Tag Archives: Theyre Lee-Elliott

80 years of the airmail etiquette

Airmail etiquettes reading “By Air Mail / Par Avion” were first used in Britain in mid-August 1920, making them 80 years old this month. Their introduction came less than a year after the first international scheduled public airmail service, from London to Paris, started and almost exactly two years after the French had first applied airmail etiquettes reading “Par Avion” to their airmails, on the inaugural Paris to Saint-Nazaire flight.

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Cover from the first airmail flight to Paris showing "By Air Mail" written by hand

Before the airmail etiquette was introduced in Britain senders would hand write “By Air Mail” on their letters, or a cachet reading “Air Mail Express” would be applied. But the French model of etiquettes, to be attached by the sender, was a more efficient option.

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

Airmail letter to Paris with "Air Mail Express" cachet

The first British airmail etiquettes were light blue in colour, while the first French airmail etiquettes had black text on a dark red background, but at the 1929 Postal Union Congress it was agreed that airmail etiquettes from all nations would be blue.

By the 1930s it was also common practice to include “Par Avion” or “By Air Mail” – or both – on an airmail etiquette, with some countries including up to four languages on theirs. “Par Avion” was added to British airmail etiquettes by 1928, as can be seen on this commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi in 1929.

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

Commemorative envelope carried on the first airmail flight to Karachi, 1929

The airmail etiquette also became a way of advertising the airmail service, which was being heavily promoted by the Post Office in the 1930s. Theyre Lee-Elliott’s airmail wings, prominent on airmail publicity at this time, even appeared on the etiquettes of the period.

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

First flight cover England to Australia, 1934

What is perhaps most notable about the airmail etiquette, 80 years on, is how little the design has changed. Today’s airmail etiquettes are still roughly the same shade of blue as in the 1920s, and the wording and design is also very similar – the greatest change has been in the technology, with most of today’s etiquettes being self-adhesive.

Bibliography
Etiquettes: Par Avion by Air Mail, by Frank G. Jones, 1992
George V & the GPO: Stamps, Conflict & Creativity, by Douglas N. Muir, 2010

Selling the Air Mail service

by Vanessa Bell, Archivist (Cataloguing)

With the rapid development of Air Mail services from the 1920s onwards, the Post Office was faced with the challenge of marketing the concept to the British public. Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson, Director of Postal Services, summed up the problem in a lecture to the Post Office Telephone and Telegraph Society of London in November 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14): “the British user of the Postal service is extremely conservative” “it takes a long time and a considerable amount of persuasion to induce him to take up readily or on a large scale any new service” “what is essential in a new service such as this is to bring its advantages under the notice of those who are likely to use it”.

The question of appropriate publicity for the developing service was one of the major items for discussion by a specially appointed ‘Air Mail Committee’ at this time; as early as March 1930 Air Mail labels were issued in the three shilling stamp book, services were also advertised in a special leaflet and in the Post Office Daily List, but take up was slow.

Publicity ideas developed over time; a suggestion for the use of advertising posters on mail vans in December 1930 was dismissed as “undesirable” (POST 33/2912A file 16), but by 1933 a Post Office Circular dated 31 May (p 208) announced that a poster on the subject of air mail services was to be displayed on mail vans until the end of August (a copy of this poster can be found in POST 33/2912A file 22). The display of this poster tied in with the launch of a successful press campaign which helped to achieve a “growth of something like half a million Air Mail letters” (POST 50/24, p 14).

Building on this achievement, the newly formed Public Relations department produced a number of posters designed to sell the service, some of which can be seen in the exhibition: Designs on delivery: GPO posters from 1930 to 1960.
 
Brigadier General Sir Frederic Williamson suggested back in 1933 (POST 50/24, p 14) that it would be a good idea to “familiarise the youthful mind with the possibilities of air services”; accordingly two key posters from the 1930s were produced for use in schools. One of these formed part of a series on the theme of ‘Overseas Communications’, it shows airmails for the empire being loaded at Croydon in 1934 (PRD 142, POST 110/3174C).

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

Loading air mails for the Empire: Croydon 1934

The second displays a map of ‘Air Mail routes’ and was designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer in 1937 (PRD 146, POST 110/3177). 

Airmail routes

Airmail routes designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer

Kauffer was also responsible for designing a poster to be displayed in Post Offices in 1935; this poster emphasised the speed of the service (PRD 111, POST 110/2488).

Quickest Way by Air

Quickest Way by Air

Another poster introduced in this year, designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott, showed the upward trend in air mail traffic between the years 1927 and 1933 (PRD 78, POST 110/2487).

Into the Air

Into the Air

Posters for display on mail vans were also produced along with a series of leaflets publicising the expansion of available services; these were meant to further stimulate the appetite of a public, who were increasingly excited by the prospect of a more speedy service for their overseas mail.

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Speed the Air Mails

Speed the Air Mails

South African Air Mail

South African Air Mail

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Mails for East and South Africa, India, Malaya etc

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Empire Air Mail Scheme

Designs on Delivery
Well Gallery, London College of Communication
7th October to 4th November
Online Exhibition – FlickrArchives Hub –  The Guardian