Tag Archives: Smithsonian National Postal Museum

BPMA launches podcast

by Alison Bean, Website Officer

Yesterday I made the BPMA’s first podcast live. The BPMA podcast makes available recordings of our Talks programme, with a talk by Tony Benn being the first to be released. This entertaining and informative talk was given at the BPMA last year and celebrated the 40th Anniversary of Girobank, a project initiated during Benn’s time as Postmaster General.

Girobank extended banking services to people on low incomes and revolutionised the transfer of money in Britain. It was the first UK bank to offer free banking to personal customers and the first to develop telephone banking. Its operations are now part of the Alliance and Leicester Group.

Post Office Technology: National Giro, a stamp designed by David Gentleman and released in 1969.

Post Office Technology: National Giro, a stamp designed by David Gentleman, released in 1969.

A stamp celebrating National Giro, which was designed by David Gentleman, was released in 1969 as part of a set on Post Office Technology. This stamp can be seen if you download the enhanced version of the Tony Benn podcast, or subscribe using iTunes or your favourite aggregator.

Podcasts with a philatelic or postal history theme are pretty rare on the ground, so the BPMA podcast is an exciting initiative. The only other podcasts on this subject that I have found are Prestige Philately with Australian stamp dealer Gary Watson, APS Stamp Talk with Nancy Clark of the American Philatelic Society, and the Spink podcast, which is available in both audio and video versions. Also worth a look are the new You Tube channel from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and the You Tube challenge from the American Philatelic Society. It’s great to see philatelists, postal historians and stamp collectors experimenting with audio and video.

Future BPMA podcasts will examine the role of the Post Office during wartime and take an in-depth look at a recent British stamp release.

To download or subscribe to our podcast please see our website, or the link to our podcast feed in the right hand column. Click here to see the podcast on iTunes.

Famous Philatelists

An unusual item in the collection of the BPMA is the stamp album of the late, great Freddie Mercury. The talented Queen star collected stamps as a boy and his album is one of the few of his personal belongings that still exists in the public domain. 

A page from Freddie Mercurys childhood stamp album

A page from Freddie Mercury's childhood stamp album

Freddie Mercury’s collection includes stamps from a wide range of countries across the world. Many are from the British Empire and those of particular philatelic interest are from Zanzibar, Mercury’s birthplace. The album also incorporates a wide selection of stamps from Eastern Europe and Commonwealth countries. As pop memorabilia and for cultural reference, Freddie Mercury’s collection is priceless.

A stamp from Zanzibar which appears in Freddie Mercurys album

A stamp from Zanzibar which appears in Freddie Mercury's album

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on 5 September 1946 in Zanzibar. Bomi – his father – originally inspired his stamp collecting and it’s believed that Freddie built up his own collection between the ages of nine and twelve.

Following Freddie Mercury’s death on 24 November 1991, the majority of his belongings were burnt in line with his family’s Zoroastrian religious beliefs but Bomi decided to keep the stamp album.

Bomi eventually decided to auction his, and Mercury’s stamp collections and the BPMA, then the National Postal Museum, purchased the album on 17 December 1993. The amount paid was donated to the Mercury Phoenix Trust which is the AIDS charity that was set-up by Queen band members John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor, along with Mercury’s friend Mary Austin.

In 1999 Freddie Mercury appeared on the 19p stamp in the Millennium Series: The Entertainers’ Tale commemoratives, alongside 1966 England World Cup captain Bobby Moore, a dalek from Doctor Who and silent film star Charlie Chaplain.

Freddie Mercury isn’t the only famous pop star to have collected stamps. John Lennon’s stamp album (from circa 1950), which features over 550 stamps from several countries including New Zealand, India and the United States, is currently held by the National Postal Museum (part of the Smithsonian Museum) in Washington D.C.

A stamp from the UK-Australia Joint Issue of 1988, featuring John Lennon

A stamp from the UK-Australia Joint Issue of 1988, featuring John Lennon

John Lennon has appeared on postage stamps in many countries including the UK-Australia Joint Issue of 1988 celebrating the Bicentenary of Australian Settlement (where Lennon is pictured with William Shakespeare, the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and The Beatles stamps of 2007. Fans in the United States have set up an online petition to get the US Postal Service to release a stamp commemorating John Lennon’s 70th birthday in 2010.

The Post Office aboard the Titanic

On this day in 1912 the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sunk less than three hours later, killing more than 1,500 people. Amongst the dead were five postal workers, British citizens James Williamson and Jago Smith and US citizens William Gwinn, John March and Oscar Woody.

RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship (at the time though it stood for ‘Royal Mail Steamer’), indicating that the Titanic was contracted to carry mail. The Titanic had a Post Office and Mail Room deep in the ship on decks F and G, the blue prints of which are held by the BPMA. The five postal workers were tasked with sorting much of the mail which had been brought on board the ship, 3,364 bags in total, as well as dealing with any letters which were posted on the ship by passengers and crew.

Blue print of the Titanics Post Office and Mail Room

Blue print of the Titanic’s Post Office and Mail Room

Amongst other Titanic-related material held by the BPMA is a file containing memos and copies of letters concerning an inspection of the ship on 9th April 1912, the day before the ship sailed. The description is reminiscent of the lower decks revelry in James Cameron’s film Titanic.

The [sleeping] Cabins are situated among a block of Third Class cabins, and it is stated the occupants of these latter, who are mostly low class Continentals, keep up noisy conversation sometimes throughout the silent hours and even indulge at times in singing and instrumental music…if their [the sorting clerks] work during the day is to be performed efficiently it is essential that they should enjoy a decent sleep at night.

The five postal workers were eventually granted alternative accommodation and permission to dine in a private area.

When the ship struck the iceberg, the postal workers were celebrating Oscar Woody’s 44th birthday. However, they soon realised that the Mail Room was flooding and so attempted to move 200 sacks of registered mail to the upper decks in the hope of saving them. They press-ganged several stewards into helping them, one of whom later recalled:

I urged them to leave their work. They shook their heads and continued at their work. It might have been an inrush of water later that cut off their escape, or it may have been the explosion. I saw them no more.

In London, the Post Office had received word that the ship was in danger and became concerned for the wellbeing of the workers and the mails. Ismay Imrie & Co., owners of the White Star Line, sent three telegrams to the Secretary of the Post Office in relation to the matter. These telegrams are held by the BPMA. Coming so soon after the disaster, they contain information which would later turn out to be incorrect.

The first telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

The first telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

The second telegram about the sinking of the Titanic

The second telegram about the sinking of the Titanic

The third telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

The third telegram about the sinking of the Titantic

A memorial to the five postal workers was errected in Southampton, from where the Titanic departed. Part of it reads “Steadfast in peril”.

More information on this topic can be found in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s Online Exhibition Posted Aboard RMS Titanic.