Posters

Explore our collection of over 6,000 posters, as well as original poster artwork. 

Dating from the 1930s, the collection continues to grow with new posters advertising services arriving regularly. 

Before posters

During the 1920s there was a boom in graphic design. Major companies, like the railways and London Underground, were at the forefront of poster design. 

The Post Office had preferred to rely on traditional notices to inform the public. However, this approach was about to be turned on its head when in 1933 Stephen Tallents was appointed Public Relations Officer to the Post Office. He had extensive experience in PR from his time at The Empire Marketing Board. He set out on a radical programme of change in the way the Post Office communicated with its customers. One of these changes was to start using posters. 

 

Public Relations Department

In 1934, Tallents set up the Public Relations Department. Straightaway the department began commissioning designs for posters from leading artists. There were two types of posters: ‘Prestige’ and ‘Selling’.

  • Poster showing worldwide airmail routes.

    ‘Airmail Routes’. c.1937. Artist: Edward McKnight Kauffer. (POST 110/3177)

  • ‘Prestige’ posters

    ‘Prestige’ posters were for distribution to schools and for display in Post Offices. Other posters were displayed on mail vans. ‘Prestige’ posters were meant to be eye-catching rather than persuasive. The poster on the left is one of the earlier examples in our collection.

  • ‘Selling’ posters

    ‘Selling’ posters were marketing posters. Their aim was to persuade people to use a particular service or buy a product. The poster on the right is from 1935, released by the Public Relations Department a year after they opened.

  • Poster advertising the air mail service in 1935.

    ‘Quickest way by Air Mail’. 1935. Artist: Edward McKnight Kauffer. (POST 110/2488)

Designers

Tallents commissioned many of the period’s exciting graphic designers and established the Post Office as a leader and trend setter in poster design. Many well-known artists and designers have produced a wide range of poster designs for the Post Office. There are too many to list them all here, but they include Barnett Freedman, Dorrit Dekk, Edward McKnight Kaufer, Vanessa Bell, Jan Le Witt, Hans Arnold Rothholz, Mildred Ratcliffe, Grace Golden and Ronald Searle.

Here are just a few of the posters created for the Post Office over the years:

  • Poster from a series of posters produced for schools showing the development of postal services through the years.

    ‘Royal Mail AD 1935’. 1935. Artist: John Armstrong. (POST 110/2486)

  • Save through the Post Office Savings Bank poster

    ‘Save through the Post Office Savings Bank’. c. 1950. Artist: Dorrit Dekk. (POST 110/4332)

  • 'Post your letters before noon'. Poster designed by Jan Le Witt and George Him, PRD 238, 1941, POST 110/3184.

    ‘Post your letters before noon’. 1941. Artists: Jan Le Witt and George Him. (POST 110/3184)

  • Painting showing a village street with a Post Office.

    ‘Wherever you go there is a branch of the Post Office Savings Bank’. c. 1960. Artist: Mildred Ratcliffe. (POST 110/2814)

Original poster artwork

Not only do we have posters produced by the Post Office in our collections, we also have an extensive archive of original artwork submitted as possible designs for posters. 

A painting of an industrial scene with a postman.

‘Postman in the Potteries’. c.1955. Artwork for a poster by Jesse Collins. (POST 109/177)


Unused artwork

Some of the original artwork submitted was not used to create any posters in the end. The most famous example of this in our collections is this painting by Vanessa Bell.   

‘The Last Minute’. 1935. Poster artwork. Artist: Vanessa Bell. (POST 110/2489)

Vanessa Bell was approached by Stephen Tallents to do a satirical poster on the ‘post early’ theme. In a letter to Bell, he wrote, ‘Instead of merely commanding them to post early, we will show them how ridiculous they look, and what inconvenience they suffer, when they post late’. Vanessa Bell completed her design in March 1935 and a month later it was approved. However, it wasn’t until nearly two years later that a print was produced. By this time Tallents had moved on to the BBC and the Post Office Board decided not to use the design after all. The explanation was: ‘however much one may admire it as a painting, I am afraid that it scarcely conveys the message which the Post Office wishes to convey on the subject of Early Posting and with great regret, therefore, I must inform you that this cannot be used’. 

Internal posters

Posters for internal purposes were also produced by the Joint Production Council from the 1950s onwards. These encouraged staff to be industrious, vigilant, thrifty and promoted health and safety at work.  

Some posters encouraged staff to put forward their own ideas.

Poster showing drawings of different postal staff.

‘If you have a good idea share it by putting it to the Secretary of your local J P Committee’. 1965. Artist: Burrell. (POST 110/1659)

This artwork, below, for a poster on the theme of health and safety was based on an idea by a postman in London’s South West District Office.

Artwork for a poster showing a postal worker with a bicycle in high vis clothing with a light.

‘Be bright get it right’. 1983. Artwork for a poster from an idea by a postman. Artist: Unknown. (POST 109/532)

From Public Relations to Communications

The Public Relations Department was restructured several times in the decades following the 1930s. However, producing good publicity material remained at its heart. After the Post Office ceased to be a government department in 1969, the artists commissioned to produce posters tended to be less well known and the focus was more on special stamp issues and philatelic products. This example from 1975 was produced in English and Welsh versions; advertising material is still produced today in this way.  

Poster advertising a special stamp issue based on Jane Austen's literary characters, featuring: Emma and Mr Woodhouse ('Emma'), Catherine Morland ('Northanger Abbey'), Mr Darcy ('Pride and Prejudice') and Mary and Henry Crawford ('Mansfield Park').

‘Jane Austen stampiau ar werth yma o 22 Hydref 1975’. 1975. Artist: Jeffery Matthews. (POST 110/0489)

In the 1990s, the Public Relations Department was renamed Communication Services. This was part of a change in approach, with the organisation beginning to commission advertising agencies to work on individual campaigns for special services and products.

‘Bill payment’. 1994. Artist: Unknown. (POST 110/1700)

Find out more about posters and artwork

If you’d like to see more of the amazing range of posters and other publicity material, as well as original artwork in the archive here please search our online catalogue.

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