Cardboard Railways & Airborne Machines

01 July 2016

Archivist Matt Tantony has some wonderful discoveries to share from the latest photographs we’ve brought to light…

Our catalogue of Post Office publicity photographs has recently grown by almost 400 images. This is due to work I’m currently doing at The Postal Museum to sort and catalogue prints and negatives that haven’t been widely seen in decades. I’d like to take you on a quick tour of some of my favourites.

POST 118/15327

Ideal Home Exhibition, 1937 (POST 118/15327).

Another day, another Mail Rail photograph. But look closely… all is not what it seems! This is actually a mock-up Post Office (London) Railway platform, with a real carriage and tracks at the front and a photographic trompe l’oeil effect at the rear.

Visitors to the 1937 Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia could explore this model as part of the Post Office’s extremely elaborate displays – of which we now have photographic evidence (POST 118/15324-15331 in our online catalogue). We also have images from the Ideal Home Exhibitions in 1934, 1935, 1960 and 1962.

POST 118/15216

A Post Office display at the 1960 Ideal Home Exhibition, inviting visitors to try their hand at sorting letters (POST 118/15216).

Having strolled along Grainger Street in Newcastle not too long ago, I was intrigued to find photographs of a Post Office Exhibition that was mounted at 108 Grainger Street from 15 September to 10 October 1936.

POST 118/15321

Post Office Exhibition, Newcastle, 1936 (POST 118/15321).

Above is the illuminated street entrance at night. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? Exhibits inside included a pentacycle and a then-brand new King Edward VIII pillar box. The Newcastle photos (POST 118/15320-15322) document one of numerous publicity events and exhibitions the Post Office mounted around the country in the 1930s – we also have pictures from Liverpool, Canterbury, Northampton and Sheffield.

POST 118/15298

Part of the ‘Post Office Shop’ mounted in Sheffield, 7 May-16 June 1934 (POST 118/15298).

But let’s leave the world of temporary things behind, and instead look at something very heavy that’s lasted over 45 years:

POST 118/15355

Manchester Head Post Office Interior, May 1970 (POST 118/15355).

In 1969 the new Manchester Head Post Office opened at Spring Gardens, and the above photograph shows what the interior and counter looked like shortly after opening. If, like me, you’re a fan of brutalism then you’ll probably love the massive concrete murals above the counter windows. In fact, they’re still there today. This is just one of many photos of post offices around the UK in our collections.

One of my main aims is to reconstruct the so-called ‘Engineering Series’, a vast set of Post Office publicity photographs that was originally compiled by the Office of the Engineer-in-Chief. As the name suggests, the Engineering Series has a strong (but not exclusive) focus on engineering, technology, construction and transport across the Post Office. Take the image below:

POST 118/15513

Keyboard training equipment, c.1960 (POST 118/15513).

Here we have a group of men being trained to use the keyboard elements of a single position letter sorting machine (SPLSM) in approximately 1960. The photo is part of an album that captures sorting machines, facer canceller tables and other mechanical aids being used, being maintained, and being experimented on – and there’s so much more where that came from.

POST 118/15534

A canceller-stacker unit being set up on display at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, May 1970 (POST 118/15534).

Hundreds more images should appear on our online catalogue in the coming months as I work my way through our collections. We’re also creating high-resolution digitised copies to view online, which will minimise the wear and tear on the original prints and negatives. Keep an eye out for more photographic updates from The Postal Museum.

– Matt Tantony, Archivist (Cataloguing)