Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

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

The 175th Anniversary of The Penny Black

Today we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp, a truly great British achievement that changed the postal service forever. In a world of email and text we can forget the impact it had on communication. To mark this event we are exhibiting one of the original sheets of Penny Blacks in our Search Room until the 7 August.

Penny Black

Penny Black

Before 1839 postage was paid by the recipient not the sender, which limited those who could afford to receive their post. High prices and private franking also restricted who could send letters. To offset this, letters were cross written and codes were devised so that recipients could understand a letter’s contents without paying to receive it. This put the Post Office’s profits significantly at risk.

Cross Written Letter

Cross Written Letter

To counteract these problems Rowland Hill introduced a list of postal reforms, stipulating that postage should be paid by the sender, at a unified price based on weight not distance. These proved successful and in 1839 an act was passed to introduce Hill’s reforms. After a public competition it was proposed that the image of the Queen’s head should be used on the stamp as for security reasons minor differences could be detected in forgeries.

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

Pioneers of Communications Sir Rowland Hill

The design of the first stamp was based on a medal by William Wyon of Victoria taken at the age of 15, which would subsequently represent her until the end of her reign. Arnold Machin took inspiration from the Penny Black’s simplicity when he produced the Royal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for modern day stamps.

William Wyon Medal

William Wyon Medal

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

Arnold Machin Plaster Cast

The image was then engraved, in reverse, on a die by Charles Heath and rolled 240 times onto a copper plate to produce the sheet. For security, letters were placed in the corners of the stamps; contemporary stamps continue to adapt to stay one step ahead of the forgers.

Penny Black Die

Penny Black Die

The Penny Black was actually put on sale on the 1 May 1840 but was not valid for postage until the 6th. The Twopenny Blue however did not begin to be printed until the 1 May. The process was pretty quick and 600,000 stamps where being produced daily.

Twopenny Blue

Twopenny Blue

To celebrate 175 years a miniature sheet has been produced by Royal Mail with two Penny Blacks and two Twopenny Blues, each with a First Class value. The background to the miniature sheet features a photograph of the printing presses at Perkins Bacon & Petch – the original printers of the Penny Black.

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

Penny Black Miniature Sheet

This is not the first time we have commemorated the Penny Black in modern day postage. The Penny Black 150th anniversary stamps were produced in 1990 where five differing values depicted Queen Elizabeth alongside Queen Victoria.

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

Penny Black 150th Anniversary 1990

The Penny Black 175 exhibition at the BPMA is available to view Monday to Friday in Freeling House, London.

-Georgina Tomlinson

From Vault to View: Object Selection

Earlier this year we announced  our 3D scanning project with UCL to capture objects from our philatelic collection. Over the past month, the Philatelic team has been selected just a few objects from its vast collection to scan. Joanna Espin, our Philatelic Assistant, introduces the objects in this post.

We have a large collection of three dimensional objects to do with the production of postage stamps; ranging from metal dies and transfer rollers, to printing plates. There are also three dimensional objects to do with the design of stamps and other aspects of postal operations. We have chosen a range of objects, of various sizes and materials, which are important to understanding postal history.

The objects selected are some of the most treasured in the Philatelic collection, and concern the history of the Penny Black, Machin Head and letterpress printing.

Wyon Medal, 1838

The Wyon Medal was the inspiration behind the engraving of Queen Victoria featured on the Penny Black.

Wyon Medal front

Wyon Medal front.

Wyon medal reverse

Wyon medal reverse.

‘Old Original’ Penny Black Die, 1840

The ‘Old Original’ Penny Black die, from which all Penny Black plates and most Penny Red plates were made.

‘Old Original’ Penny Black Die, 1840.

‘Old Original’ Penny Black Die, 1840.

Elizabeth II Machin head plaster cast, 1966

Arnold Machin intended his portrait of Queen Elizabeth to allude to the Penny Black: both were designed from a relief portrait and both monarchs are wearing the George IV State Diadem.

Elizabeth II Machin head plaster cast, 1966

Elizabeth II Machin head plaster cast, 1966

Machin Stamp roller, 1968

This object’s shiny surface has prohibited successful digital rendering. 3D scans would, in connection with the Machin curved plate, explain recess printing.

Machin Stamp roller, 1968

Machin Stamp roller, 1968

Machin curved plate, 1968

The 1968 high value Machin £1 stamp recess printing plate.

Machin curved plate, 1968

Machin curved plate, 1968

Edward VII Die, 2d Tyrian Plum, 1910

Almost 200,000 sheets of this iconic stamp were printed yet only one was ever used, as King Edward VII died before the stamp was issued. We plan to scan the die and box.

George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

This object incorporates interesting shape, detail and colour. It connects with the 1924 Wembley slogan die and letterpress printing.

George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

George V Die for striking leads. 1½d postage British Empire Exhibition, 1925

Downey Head ½d Skin, 1911

The first definitive stamps of King George V’s reign were based on a photograph taken in 1910 by W. & D. Downey. The Downey Head skin we plan to scan is an important part of the history of letterpress printing.

Downey Head ½d Skin, 1911

Downey Head ½d Skin, 1911

Edward VII embossing punch, 1902

Successfully capturing the detail and embossing on the punch would enable effective demonstrations of embossing technique.

Flintlock Pistol, 1816 – 1841

This object demonstrates the diversity of the BPMA Philatelic collection. A 3D rendering of the pistol will highlight the engravings on the end of the barrel, which state that the gun was for official GPO mail coach use.

Flintlock Pistol, 1816 - 1841

Flintlock Pistol, 1816 – 1841

Aerial Handstamp, 1911

The world’s first scheduled airmail service began in 1911 as part of the celebrations for the coronation of King George V. This handstamp, commemorating the event, has wide historical appeal. The object’s shape and material make it ideal for 3D scanning, as reflective surfaces are notoriously difficult to capture.

Aerial Handstamp, 1911

Aerial Handstamp, 1911

Slogan Die, Wembley, 1925

Issued as part of the celebrations marking the British Empire Exhibition, this slogan die has wide historical appeal and, due to its shape and material, is another interesting object on which to experiment 3D scanning techniques.

We will initially test various techniques, a process expected to take several hours for each object, and compare the results to existing two dimensional photographs. The processes to be employed are highly experimental and will shape recommendations for a standardised approach to 3D imaging. The results will enable ground-breaking access to treasured objects in the Philatelic collection and, ultimately, audiences will virtually handle important postal history objects.

Stay tuned next week to find out about the different techniques we will be using!

–  Joanna Espin, Philatelic Assistant

Queens’ anniversaries

This June not only marks the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on 2 June 1953 but also 175 years since another female British monarch was crowned; the young Victoria became Queen of the United Kingdom on 28 June 1838. Both queens have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee and are the United Kingdom’s longest serving monarchs – a remarkable achievement, which is also reflected in the eventful periods that mark their reigns spanning over decades of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Victoria oversaw a whole era of innovation, which was particularly true in postal affairs. The world’s first postage stamp, The Penny Black, was issued during her reign on 6 May 1840 and featured the young queen’s portrait.

The Penny Black and "Machin" stamp designs.

The Penny Black and “Machin” stamp designs.

Since Queen Elizabeth II’s ascension to the throne in 1952, many ground-breaking changes have taken place in every part of British life. In stamp design, the Queen’s head was almost removed from pictorial stamps but finally a new timeless and classic design was finally commissioned for definitive stamps: the “Machin stamp”, featuring Queen Elizabeth II’s effigy. Based on the white cameo relief created by Arnold Machin this iconic design has been reproduced on stamps over 200 billion time since 1965.

To commemorate these two extraordinary anniversaries, the British Postal Museum & Archive Shop is now offering a unique set of Wedgwood Jasperware plates featuring the two classic portraits of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II from stamp design. A Black Basalt plate shows Queen Victoria’s portrait from The Penny Black, and a Portland Blue dish features Queen Elizabeth II’s image from the “Machin Head”. The plates are 11cm in diameter with a white wreath of laurel leaves on the border and come beautifully presented in a Wedgwood box. You can now purchase this ideal souvenir of the coronation anniversaries in 2013 as a set for £17.50 from the BPMA online shop (plus P&P).

Wedgwood Jasperware Set.

Wedgwood Jasperware Set.

Mail to Australia, allegro con brio

The painting Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by the Australian artist Tom Roberts may not seem to have an immediate connection with Britain’s postal service, but it is supposedly the General Post Office (GPO) which attracted Roberts to paint the scene.

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west by Tom Roberts, c.1885-86, reworked 1890 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1918)

Bourke Street was then and still is a vital thoroughfare in the heart of commercial Melbourne, and the GPO building was an important focal point in the capital of the rapidly-developing British colony of Victoria. Such was the importance of the mails to the city’s residents that flags where hung from the GPO’s clock tower to signal their progress – from when a ship was sighted off the coast of Albany, Western Australia (more than 1,500 miles away) through to the completion of sorting.

As records in the Royal Mail Archive tell us (POST 29/286B), in 1880 it could take up to 58 days for mails to travel from Southampton to Melbourne. By the time Roberts painted Bourke Street west, a telegraph connecting Australia to the rest of the world had been in operation for more than a decade; this enabled messages to travel between London and Melbourne in 24 hours, but it was businesses which could most afford to use the technology.

Communications between the United Kingdom and the Australian colonies were not just vital for businesses though, they were vital for people too. As a group of Australian and New Zealand colonial leaders who attended the 1867 Inter-Colonial Postal Conference in Melbourne put it in a “Memorial” of their meeting addressed to Queen Victoria:

While the productive capabilities and the commerce of the associated Colonies have attained a magnitude which, it is humbly submitted, entitles them to a foremost place in the consideration of Great Britain, their geographical extent imposes upon them deprivations and hardships which can only be alleviated by new and various means of communication with the rest of the world. The farther the settlement of population advances the greater becomes the difficulty. Thus the enterprise of the colonists in extending the bounds of the Empire, and spreading the lustre of Your Majesty’s name, entails upon them the penalty of their more certain exclusion from British intelligence. In the early years of Australian colonization this virtual banishment was a condition of life to be faced and endured as inevitable; but the Colonies of the present day, as fields of production and as markets of consumption for the national manufacturers have advances to a position which makes their intimate connexion not less important to the United Kingdom than to themselves.

– Postal Conference – Memorial of the Representatives of the Six Colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, New Zealand, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania Postal Conference – to Her Majesty the Queen, c. 1868 (POST 29/151)

Amongst the attendees of the conference was Henry Parkes, then a rising politician and soon to be elected Premier of New South Wales. By the 1890s, the era in which Allegro Con Brio was painted, Parkes was calling for a united Australia, arguing that a central government could make important decisions about, amongst other things, telegraphs and postal services. The points made in the 1867 Postal Conference Memorial about the communication needs of ordinary people must have informed his thinking, and he presumably understood that for the ordinary people and entrepreneurs alike the flags hanging from Melbourne’s GPO clock tower were more than just a colourful addition to the busy street scene Roberts captured and described as Allegro con brio (a musical term meaning “fast and with spirit”), they were an vital signal that news had arrived.

Unfortunately for us those flags are not visible in Robert’s painting, although the GPO’s extensions appear in the girder to the far right of the canvas. The people on Bourke Street, some of whom were no doubt going to or coming from the GPO, are the stars on show here.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Sources
The History of Australia
by Manning Clark, Meredith Hooper and Susanne Ferrier, 1988
National Gallery of Australia – Collection Search – Allegro con brio: Bourke Street west
Royal Mail Archive – Australian Colonies. Postal services with Inter-Colonial Conference at Melbourne, c.1868 (POST 29/151)
Royal Mail Archive – Melbourne-Ceylon mail service. Contract between Victoria and P&O (Peninsular and Oriental) Steam Navigation Co., c.1880 (POST 29/286B)

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.

Stamp Registration or “Imprimatur” sheets in the BPMA Collections

One of the most important parts of the philatelic collections of the BPMA is the series of registration sheets of stamps from the Penny Black to the present day. All are public records and part of the Royal Mail Archive. These sheets are in the process of being catalogued and made available online. However, the size of the sheets is such that they cannot at the moment be scanned so images available are rather restricted. Anyone wishing to view the original sheets must make an appointment with the Curator, Philately. The following is a summary of what is
available to customers at present.

Queen Victoria (1840-c.1870)

All Victorian registration sheets (sometimes called “imprimatur” sheets by collectors) are imperforate, are catalogued and details can be seen on our online catalogue. There are no scans of any part of the original sheets. Included in this are, of course, all sheets of Penny Blacks in the collection (10 in total, though not every plate is represented) and all sheets of Twopenny Blues from the 1841 and 1858 types. No registration sheets exist for plates 1 and 2 of the original Twopenny Blue. Also included are those Penny Red sheets from 1841 onwards which exist (from plate 12 onwards – 206 in total) and the new series of Penny Reds from 1855 (a total of 106, but excluding plate 77) There are also a very small number of other values.

During the 19th century examples were officially cut from these sheets by the Inland Revenue for official purposes, so none of them is complete. Details of which stamps are missing are given in the catalogue.

Although none of these sheets is scanned we do have high quality, same-size, black and white photographs of all of the above which are available for purchase for private study. Each photograph costs £31.50 (including VAT). A “Request for Reprographic Services” form needs to be completed and signed by the applicant. As external developing studios are used and a minimum batch for processing is required, if the photograph requested is not in stock then there may be a delay of three or four weeks before completion of the order. However, payment is not required until the order is sent for processing.

If you would be interested in this service please contact the Administrator on paul.stevenson@postalheritage.org.uk or telephone 020 7239 2577.

Queen Victoria (1870-1901)

All other Victorian registration sheets are catalogued and
details can be seen in the online catalogue. However, none have been photographed and the illustrations in the catalogue are not taken from the actual sheets. Rather they come from the Phillips Collection, as with the earlier sheets. These sheets are also imperforate. There are also a few sheets of overprints on Victorian GB stamps for use by some British government departments (termed “Departmental Overprints”). All such overprinted sheets were already perforated.

King Edward VII (1901-1910)

With the registration sheets of King Edward VII the online catalogue shows a small scanned section or part of the actual sheets. These include special formats for booklets for the first time as well as Departmental overprints, and overprints on British stamps for use in the Levant, Bechuanaland and Morocco Agencies. None of the sheets is available photographed or scanned.

King George V (1910-1936) & King Edward VIII (1936)

Again, all registration sheets are catalogued and details can be found in the online catalogue together with a scan of a small part of each sheet (click here for King George V and here for King Edward VIII). Included are sheets for booklets, rolls, commemoratives and all overprints for overseas territories including Morocco Agencies, Nauru and the Levant. The last are all perforated while the former are imperforate.

George V registration sheet

George V registration sheet

Also catalogued, with a small part illustrated, are a large number of black plate proof sheets from the Royal Mint, as well as the registration sheets for postage due labels.

The gravure sheets of King Edward VIII, together with all varieties of sheet format for booklets and rolls, and all overseas overprints are also available online, again with a small part of each sheet illustrated.

Later Sheets

Work is continuing on the cataloguing of later registration sheets of the reigns of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. These will appear progressively in the online catalogue.

Find out more about our collection of Stamps and Postal History on our website.