Tag Archives: The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case

A Curious Culture of Letter Writing

In December 2011, as some of you may remember, BPMA and the BBC produced a collaborative radio series entitled the People’s Post. One episode of that series focussed on the culture of letter writing. Ever since this episode I have been intrigued by this subject and the many different forms letters have taken, particularly in the 19th and early 20th Century. As a result I decided to delve into the BPMA collection to see whether a culture of letter writing was reflected in the objects and files in the collection.

On Thursday 20th June at 7pm I’ll be giving a talk in which I use objects from our collection as a basis to explore how postal reform helped the development of this culture of letter writing and sharing some of the weird and wonderful things I’ve discovered.

Postcard sent in 1914. (OB1997.35)

Postcard sent in 1914. (OB1997.35)

Some of the broader themes I’ll be looking at are the introduction of the penny post, the development of envelopes and postcards, as well as the sending of cards for special occasions such as Christmas. I am by no means a postal historian and this is much more an introduction to some of the main changes in the 19th Century postal system and how these are reflected in the objects I’ve found within the BPMA’s collection and the social history they tell.

Embroidered card with an embossed Christmas border. (OB1995.162/24)

Embroidered card with an embossed Christmas border. (OB1995.162/24)

These objects range from various Curious Addresses – the name given to envelopes where the address is presented in a different format such as a poem or a picture; Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland Postage Stamp Case; the Express Delivery form used by suffragettes to post themselves as ‘human letters‘ and an account of a kitten being sent through the post as well as numerous postcards and letters.

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, exterior – printed with chromolithographic images, 1889. (OB1995.415/1)

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, exterior – printed with chromolithographic images, 1889. (OB1995.415/1)

Come along to the Phoenix Centre, London, on Thursday 20th June at 7pm to find out more…

– Emma Harper, Curator

See images from the Curious Culture of Letter Writing on Flickr.

The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case

Today marks 180 years since the birth of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. To celebrate this occasion I thought I’d share with you a group of items from our museum collection invented by Lewis Carroll himself, namely, The Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case and Carroll’s accompanying Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing booklet.

The Wonderland Postage Stamp Case was not intended by Carroll to be carried around in a pocket but rather to be kept with your writing materials in an envelope case or similar. Inside the stamp case there are 12 separate pockets for stamps of each denomination at the time, from ‘½d’ right up to 1 shilling, with an extra pocket for the most used price of one penny. Each pocket could comfortably hold up to six stamps.

'Wonderland' postage stamp case, interior - 12 separates pockets for stamps of various stamp values, 1889 (OB1995.415/2)

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, interior – 12 separates pockets for stamps of various stamp values, 1889 (OB1995.415/2)

What made Carroll invent it, as he states in his accompanying booklet was

the constantly wanting Stamps of other/ values, for foreign Letters, Parcel Post, &c.,/ and finding it very bothersome to get at the/ kind I wanted in a hurry.

The case is a lovely item in itself, besides its functional purpose, as it contains what Carroll refers to as two ‘Pictorial Surprises’. The case comes in an outer cover which has a chromolithographic image of Alice holding the Duchess’s crying baby, an illustration that does not appear in Carroll’s books. However, when you take hold of the stamp case within and pull it out, the baby turns into a pig.

'Wonderland' postage stamp case, exterior - printed with chromolithographic images, 1889 (OB1995.415/1)

‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, exterior – printed with chromolithographic images, 1889 (OB1995.415/1)

In Carroll’s opinion

If that doesn’t surprise you, why, I suppose you wouldn’t be surprised if your own Mother-in-law suddenly turned into a Gyroscope!

The case and cover also feature an illustration of the Cheshire cat on the reverse.

In his Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing Carroll shares with the reader his thoughts and opinions on how to begin, go on with, and end a letter, many of which I’m sure the Post Office would applaud to this day such as the golden rule of ‘write legibly’. However, the booklet also has nuggets of witty repartee often presented in the form of conversations between Carroll and the reader that make for entertaining reading.

'Eight Or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing By Lewis Carroll', which accompanies The 'Wonderland' postage stamp case, 1889 (OB1995.416/3)

‘Eight Or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing By Lewis Carroll’, which accompanies The ‘Wonderland’ postage stamp case, 1889 (OB1995.416/3)

First published in 1889, the stamp case and booklet show the extent to which there was a culture of letters developing throughout the nation, indeed Carroll states:

I believe the Queen’s laundress uses no other.

Even in this short work, Carroll uses his playful nature as a vehicle for sharing his interests and enthusiasms, in this case, letter writing.

– Emma Harper, Cataloguer (Collections)

To see these items on our online catalogue please search for Wonderland on our online catalogue.