairs issue 1983

Early produce fairs stamp, 1983

The first cat on a British stamp that we could find can be seen in the background of a stamp on Early Produce Fairs, released in 1983 as part of the British Fairs series. The cat, visible as a purple silhouette only, observes the other animals, and the fruits and vegetables, which are on sale. The British Fairs issue was designed by Andrew Restall, and some of Restall’s original sketches for this issue are held by the Aldrich Collection, University of Brighton.

Dogs stamp issue, 1979

Dogs stamp issue, 1979

The first British stamp issue dedicated to Dogs was released in 1979 and features painting of four different breeds of dog by artist Peter Barrett. Barrett is best known for his watercolours and illustrations of wildlife and the countryside.

Kitten stamp from RSPCA 150th Anniversary stamps, 1990

Kitten stamp from RSPCA 150th Anniversary issue, 1990

A kitten appeared on a stamp released as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1990.

And a further set of dogs stamps was released in 1991, celebrating the work of painter George Stubbs (perhaps better known for his paintings of horses). One of the paintings used, A Couple of Foxhounds, is on display at the Tate Gallery. Two of the others, A Rough Dog and Fino and Tiny are part of the Royal Collection. Fino and Tiny belonged to the Prince of Wales, later King George IV, and the painting is presumed to have been painted for him.

Dogs stamp issue, 1991

Dogs stamp issue, 1991

Cats finally got their own set of stamps in 1995. The stamps featured five paintings by the noted Scottish artist Elizabeth Blackadder.

The Cats stamp issue, 1995

The Cats stamp issue, 1995

A series of artistic black and white photographs by a number of photographers appeared on the 2001 issue Cats and Dogs.

The Cats & Dogs First Day Cover, 2001

The Cats & Dogs First Day Cover, 2001

There were two special first day of issue postmarks for the Cats and Dogs issue, one with a cats claw print and one with a dogs paw print. This idea is repeated for the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

First day of issue postmarks for the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

First day of issue postmarks for the 150th Anniversary of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home issue.

Border Collie stamp from Farm Animals issue, 2005

Border Collie stamp, 2005

Finally, how could we forget the Border Collie included in the 2005 Farm Animals issue? Border Collies are working dogs, often used on farms to herd livestock. The illustrations on the Farm Animals stamps were by Chris Wormell, well known for his lino cuts, engravings and children’s book illustrations.

100 years of the Girl Guides

At a Boy Scout rally at Crystal Palace in 1909 a group of girls turned up and demanded something for them; luckily Scouting founder Lord Baden Powell was thinking along the same lines, and the Girl Guide movement was formed. A century on, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has 10 million members in more than 140 countries, and in the UK the Guides are the largest youth organisation in the country, with 550,000 members. Today Royal Mail has released a colourful miniature sheet commemorating 100 years of the Girlguiding UK, a nice follow on to 2007’s issue celebrating 100 years of the Scouts.

Girlguiding miniature sheet, 2010

Girlguiding miniature sheet, 2010

As you might expect, this is not the first time that the Girl Guides have appeared on stamps. In 1982 Royal Mail celebrated Youth Organisations. The stamps designed by Brian Sanders featured the Boy’s Brigade and the Girl’s Brigade, along with the Scouts and Guides.

Youth Organisations Commemoratives, 1982

Youth Organisations Commemoratives, 1982

The Boy Scouts, however, have made one other appearance on British stamps. In 1957 three stamps were released to commemorate the World Scout Jubilee Jamboree, a 50th anniversary celebration of the movement held at Sutton Coldfield in August of that year.

World Scout Jubilee Jamboree commemoratives, 1957

World Scout Jubilee Jamboree commemoratives, 1957

The commemorative stamps were designed by three artists, Mary Adshead (2½d value), Pat Keely (4d value) and William Henry Brown (1s 3d value) and printed by Harrisons onto sheets and rolls. The rolls of stamps were used with experimental automatic stamp-fixing equipment designed to produce first day covers, which was and built and housed in a portion of the Birmingham Postal Customs Depot adjoining Sutton Coldfield Sorting Office. Twelve different types of cover were produced by the Mayflower Stamp Co. and they cost 6s 6d each (which included a set of all three stamps). The covers were cancelled with the special postmark slogan “Jubilee Jamboree – Sutton Coldfield” and posted from the Jamboree Camp Post Office.

Also notable about the World Scout Jubilee Jamboree stamps was that the Boy Scout Association had to lobby hard to get them. In 1955 the Association contacted the Post Office Advisory Council to suggest the release of stamps to celebrate the centenary of Lord Baden Powell’s birth on 22 February 1957. This was rejected as it was the policy of the Post Office to restrict the issue of special stamps to events of greatest importance to the nation or major postal significance.

Later in 1955 the Boy Scout Association requested an issue to commemorate the Jubilee Jamboree. This was considered and rejected on the same grounds, but following a campaign organised through Stamp Collector magazine, which urged its readers to write to their MPs, a parliamentary question was put by J V Woollam (Conservative MP for Liverpool West Derby and a philatelist) with the support of several other Members of Parliament.

Pressure continued for special issues to celebrate both the Jubilee Jamboree and the British Empire Games (to be held in Cardiff in 1958). Finally in early March 1956 a memo was circulated which reconsidered the case for special issues commemorating both events and concluded by suggesting regular special issues at intervals of every two years or so. The memo advised that special issues should feature “current events of outstanding national or international importance”. With this change of policy the Post Office Advisory Council reversed its earlier rejection and it was announced in the House of Commons on 13 June 1956 that the Post Office would be issuing a set to commemorate the Jubilee Jamboree.

The Girlguiding miniature sheet is available from the Royal Mail Shop.

Walking back through 400 years of postal history

by Jennifer Flippance, London 2010 Project Officer

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

K2 and K6 phone kiosks at Smithfield Market

For the last three years BPMA has been running popular walking tours, which take you into the heart of old GPO London, exploring 400 years of postal history and developments in the iconic street furniture of telephone kiosks and letter boxes.

The full tour lasts around 3 hours but next year, as part of our programme of activities to celebrate the London 2010: Festival of Stamps, we’re developing a ‘highlights’ version that will last around 1.5 hours and finish up at Guildhall Art Gallery. This will give you the opportunity to visit the fascinating exhibition, Empire Mail: George V and the GPO which will contain many significant objects and items of postal history from the reign of George V, when the GPO (General Post Office) was at its height.

Last week, Chris Taft, one of the curators at the BPMA who helped to develop and run the tours, took me out on the route of the new walking tour.

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1920s

The Central Telegraph Office c. 1935

It takes in the old GPO heartland around St Martin’s Le Grand, once the bustling hub of communication throughout the empire. This incorporates the majestic former GPO headquarters of King Edward Building – opened in 1910, the front of which is still standing today – and the sites of GPO North, the Central Telegraph Office and GPO East, from where crowds gathered each night to witness the spectacle of racing mail coaches leaving London.

Today King Edward Street is overlooked by a statue of Rowland Hill, the social reformer who revolutionised the postal service in 1840, making mail communication within reach of ordinary people for the first time.

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Curator Chris Taft, takes a break beside the statue of Rowland Hill, outside King Edward Building

Then travel further back in time to the site where the ‘bishop mark’ the world’s first postmark was struck in 1661. Continue to the area of the City where many coffee houses clustered in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Coffee houses were significant in the development of communication because many had the facility for visitors to post letters. Due to the coffee shop owners’ close relationships with ship owners, this was considered a more efficient way of carrying letters overseas than using the Post Office.

A little further on is the site of the office of the Postmaster General. In 1680 this was the only place you could post letters in the country. By 1808 the office was called “the most important spot on the surface of the globe.”

Dates for the new walking tour will be announced later in the year.

The last full-length walking of 2009 takes place on Saturday 26 September (1.00 – 4.00 pm). Click here to find out how to book tickets

Slogan dies

By Claire McHugh, Cataloguer (Collections)

At present I am waist deep sorting through and cataloguing slogan dies ready to go onto the online catalogue in a couple of months.

Postal slogans were first applied (by hand) to mail some 300 years ago. However, the majority of collectors think of slogans as the special dies which replace the normal wavy-line obliterators in stamp cancelling machines.

The accepted thought is that the British Post Office was late in adopting the use of slogan dies and it wasn’t until 1917 it agreed reluctantly to assist the War Savings Campaign by authorising the ‘Buy National War Bonds Now’ slogan. This established a precedent for using slogans as an alternative to the wavy-line stamp cancellation marks.

Though strictly not a slogan die, it should be noted that the BPMA does hold a Victoria Jubilee obliterator dating from 1896. The obliterator was sent by the Imperial Marking Machine Company (the Canadian subsidiary of The American Postal Machine Company established by Martin Van Buren Ethridge) and offered to the Post Office along with their Imperial Cancelling Machine for trials in July 1896, although it wasn’t until 1897 that the Post Office would trial the machine. It is believed no mail was processed during the trial, so contemporary examples of this postmark are rare, if non existent (though it is thought that this die was used in Canada for a time).

Postmark of Victoria Jubilee Obliterator, (Postal History Society Bulletin [1964] No. 126)

Postmark of Victoria Jubilee Obliterator, (Postal History Society Bulletin {1964} No. 126)

Not all slogans and obliterators have been patriotic; some have unintentionally done the opposite. In 1960, Dame Laura Knight designed a slogan cancellation for the World Refugee Campaign. The die’s design showed a hand raised in supplication. Unfortunately the thumb tended to point to the Queen’s nose if stamps were fixed in a certain way. The slogan was withdrawn on the account of causing offense, but prior to this the postmaster of Halifax had the hand filed from the slogan die used at his office. Examples of the defaced Halifax slogans are now scarce.

Slogans I have so far catalogued range from the eye opening ’12th World Naturist Congress Orpington (North Kent) 10-14 August’ to proud local claims such as ‘See Bath In Bloom/ Britain’s Top Floral City’. To the attention-grabbing slogan of ‘Recycle Yourself Be A Kidney Donor’ to the more familiar everyday brands such as ‘Quality Street/ Magic Moments’ and ‘W H Smith 200 Years’. The various slogans also consist of names that have not always stood the test of time (anyone remember ‘Leave Him To Heaven/ New Rock Musical…’?) to names that are now recognised as classics ‘A Steven Spielberg Film/ E.T.The Extra-Terrestrial is coming home on video on Oct 28th’. These are just a taster of the some 2000 varieties of slogan dies I have catalogued so far.