Tag Archives: Rex Whistler

Meet the staff: Day in the life of an Archive Assistant

In this morning’s blog Penny McMahon highlights the different jobs and functions that she does as an Archives/Records Assistant.  

Logging

The day starts at 9am, I normally log the visitors and requisition forms from the day before. The visitors are logged to keep track of the different interests our users have, to spot any trends and make changes to the services we offer accordingly. The requisitions are also logged –‘requisitions’ is the term we use to describe fetching original archival items from the repository. This information is recorded so that when deciding on which material to digitise or pin point items that need preservation treatment, we can select the most frequently used items. The information is also gathered in case the item goes missing-we can look up the date it was last retrieved and who the last person to look at it was.

Donations

At 10am the search room opens to the public and our friendly postman arrives with the mail. As well as bringing us letter enquiries we also receive donations from the public and Royal Mail through the post. Giving these donations unique references to identify them and putting a basic description in our catalogue database is essential to keeping track of these. The thought donators take to send these items in is appreciated. However, it is useful to have as much background information as possible about an item and prefer it when people call us before going to the expense of posting an item to us. You can view the museum collection policies on this page on our website.

Me carrying out research for an enquirer.

Me carrying out research for an enquirer.

Visitors

By 11am we normally have several researchers in the search room. The exciting thing about working in the search room team is the variety of interests that researchers have. We don’t know who is going to walk through the door.  Family historians are a significant portion of the archives users; this is because the General Post Office was one of the biggest employers in Great Britain and these employee records can be hugely insightful. As family historians normally use the archive once or twice and the records they are interested in are so specific, they require quite a lot of help to guide them through the archives. I find family historians are some of the most rewarding users to help, I think because of their personal connection to the records.

The BPMA also attracts a number of academic researchers, including PhD students that use our archives to gather insight into the social history of Great Britain. As the Post Office is a national and international network, the records in the archives document the social and technological changes across the centuries. The BPMA has a number of partnerships with different universities supporting these students. These students know the collections and catalogue well and require little help, but they get through the records fast, so we spend a lot of time retrieving records from the repository for them.

Remote Enquiries

The info mailbox receives around 160 email enquiries a month; we also receive enquiries by phone and by letter. Some of these are straightforward and can be answered in minutes. For example, often authors want to know how much it would cost to send a letter in a different era (World War I is particularly popular just now), or how long it would take for the letter to arrive. Some require a lot more work and often we rely on the specialist knowledge of our Philatelic and Museum Curators to point us in the right direction. These enquiries we do throughout the day whenever we are not directly helping an onsite visitor or carrying out other projects, such as research or cataloguing projects.

Retrieved archive items.

Retrieved archive items.

Lunch

Normally lasts around an hour and I am spoilt for choice with all the delicious markets around Freeling House.

Museum Visitors

Towards the end of the day we normally have a few visitors who, when they visit us, expect to see a national museum. Sadly at the moment the archive search room only has 4 display cases and although the Mail Rail photographic exhibition currently on display is very interesting, it is impossible to exhibit in such a small space the breadth of the museum, philatelic and archive collections. Luckily The Postal Museum will have much more room to better display the collections.

Tours

Our public behind the scenes archive tours normally kick off at around 3pm. I really enjoy the opportunity these tours give to show off the variety of our collection from the beautifully written 17th century account books to a first edition Ulysses to original telegram artwork by designers such Rex Whistler. The interaction that the different members of the public have with the items is always different, meaning that every tour is different. Public tours can be booked online, we also organise ad hoc tours to groups.

Set-up for a tour.

Set-up for a tour.

At the end of the day…

I need to put away all the original archival material that I have been using to answer enquiries and the archival material that visitors have been using. If the search room has been quiet and the enquiries are finished this is normally a good time to update our reference library with any new books or journals that have come in.

The search room closes at 5pm and I head home soon after to have a glass of wine.

-Penny McMahon, Archivist/Records Assistant

Valentines Greetings Telegrams

At this time of the year the postal service is kept busy delivering love letters and cards on Valentine’s Day, but in the 20th Century cards and letters weren’t the only ways to send a romantic message. In 1936 the General Post Office introduced the Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, which enabled people to send a 9 word message for just 9d. This was 3d more expensive than sending a standard telegram, but it meant that the message would arrive on a specially-designed form.

Valentine's greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Valentine’s greetings telegram, issued 14th February 1936, designed by Rex Whistler.

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Denmark in 1907, and in Sweden in 1912. By the time Britain introduced them in 1935 most of Europe, the USA and many other countries had such a service. Between 1935 and the cessation of the service in 1982 a variety of greetings telegrams forms had been issued, enabling customers to send greetings for weddings, birthdays, coming of ages, Christmas and the Coronation, as well as Valentine’s Day.

The 1936 Valentine’s Day greetings telegram was seen as an experiment by the GPO, and it was the first telegram form to be printed in multiple colours. 50,000 Valentines telegrams were sent in 1936, which provided a much-need boost to the telegram service at a time when it was facing stiff competition from the telephone service.

During the Second World War the greetings telegram service was downscaled, and an “all in one” telegram form was introduced in 1942. It was less elaborate and colourful (to save on ink and paper during wartime shortages), and was carefully designed to be appropriate for many occasions. The design shows a village scene: a young couple have just been married in the church, an older couple are sitting on a bench together (perhaps having a low-key wedding anniversary celebration, or consoling each other after a loss), and a stork is delivering a baby to another couple.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

War economy greetings telegram, issued 20th June 1942, designed by Kathleen Atkins.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegrams returned in 1951, with new forms issued in both 1952 and 1953. Thereafter it became common to re-issue greetings telegram designs from previous years. Rosemary Kay designed the last new Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form in 1961.

Valentine's Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

Valentine’s Day greetings telegram, issued 14 February 1961, designed by Rosemary Kay.

– Alison Bean, Web Officer

Visit us on Flickr to see a selection of Valentine’s Day greetings telegram forms and Valentine’s Day greetings telegram form artwork.

Bibliography:

Post Office: Publicity artwork and designs

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

POST 109 is now available for browsing on our online catalogue. It contains original artwork produced for posters and leaflets, as well as designs produced for a variety of purposes, including greetings telegram forms, logos and logotypes, vehicle livery and postal equipment. Material includes paintings and pencil and ink drawings, as well as photographs, transparencies and annotated final proofs.

Much of the artwork in the series was commissioned by the Public Relations Department, which was first created in 1934, under the first Post Office Public Relations Officer, Stephen Tallents. Right from the conception of the department, it assumed responsibility for commissioning designs for posters, which it considered to be a vital part of Post Office publicity; it did this initially in consultation with a ‘Poster Advisory Group’, but from 1937 it operated in its own right.

A postman wheels his bike down a country lane

Sketch for rural postman: artwork for a poster, by John Nash, 1935

The department approached leading artists for the production of posters of two kinds, known respectively as ‘Prestige’ and ‘Selling’. ‘Prestige’ posters fell into two categories: those specially prepared for distribution to schools and those for display in Crown Post Offices and non-public offices in Post Office buildings, they were intended to be more formal in style, eye catching rather than persuasive. ‘Selling’ posters had a direct ‘selling’ appeal and were intended to persuade the beholder to use a particular service or buy a particular product.

POST 109 includes a number of adopted poster designs, but it also contains examples of commissioned artwork that was rejected. Artworks include an Edward Bawden poster about the Post Office Underground Railway (later known as Mail Rail)  (below), John Nash’s watercolour depicting a rural postman (above left), an oil painting by Edgar Ainsworth showing a night scene at a sorting office (POST 109/507), and George Charlton’s Interior of Travelling Post Office (POST 109/375).

A drawing of the Post Office underground railway, a driverless train system which carried mail under the streets of London

Post Office Tube Railway: artwork for a poster, by Edward Bawden, circa 1935

The collection also includes rejected designs by artists more usually ‘favourites’ of the Public Relations Department, such as Tom Eckersley (POST 109/15) and Jan Lewitt and George Him (POST 109/602-605 and below).

A poster design depicting a postman dragging a giant envelope

Post much earlier this X-mas: Artwork for a poster, by Jan Lewitt and George Him, 1950

The Public Relations Department was also instrumental in commissioning artists to design forms for the Greetings Telegram Service, which was introduced in 1935 as a means of revitalising the telegraph service.

Greetings telegrams were to be associated with special occasions and as such, designs had to be particularly attractive, with an element of luxury, this was encapsulated in the golden envelope designed to accompany the form.

POST 109 includes many examples of adopted designs; for example, the design produced by Margaret Calkin James for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935 (below).

Bordered with a red and black design, the telegram form has a clean centre for typing the message

Margaret Calkin James' design for the first ever greetings telegram form, issued in July 1935

It also includes a number of unsuccessful designs, including one produced by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis (below), two by Alan Reynolds Stone (POST 109/649 and POST 109/659) and one by Rex Whistler (POST 109/692); Whistler also produced two other designs for greetings telegram forms that made it into print.

Featuring a decorative border with bows and stars.

Greetings Telegram artwork by Cliff & Rosemary Ellis, 1937

Other items in POST 109 include artwork for the familiar GPO monogram, produced by Macdonald Gill in 1934, pillar box designs by Tony Gibbs from 1977 and artwork produced by Ben Maile for inclusion in the book: First Post: From penny black to the present day (Quiller Press, 1990).

Greetings Telegrams

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist

Greetings telegrams were introduced in Great Britain on 24 July 1935; for the payment of an extra 3d (three pence) people could have their telegrams delivered on a specially illustrated form complete with a golden envelope.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "A new way of saying Many Happy Returns"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

Greetings telegrams had already proved popular in other countries and they were an instant hit with the British public with nearly 25,000 telegrams being sent in the first week.

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service: "Send a Greetings Telegram"

Advertisement for the Greetings Telegram service (POST 104/15).

For the Post Office, greetings telegrams were a means of revitalising the telegraph service; according to E T Crutchley in his book ‘GPO’ (p140), it gave the service ‘a chance to play its part in the joyful occasions of life’, helping it to ‘dispel that atmosphere of dread and sorrow with which the telegram was so often surrounded in the past’.

In 1935 George V sent a message to the Postmaster General congratulating him on the 300th anniversary of the Post Office, he chose to send his message via the recently launched Greetings Telegram service on a form designed by Margaret Calkin James.  This message was reproduced and displayed in post offices around the country in order to advertise the service.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices.

A reproduction of the greetings telegram sent by George V to the Postmaster General used as advertising in post offices (POST 104/14).

The Post Office employed several key artists to produce telegrams; these included Frank Newbould, Claudia Freedman, Edward Ardizzone and Rex Whistler. Whistler designed the very first St Valentine’s day greetings telegram in February 1936; it proved popular and thereafter St Valentine’s day greetings telegrams were issued annually.

The St Valentine's day telegram is bordered with cherubs holding arrangements of leaves and fruits.

St Valentine’s day greetings telegram form 1936 designed by Rex Whistler (POST 104).

The Post Office also issued exhibition souvenir greetings telegrams.

A souvineer telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936. The telegram has a thick blue border and a drawing of a telegram messanger boy aboard a motorcycle.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Post Office Exhibition, Portsmouth & Southsea, 1936 (POST 104/26).

The telegram has a blue and red border featuring a Christmas tree and an image of a telegram messenger boy.

Souvenir greetings telegram from the Young People’s Post Office Exhibition (POST 104/26).

In 1937, Macdonald Gill was commissioned to produce a special telegram to celebrate the coronation of George VI. In 1953, this idea was used again when Harold Lynton Lamb designed a telegram to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II.

The telegram is bordered by the monarch's coat of arms, surrounded by official flowers of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland

George VI coronation telegram designed by Macdonald Gill, 1937 (POST 104).

Up until December 1940, greetings telegrams were delivered in a distinctive golden envelope, this colour was intended to emphasise the special nature of their contents. The outbreak of war necessitated the introduction of a new envelope, which was printed on white paper in blue to enable telegram delivery boys to read the addresses more easily during blackout periods.

Wartime exigencies brought about the suspension of the Greetings Telegram service on 30 April 1943; prior to this, economies had been made, with telegrams being issued in a more basic format to save on ink and paper.

The service was not reintroduced until November 1950 when the end of paper rationing saw the launch of a new greetings telegram form, designed by Claudia Freedman, together with a new yellow envelope, printed with red and black.

The return of the Greetings Telegram service was welcomed and the ensuing years saw designs by eminent artists such as, Eric Fraser, Balint Stephen Biro and John Strickland Goodall.

On 1 March 1957, in an attempt to boost usage of the service, a special ‘deluxe’ style of greetings telegram was introduced; this was a large folded card which came with a matching envelope, similar to a greetings card. The first of these, designed by Elizabeth Corsellis, was a wedding congratulations telegram, this was the first in a range of telegrams intended for specific occasions including birthdays and new births.

In 1982 the Inland Telegram service was axed by BT, although the Telemessaging service, which involved the sending of special occasion cards containing telephoned or telexed messages, continued to fulfil a similar function to the greetings telegram.

The book Bringers of Good Tidings by Ruth Artmonsky explores the Greetings Telegram is more detail. It is available now from our online shop.

Barnett Freedman, Stephen Tallents and the making of the Jubilee Stamp

by Scott Anthony 

Historians often remember King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 as a jamboree, a day when the British collectively bunked off from the economic, political and social strife that beset the nation between the wars.

The Silver Jubilee stamp designed by Barnett Freedman was central to the popular celebrations. Philately played a large part in King George V’s popular appeal, and by an odd twist of fate Jubilee day fell on the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Penny Black. It was apt that King George’s Jubilee stamp would become one of a long 20th century line of everyday collectables.

Less appreciated now is Freedman’s extraordinary artistic ambition. Freedman’s design utilised then cutting-edge printing techniques to give the stamp something approaching a three dimensional texture, while his use of shading was designed to make it appear as if light was emanating from the King’s head. As well as a sentimental appeal, for contemporaries the stamp had an almost sci-fi attraction that attracted a degree of controversy.

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

“By taking full advantage of the photogravure process and getting a brilliance of effect hitherto unknown in our stamps”, sniffed The Manchester Guardian, “Freedman has sacrificed what is to some an essential quality of design.” In short, when it came to stamps, the newspaper critics of the day where stuck firmly in the flat earth camp.

However, the popular success of the Jubilee stamp marked an important step towards resurrecting the reputation of the lithograph. Artists like Freedman along with Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland believed that the lithograph enabled mass production while keeping the artist in close personal touch with his audience. Something of Freedman’s working methods can be seen in the GPO Film The King’s Stamp. As the rhetoric of the day went, “in the modern age good art should not be the exclusive property of museums”.

Under the direction of Sir Stephen Tallents, Britain’s first public relations officer, the General Post Office had similarly sought to imbue everyday objects with rare aesthetic value. From Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s Day Telegram to Giles Gilbert Scott’s Jubilee Telephone Kiosk to the bright bakelite phones Tallents placed in Victor Saville musicals, Freedman’s stamp was part of a wider upsurge of what might be best described as a brief moment of Civil Service idealism.

Tallents’ triumphant commissions had also finally secured Freedman’s public reputation. Born of Jewish Russian émigrés in the East End of London, Freedman had begun attending night school at St Martins aged 15, while by day working on the design of tombstones (for a stone mason) and then war memorials (for an architect). After winning a London County Council arts scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, Freedman eeked out an existence teaching and designing book covers. Notable successes included Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoir of an Infantryman and several books by Tallents’ friend Walter de la Mere. Indeed, Freedman would later design the Tallents family Christmas card.

The Post Office’s commissions brought Freedman’s methods to a mass national audience and secured the 33 year-old employment from the most far-sighted and prestigious corporate sponsors of modern art in 1930s Britain; London Transport, Shell and Crawford’s advertising agency. Freedman’s exacting style now playfully emphasised the importance of road safety, modern agricultural methods and the importance of beer drinking to sporting success. He also found minor celebrity as the violin player providing the musical accompaniment to William Simonds’ puppet show.

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

Most importantly, Tallents professional patronage sealed an ongoing personal relationship with Freedman. Both were part of a generation for whom the 1935 Jubilee was indeed a rare jamboree, as Britain was buffeted by successive wars and economic crisis. Post-war austerity required Freedman’s acceptance of an ever greater teaching load, the pressures of overwork, stress and relative poverty contributing to his untimely death at the age of 57.

Tallents and Freedman shared an interest in Alfred Stevens, a cult hero of British art typically held up at the time as a victim of Victorian vulgarity and short-sightedness. Amongst their last letters Tallents pointed out to Freedman that the flat (in Canning Place, Kensington) where he designed The Jubilee Stamp was adjacent to the one in which Stevens had designed his ill-fated Wellington monument.

It was a quirky and amused exchange, but Freedman could have been forgiven for thinking that not all the comparisons with the “British Michaelangelo from Blandford Forum” were entirely happy ones.

Many thanks to Jeremy Parrett at the Sir Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University for his assistance with this article.

Scott Anthony is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and author of the BFI Film Classic Night Mail. On 29th October he will be talking about the GPO’s patronage of art, design and film under Tallents at the BPMA.