This month marks the 50th anniversary of the F-type pillar box.

The iconic red post box is familiar to all. But if asked to describe it the first thing most would say is, it’s red and cylindrical.

F Type pillar box design, POST122/7987

In 1968, a brand new box, with a very different design was introduced, known as the F-type. Its red colour is about all that is familiar, in what was otherwise a radically new design. The new box was square in shape and made from sheet steel panels, a move away from traditional cast iron material. Designed and developed by David Mellor – most famous for designing the modern traffic light – it took 8 years of improvement and change until the box was ready to be tested on the streets. Its aim was to produce a longer lasting, cheaper post box in keeping with modern design trends.

Postman emptying ‘F Type’ postbox outside St Paul’s, London, POST 118/5690

Unfortunately, the box wasn’t a success. In just a few years almost all of the 204 produced had suffered corrosion and damage as the rain, sea air (and dog pee!) attacked the sheet steel. They even became known as the ‘rotten bottom boxes’.

“It looks like a refrigerator standing on an orange box”

E. Short, Postmaster General, 15 December 1966

With the development of the F-type the shape was not the only innovation. There were internal changes too.

Internal clearance mechanism, POST122/7997

Internal clearance mechanism, POST122/7997

Inside one you can see the newly designed internal clearance mechanism. The postal worker would hook their bag onto the end, pull the lever and release the hinged floor. This acted as a chute for the letters to fall into the bag, making it much quicker to collect the letters.

Internal clearance mechanism, POST122/7997

Other new features included a landscape collection plate and rotary dial which made it easier to read when the next collection would be. There was also a version where two of these boxes could sit side by side, sharing the same top, increasing the number of letters it could hold. The sheet steel panels were designed to be individually removed so if one panel was damaged it could be replaced without needing to replace the whole box.

The collection plate was made from plastic and used dymotape allowing it to be changed locally, POST122/7997

Despite the problems with the outside of the boxes, these new elements were a success and many of the concepts trialled in the F-type eventually appeared in future boxes like the G-type, introduced in 1974. Most modern boxes made today use a similar steel material, but new techniques mean they are now much more robust, cheaper and longer-lasting than the F-type was.

The internal mechanism first introduced with the F-type was then later used in this G-type post box. POST72/767 page 8

Come to our museum’s Welcome Space and see two rare examples of the F-type, none of which now survive on the streets. On the left, you will see the complete box and on the right an example with the front and side panels removed exposing the experimental internal clearance mechanism. On display for a limited time only!

– The Curatorial Team