This is a big year for stamp collectors as they mark 175 years since the world’s first adhesive postage stamp was introduced back in 1840. The little square of black paper with a finely engraved profile of the young Queen Victoria has become an item that many collectors want to have. It’s not that expensive a stamp – it’s significance lies more in being the “first” and in what it meant for people who wrote letters. At just a penny, it really opened up correspondence, news and education for people who were formerly excluded by the high cost of postage.
The stamps were used in Ireland, of course, since the Royal Mail covered both Britain and Ireland at that time and the interesting story of how one very early Penny Black came to be used on a letter from Dublin to London in May 1840 is told in a little booklet, which contains an exact replica of the letter and stamps, available from our philatelic department.
Irish theatre has long enjoyed a high reputation which was confirmed by something I saw a few weeks before Christmas. The Last Post is an innovative and engaging piece of drama which is centred on the people and activities of a fictional Returned Letters Branch of An Post. The directors, Liadain Kaminska and Darren Sinnott, and their team invite the audience into the lives of those who write and sort letters and in the process, make us think about the human need to communicate and connect with others as part of life. Using all the resources of the old fire brigade station in Rathmines as the stage , the audience is guided by the postal staff on an intimate and at times anarchic journey which culminates in a chance to sort letters in a way that would never be officially countenanced at An Post! It’s a creative and amusing piece of drama that deserves to be seen.
This year we are not only celebrating Christmas but also two hundred years since the foundation stone of the GPO was laid in 1814. There will be free entry to the An Post Museum from the 8th December till Christmas Eve so do come and take a look at our exhibition, Letters, Lives & Liberty, and if you drop in at lunch-time, you’ll also be able to join in with the traditional carol singing in the Public Office.
Have a very Happy Christmas.
An Post Museum and the GPO are closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.
Keep an eye on this page and our social media channels to keep up to date with details for events at the An Post Museum – GPO Dublin.
While the Post Office has long carried letters, its role in parcels is not so old. During the nineteenth century, carriage of parcels was by road carters and subsequently by the railways but towards the end of the century the Post Office entered this market and following the adoption of the Post Office (Parcels) Act in 1882, letter carriers were renamed postmen and the parcel post became part of the Department’s wider services. it was a move that proved very popular with the public though it meant a big change for the Post Office and its staff. This Christmas card from the An Post archive, sent to staff in Tullamore in 1886, offers fraternal greetings from the Dublin parcels staff. Today, the rise in online shopping means that parcel traffic is again very important for the Post Office.
Patrick Scott, who died earlier this year, was an Irish artist of international renown whose distinctive signature image – a disc of shimmering gold leaf applied to a plain canvas – is instantly recognisable. On display in the GPO Museum at the moment are a couple of Scott-related items drawn from An Post’s archive.
Born in Kilbrittain in county Cork his interest in painting was encouraged by a far-sighted school-teacher at St. Columba’s College in Dublin and later by his association with the White Stag Group of painters who experimented with various aspects of modernism. Scott trained as an architect and worked for Michael Scott’s practice. Following his success at the Guggenheim in New York and the Venice Biennale he left the practice in 1960 to devote himself to artistic work.
He was a man, however, whose creative genius spanned many disciplines: he worked on the Busáras building, created many beautiful tapestries, had fun inventing street decorations and also found time to design a number of postage stamps for the Post Office.
The stamps shown here illustrate different aspects of his graphic talent. The 1972 Olympic stamps were issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the Irish Olympic Council. For this he took inspiration from a carved slab at Clonmacnoise, one of Irelands’ most famous monastic settlements. The other stamps, in colour and line, display a marked contract in style and were designed by Patrick Scott for the World Ploughing Championships in 1973.
This is an early twentieth century stamp album bearing a figure distributing letters. Any idea who it represents? Well, if you’re guessing Mercury or Hermes (the classical Greek version) take a bow – you’re right! Mercury was the messenger of the gods and hence a suitable figure to appear on post-related items. He, or perhaps she in this rather androgynous version, carries a staff entwined with snakes, the symbol of his authority and wears winged slippers and a helmet. The figure appears on our own GPO here in Dublin as one of the three statues on the roof of the building.