In focus: British Postal Museum & Archive photographic collections

See more BPMA images:
on Flickr
collections catalogue

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular series of articles featuring collections of vintage photographs that have caught my eye.  I’ll especially aim to focus on lesser known collections – not just public ones but especially some of the amazing personal collections that their owners have chosen to share online.

Today I chanced upon a post from Martin Devereux of the British Postal Museum & Archive talking about Digitising the GPO Photograph Library. It gives an introduction to this lesser known treasure trove of images and is illustrated by a rather teasing selection of three lovely images from the first half of the 20th century.  According to the blog post, the collection contains about 99,997 more.

Intrigued, I set out to see what I could learn.

Thinking of postal museums it would be easy to just assume stamps, but it’s clear that the Museum & Archive contains an extensive collection of postal related image and more to the point has a very active programme researching the collections and digitising it in order to share online.

It’s worth checking out the full blog post, but here are a few facts and figures that I gleaned:

  • There are approximately 100,000 unique photographic images in combined holdings of the museum collection and the Royal Mail Archive, spanning over 100 years.
  • Images include publicity materials, magazine images, prints, glass plate negatives, and colour transparencies, to name a few.
  • Some parts of the collection are missing – of 10,000 publicity images, only c. 2,800 survive; only 3000-4000 images remain from a collection of images commissioned or acquired by the GPO archive, from a documented total of about 20,000.
  • Whilst many activities such as publications stopped during the Second World War, they have a good collection of images showing the impact of the war on the postal service.
  • 1,868 images are available online, but about 1,000 more will be available shortly
  • They have an active research program, and have teamed up with University of the Third Age to uncover more information about the images.
  • They now have funding, and equipment, to embark on further digitisation.

Pictorial account of the Airgraph. From the private collection of the author.

If you want to find out more, visit the BPMA website, their interesting blog, and follow their very active Twitter stream and Facebook page.  Oh, and in the ‘real’ world they’re at Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London, United Kingdom, WC1X 0DL

I’m also reminded that I have a small set of postal images myself (see left), and I believe many are duplicates of ones help by the BPMA. They give a pictorial account of the Airgraph during World War Two.

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