Tag Archives: Queen Victoria

The first Christmas card

With Royal Mail’s last posting day fast approaching many people are hurriedly finishing off their Christmas cards. For despite the growing popularity of Christmas greetings sent online, cards are still popular, with Royal Mail delivering 750 million Christmas cards every year. Perhaps it is the personal touch of a handwritten card that keeps this tradition alive.

Like many Christmas traditions, Christmas cards date from the Victorian era. Queen Victoria sent the first official Christmas card, and Sir Henry Cole, who amongst other things was an assistant to Sir Rowland Hill in the introduction of the penny post and the first Director of the V&A, commissioned the first commercial Christmas card in 1843. 1000 of the cards designed by painter John Callcott Horsley were printed lithographically and then hand-coloured by the professional colourer Mason. Cole used as many of these cards as he required and sold the rest for one shilling each under the pseudonym Felix Summerly. An advert in the Athenaeum paper for the cards read “Just published. A Christmas Congratulation Card: or picture emblematical of Old English Festivity to Perpetuate kind recollections between Dear Friends.”

An example of the first Christmas card from our collection, sent by Leonore A N Bell to Annette Caroline Ramsden

An example of the first Christmas card from our collection, sent by Leonore A N Bell to Annette Caroline Ramsden

Horsley’s design depicts two acts of charity – “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked” – and a family party scene, in which three generations are drinking wine to celebrate the season. The depiction of children drinking wine proved to be controversial, for this was an era when the temperance movement was gaining in popularity in the UK, but this did not stop people buying the cards and more were printed to satisfy demand.

Very few of the first Christmas cards remain in existence. Four years ago one was sold at auction for £8,500, while another is part of our collection of postal ephemera. In 1993 the V&A re-printed the design, to celebrate 150 years of the Christmas card; we also have an example of this in our collection.

For more on Christmas traditions and the post see our online exhibition The Post of Christmas Past.

Blists Hill: Construction has started!

by Alison Norris, Ironbridge Project Assistant

Exhibition building work has now started above the Post Office at Blists Hill, which signals the start of the most exciting part of the project as everything comes together.

It is anticipated that the BPMA curatorial staff will be able to start placing objects within their new display cases at the end of the month.

During a recent BPMA visit to the workshops of fit-out contractors the Hub, we saw a number of prototypes of elements of the exhibition. In particular we saw a large display case which will house a model of the GPO3 (Mobile Post Office), and also a wall panel which has to have various removable sections to allow for access to windows and the hanging of images and text panels.

Prototype of wall display panel

Prototype of wall display panel

Prototype display case for Blists Hill

Prototype display case for GPO3 mobile post office model

The BPMA, the Hub, and the design team also made a site visit at the end of August before construction started to iron out any final decisions on elements such as lighting and health and safety. On the day we were pleased to see large queues of people waiting to get in to the site – which bodes well for lots of people seeing our exhibition when it opens!

Queues to get in to Blists Hill

Queues to get in to Blists Hill

Work has also begun between Blists Hill staff and the BPMA on events that the BPMA can be involved with in the future. The two largest events in the Blists Hill calendar are Queen Victoria’s 81st birthday celebrations in May, and weekend events in the lead up to Christmas.

Please see the July blog update for more information on how to get there.

Exhibition Interactive

Three Penfolds pillar boxes in the collection of the BPMA

Three Penfolds pillar boxes in the collection of the BPMA

As part of the exhibition, an interactive section has been developed based around Penfold pillar boxes. Through a series of turning paddles, the interactive will show the visitor that the basic design of the Penfold did not change over time, but the arrangement of the key elements did.

The photograph left shows three Penfold pillar boxes in the BPMA collection, each with four elements in their design that changed position. These are the royal coat of arms, the posting aperture, the collection plate, and the ‘VR’ symbol of Victoria Regina. The visitor will be able to choose where they think each of these elements is best placed on a Penfold by turning the paddles.

200 Years of Australia Post

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Over the weekend philatelists and postal heritage buffs in Australia celebrated Australia Post’s bicentenary. As you might expect of a former British colony, Australia’s postal service was much influenced by Britain’s. Browsing Australia Post’s fascinating 200th Anniversary website I discovered many interesting parallels and connections between the two postal services.

The postal service began in Australia with the appointment of Isaac Nichols – a former convict who had been transported to New South Wales for stealing – as the first Postmaster of Sydney on 25th April 1809. Mail distribution prior to Nichols’ appointment was “haphazard” according to Australia Post’s website. It also says of this period:

“Life was often bleak and lonely for the first settlers as they waited for news from home. It could be many months before a ship was sighted offshore and this was enough to generate near pandemonium on the wharves.”

And so it wasn’t until two months after his appointment that Nichols performed his first duty, which was to board the brig Experiment as it docked in Sydney Harbour and take delivery of the mail. He then took the mail back to his home in George Street, Sydney, and placed an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette to alert recipients that mail awaited them.

The practise of not home delivering the mail was common at the time. In Britain prior to the introduction of free home delivery, letters would often be delivered to a convenient local place, such as a coffee shop. Although the first “letter carriers” (postmen) were appointed in Sydney in 1828 it appears that home delivery was not free in New South Wales at this time, as recipients paid for letters rather than senders. In Britain free home delivery was not granted to every household until 1897 (this was a concession to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria) although by 1859 93% of letters were not subject to a delivery charge.

Another important milestone for the Australian postal service was the introduction of the first public post boxes in Sydney in 1831. These were receipt boxes placed in front of letter receiving houses for the collection of (unpaid) letters. Receipt boxes were introduced in the UK in 1814 and underwent many stylistic changes throughout their existence, such as changes to the angle of the aperture (letter slot) from vertical to horizontal. The boxes introduced in Sydney in 1831 are likely to have been the same as their British counterparts.

Paris Letter Box 1850, an inspiration for early Australian letter boxes.

The first pillar boxes arrived in New South Wales in the late 1850s, a few years after UK trials had taken place in the Channel Islands. The Postmaster General of New South Wales announced that he would replace the existing receipt boxes with cast-iron letter receivers in Sydney and an invitation to tender was placed in the Government Gazette on 2nd November 1855. The boxes that followed were the famous Bubbs Boxes, which were modelled on those already in use in Belgium and Paris (which had also provided the inspiration for the first British roadside pillars). One of the stamps in Australia Post’s 200th Anniversary stamp issue shows an early Bubbs Box. A slightly different model manufactured in 1870 can be found in the collection of the National Museum of Australia and an image of this and others from the NMA’s collection can be seen on Wikipedia. Flickr shows an image of a similar box manufactured for the Western Australian postal service, bearing the Western Australian emblem of a black swan.

Australia Post’s website also notes that letter sheets pre-stamped with an albino embossing were introduced in New South Wales in 1838, pre-dating the Penny Black by almost two years. There is some debate about whether these letter sheets should be regarded as stamps or postal stationary. Those who feel they are postal stationary note that special letter sheets showing an eagle with the Cross of Savoy were sold in Sardinia in 1819. Either way, the letter sheets were inspired by British postal reformer Rowland Hill. James Raymond, the New South Wales Postmaster at this time, had been in communication with Hill and was much influenced by Hill’s 1837 pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability, which recommended the introduction of prepayment for postage using pre-printed envelopes and stamps. But Raymond’s pioneering letter sheets did not prove popular and moves were made to introduce postage stamps. The first postage stamps were released in New South Wales on 1st January 1850. Victoria followed on 3rd January 1950 and other Australian colonies introduced stamps between 1853 and 1860.

Britains first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Britain's first charity stamp, issued in 1975 in support of health and handicap charities.

Another philatelic first claimed by Australia was the release of the world’s first charity stamps in 1897 in New South Wales. The stamps were to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee with proceeds going to a Consumptive’s Home (images of these stamps can be seen on the Stamps of Distinction blog and Linns.com). It is important to note that Greece had released charity stamps in 1831, although the New South Wales Consumptive Home stamps were the first to include a charity surcharge. Britain’s first charity stamp was issued in 1975 to support health and handicap charities.

I am indebted to BPMA Curator Julian Stray for providing much of the information in this post. The following online resources were also extremely useful.
BPMA: Key Dates in the British Postal Service
BPMA: online catalogue
Australia Post: Our History
Australia Post: 200 Years
Wikipedia: Postage stamps and postal history of New South Wales
Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue: Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps