Postal mechanisation

Machines used in the sorting, cancelling, collection and delivery of mail.

Mechanised Sorting

Sorting is perhaps the most mechanised part of the postal system, a great many letters today are sorted mechanically at some point in their journey. The collection has photos and examples of some of the most important mechanised sorting equipment.

Transorma: Letter receptacles, 1935 (POST 118/16239)
Transorma: Keyboards and feeding troughs, 1935 (POST 118/16240)

Cancelling machines

Cancelling is perhaps the easiest part of the postal system to mechanise as the process is repetitive. Cancelling machines were developed in the 1850s to make the laborious but important task of cancelling stamps quicker and easier.

Our collection holds examples of the three major types of mechanised cancelling machine:

  • the manually-fed and operated machine
  • the automatically-fed but manually operated
  • the fully automated machines
Replica of 1857 Pearson Hill Stamp Cancelling Machine (OB1996-393)
Photo of sorters at stamp cancelling machine, 1957 (POST 118/5248)

Collection & Delivery

Our collection contains relatively few examples (around five) of the mechanised processes used for collecting and delivery. This is partly because these processes remain the areas of the postal system that are least easy to mechanise. Many attempts have been made over the years to find ways to automatically collect and deliver letters but the most effective means remain the manual ones.

Photograph of Electric Parcel Delivery Truck, 1954 (POST 118/15786)

Also of interest

    • Archive
    • 03 May 2017

    Sorting the Past

    Join our Archivist Matt Tantony as he goes on a photographic tour of a mechanised sorting office in the 1960s.

    Read more
    • Postal History
    • 15 November 2016

    Bags, Tracks and Tragedy

    Nene Valley Railway are helping restore our Bag Exchange Apparatus. See how it worked - and hear a tragic tale of its danger...

    Read more