Tag Archives: postmarks

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.

Christmas stamps 2012

The illustrator behind the world famous children’s classic The Gruffalo brings his unique style to this year’s Royal Mail Christmas stamp issue. The seven stamps, issued today, are inspired by classic Christmas images, brought to life through the instantly recognisable illustrations of Axel Scheffler.

Christmas 2012 Presentation Pack.

Christmas 2012 Presentation Pack.

His gentle and disarming approach can be seen straight away on both the 1st and 2nd class stamps; a Christmas robin perches on Santa’s hand on the 1st Class stamp, while a reindeer’s antlers take on the role of a Christmas tree for the 2nd Class image.

Christmas 2012 - 1st and 2nd class stamps.

Christmas 2012 – 1st and 2nd class stamps.

The other Christmas stamps feature a snowman meeting a penguin (87p), a Christmas robin bearing a star decoration in his beak (£1.28), and on the £1.90 stamps, the cat and mouse set aside their normal differences to decorate the Christmas tree together.

Christmas 2012 - 87p, £1.28 and £1.90 stamps.

Christmas 2012 – 87p, £1.28 and £1.90 stamps.

Designers Webb & Webb were commissioned by Royal Mail to devise the Christmas stamps and suggested Axel Scheffler, who they worked with to create images suitable for the small format of a stamp.

Two different pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ are available, and as always with Christmas stamp issues one of these is from the village of Bethlehem in Wales.

Christmas 2012 - First Day of Issue handstamps.

Christmas 2012 – First Day of Issue handstamps.

Royal Mail’s policy for Christmas stamps is to alternate non-secular and secular themes; the 2011 stamps marked the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, and this year a secular theme has been chosen. To provide choice for customers, the popular 1st and 2nd Class Madonna and Child stamps, first issued in 2007, will also be available.

Stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/christmas2012 and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

Volunteer re-housing project

As part of our preparations to move to our new site at Calthorpe House, work has recently begun on ensuring our collections are in a fit condition to move. There are three areas of work already underway, and more will start over the coming months.

Phase boxing

Many of our archive volumes have weakened or damaged bindings. These require additional support in the form of phase boxes prior to moving. We currently have two volunteers involved in this project, Eric Hearn and Colette Bush. Over the past few months they have received training on how to create the boxes, which require careful measurements of the volumes and often need final adjustments to fit comfortably.

Volunteer Eric at work.

Volunteer Eric at work.

Volumes prior to phase boxing.

Volumes prior to phase boxing.

The phase boxed volumes.

The phase boxed volumes.

Rolled plans

Following the work began in February 2012 on re-housing plans of furniture, fixtures and fittings (archive class POST 91) we have very recently extended this to other rolled plans. The plans being re-housed were previously stored in large rolls in map bags or mail sacks. These storage conditions offered little protection to the rolls in situ, and were entirely inadequate for moving this material. We now have two conservation volunteers (Cristina Rico Liria and Ana Paula Hirata Tanaka) working together our Conservation Assistant (Collections Move) to improve the storage conditions for these vulnerable items.

Volunteers at work.

Volunteers at work.

Rolls prior to rehousing.

Rolls prior to rehousing.

The rehoused rolls.

The rehoused rolls.

Slogan dies

Work has also begun on auditing and packing the museum collection, specifically our slogan die collection. Slogan dies are made from metal and our collection of around 2,000 reflects a huge variety of slogans used on postmarks throughout the 20th century. These items required re-housing for several reasons: metal items are very susceptible to handling, the grease on our hands can permanently damage them, they are currently stored in non conservation materials and often hundreds to a box, making them very heavy to move and hard to quickly locate individual items.

As such, Cyril Parsons and Fahema Begum are working on a project to re-house the dies using conservation materials so that the dies can be seen and handled whilst being protected from any damage. They are also updating our database, entering any additional information about the objects and ensuring their location is noted to the fullest extent possible. This is important as a major aspect of the move will be ensuring tight location and movement control so that we always know where an object is at any given time.

Volunteer Fahema at work.

Volunteer Fahema at work.

Slogan dies before rehousing.

Slogan dies before rehousing.

Slogan dies after rehousing.

Slogan dies after rehousing.

Over the coming months we will continue to work to bring the housing of the collections up to safe standards to move. There is a significant amount of work still to be done, and we would not be able to achieve this without the time and dedication of our volunteers. If you are interested in being involved with this work please contact Helen Dafter on helen.dafter@postalheritage.org.uk or 020 7239 5119.

– Helen Dafter, Archivist and Emma Harper, Curator (Move Planning)