Issue Date: 01/11/2018
Issue Name: Christmas 2018 Stamps Cover
Producer: Buckingham Covers
Christmas has come early, in the stamp world anyway! This set of 8 Christmas stamps highlights how ‘Royal Mail delivers Christmas’; showing scenes of everyday life involving a range of post boxes in different wintry settings, from towns to countryside. Our lovely cover features a scene of people posting their Christmas post while visiting their local shop in the snow. It has all 8 new Christmas 2018 stamps and a Postling, Hythe Kent 'Postbox' postmark and is available signed by star of Midsummer Murders Neil Dudgeon (DCI John Barnaby).
Post boxes in Britain have become an iconic symbol of the nation, recognised the world over, featured in tourist brochures, postcards and greetings cards.
Before standard letter boxes there was principally two ways of posting a letter, either take the letter in person to a Receiving House, an early form of Post Office or await the Bellman, who wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public, ringing a bell to attract attention.
Anthony Trollope, working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office in the 1850’s saw road-side letter boxes in use in France and Belgium and proposed the introduction of such boxes to Britain. A trial on the Channel Islands was approved and 4 cast-iron pillar boxes were installed on the island of Jersey and came into use on 23 November 1852. In 1853 the trial was extended to neighbouring Guernsey. Considered a success the boxes began appearing on the British mainland from 1853.
During this initial period, design, manufacture and erection of boxes was mostly the responsibility of local surveyors. This meant there was no ‘standard’ and resulted in many, very differing, styles. The only similarities were that all were vertical ‘pillars’ with a small slit to receive letters. By 1857 horizontal, rather than vertical, apertures were taken as a standard with further developments progressing to achieve the most effective type of boxes. The earliest boxes were red, however a change was made in 1859 when the standard box was introduced and the colour changed to green. These were considered to be too inconspicuous and a return to red was specified in 1874. Red has remained the standard colour for boxes in all their changing forms ever since, with a few special exceptions.
Even in our digital age, nothing beats the feeling of receiving a card in the mail during the festive period. In 1840 Uniform Penny Post was launched marking a revolution in the way the postal system could be used. Rowland Hill’s postal reforms opened up the postal system to almost every person in Britain.
Sir Henry Cole, having helped set up this first incarnation of the Post Office, collaborated with artist John Horsley and they created the first Christmas card in 1843 as a way of encouraging people to use the fledgling services. Only 1,000 of these cards were printed and sold for a shilling each. This meant that they were a luxury item and were not affordable for most people. But by the 1860s, advances in printing brought prices down, making cards hugely popular. By 1900 the custom of sending Christmas cards had spread throughout Europe. Royal Mail’s postmen and women were also responsible for the ever popular robin gracing the front of cards. During the mid-1800s the postman’s uniform included a bright red waistcoat to match the official red of pillar boxes resulting in postmen being referred to as ‘robin redbreasts’. The robin was introduced to Christmas cards as a symbol of the postmen who delivered the cards. Christmas cards still remain hugely popular today. In 2005, for example, Royal Mail delivered a staggering 744 million Christmas cards.
Want to see all our Christmas covers? View them all here
Neil Dudgeon is an English actor who, from 2011, has played DCI John Barnaby in the ITV drama series Midsomer Murders. He also starred in the BBC television drama Sorted that followed the personal and professional lives of several postmen.