It may be a familiar feature of our landscape, but the post box has never stayed the same for long.

Since the first Channel Island pillar boxes a bewildering number of different models and designs have been produced. Shapes, styles and colours have varied enormously – though there have also been constants, such as the inclusion of the current monarch’s cypher in almost all cases. The Postal Museum holds more than 200 examples.

Channel Islands Box (1852)

Channel Islands Box 1852

The first post box installed by the British Post Office. A simple hexagonal design featuring the cypher VR for Queen Victoria.

London Ornate Box (1857-9)

London Ornate Box 1857-9

The result of a competition held by the government departments of Arts and Science, this model lived up to its name, even including an enamel compass on top. However, practicalities were overlooked: the designers
initially forgot to include a gap to post the letters (also known as an aperture).

Wall Box (1857)

Wall Box 1857

An early economy measure, this form of box was recessed into a wall cavity, sparing the Post Office the cost of producing a pillar box. It was originally used in rural areas, or where pavements and lighting were minimal.

First National Standard (1859)

First National Standard 1859

This green model featured successful elements from previous designs and was introduced throughout Britain, replacing designs that varied from one county to another. It was the first to feature the familiar cylindrical shape, though the lid was hexagonal.

Penfold (1866)

Penfold 1866

This hexagonal model (named after its designer) was handsome and practical but too expensive to produce. It was discontinued in 1879, but replicas were later introduced at places of historic or natural beauty.

Victorian Type A Letter Box (1879)

A Type Letter Box 1879

This red and black model – and the smaller Type B – were the first to combine a cylindrical body with a convex circular lid – a design still familiar to us today.

Lamp Box (1896)

Victorian Lamp Box 1896

Originally designed for fixing to urban lamp posts, this economical model was later used in rural areas where the volume of mail was lower.

Air Mail Pillar Box (1930)

Photo of a blue airmail pillar box in the museum gallery space.

Air Mail Pillar Box 1930s

This was originally a Type B letter box painted blue with an air mail sign on top drawing attention to a new service. A double plate on the front displayed both collection times and air mail charges.

F Type Pillar Box (1968)

F Type Pillar Box 1968

This experimental rectangular model signalled a change of style at a time of major change for the Post Office. Made from welded sheet steel, it was cheap to produce but prone to severe rusting. The last one was retired in 2002.

K Type Pillar Box (1980)

K Type Box 1980s

This cast-iron ‘cigar-shaped’ model had substantial capacity but a relatively small footprint. It was considered very modern in its time, but production ceased in 2000.

– The Postal Museum Collections Team

Read more about the story behind the first letter boxes on our website.