Antique Architectural Post Boxes

Green Victorian Post Box in Windsor.    CC BY-SA 2.0
Green Victorian Post Box in Windsor. CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

If you're looking for something collectible and striking, or an antique architectural piece for your garden landscaping, there's a lot of quirkiness to be found in collecting antique post boxes, either for their historical interest, architectural re-use, or even as an investment.

In Britain, post boxes were traditionally red, or "Pillar Box Red" as it's known. These sturdy post boxes were made of cast iron - and started life back in the days when design and a "nod back to the King or Queen" was standard.

Perfect to make a statement at your own house entrance, or as part of a themed garden design to the rear of your house where you can enjoy it while relaxing outdoors.

First British Post Box

The first British post box was made and placed in 1852 - and every village had at least one. Once upon a time you'd find post boxes all over the place, but they've increasingly been replaced with less striking boxes and the old, antique post boxes have then been sold off.

The first post box was erected in St Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands - which isn't even part of the UK. It wasn't until 1853 that Britain got its first red post box. The first post boxes on the Channel Islands were manufactured by Vaudin & Son in Jersey.

Post boxes are supposed to be repainted every 3 years, but some get missed out or overlooked.

Antique Post Boxes: Special Victorian Postbox.  A replica.  CC-by-SA-2.0
Antique Post Boxes: Special Victorian Postbox. A replica. CC-by-SA-2.0 | Source

Collecting British Post Boxes

Collecting pieces like this gives a certain pride because they were made in limited numbers, you can date them and even learn of their full history and location and talk a walk through British social history while doing so.

For people without the space, or money, there's an avid band of people who collect British post box postcards and, in England, a lot of groups who take and collect photographs of every post box they can find!

Post boxes are fast-disappearing from the British landscape and so they will be considered a valuable asset and investment by many.

Most Popular Post Boxes

Over time the most popular post boxes will change, depending on lots of things. Right now the most popular post boxes people are after are antique royal mail post boxes for sale of the Elizabeth II period (1952-present).

For collectors, these will rocket in value in the coming years as a peak will occur in the market in the next few years, so many are cashing in now on what's seen as a "common/cheap" post box, hoping it'll treble or more in value quite quickly.

Original Post Boxes and Reproduction Post Boxes

While most post boxes are originals you should be aware that there are also some reproductions and non-standard issue variants.

This unusual post box, which is a Victorian post box, could have been original as there were some made in this style, however. this actual example was made about 20 years ago.

The original post boxes of this style were in fact made by Cochrane Groves and Co will have their name on the black base at the front.

It's OK to buy a reproduction, so long as you know that's what you've got!

Post Box Collectibles

One of my earliest memories is receiving a small tin post box as a Xmas present - and using it to save my pennies.

Miniature Post boxes are to be found for sale in every Tourist office as they are very popular with tourists.

Shapes

Post boxes come in a surprising number of shapes. As each was made by hand, it was possible to embellish them with the trend that was current, or to fit into a particular awkward spot.

There are full-sized upright cylindical post boxes, smaller rectangular boxes mounted on a post and even post boxes buried in walls of houses or garden walls.

There have even been special editions, some with fancy "crowns" on top, or special coronation year versions.

Post Box Colours

Traditionally pillar box red, there have been a few reasons and times why post boxes have appeared in different colours.

  • Conservation areas might insist on all post boxes being painted green.
  • In Derry, in 2008, there was a politcial campaign that saw protesters painting post boxes green.
  • There are some green post boxes in Ireland - when Ireland was split up in 1922, they kept the boxes and just painted them green.
  • After the London Olympics, 2012, gold medal winners found that post boxes were painted gold in their local town.
  • Yellow - like in Cyprus, where there are British connections, but the postal system is different. Or where ownership has changed in the last 160 years.

Colour of mainstream post boxes was standardized in 1859. From 1859-1874 the standard colour was a bronze green colour. Red became the standard colour in 1874 as people were failing to see the green boxes easily from a distance.


Antique Architectural Post Boxes: A Victorian Post Box in Cornwall.
Antique Architectural Post Boxes: A Victorian Post Box in Cornwall. | Source

Queen Victoria Post Boxes

The first post box was installed in 1852 and Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901. This means that all the early boxes will have been made during Queen Victoria's reign and are therefore the oldest post boxes you will find.

If you look at a post box, there'll be the letters V R on them. This stands for Victoria Regina. Regina is a Latin word, meaning Queen.

Many post boxes of this age are overly-decorated and stylish. As they were a new concept, each local Surveyor designed their own, rather than using a central design. Standardisation started in 1857.

Edward VII: 1901-1910

Edward VII reigned from 1901-1910 and the Edwardian post boxes produced during that time will show VII as part of the sign.

These older post boxes tended to be more visually appealling; there was more time spent on design and manufacture than thinking of time/cost.

All these post boxes are now over 100 years old - just think of how people were living their lives when the boxes were first installed.

Antique Architectural Post Boxes: An Edward VII postbox embedded in the wall of a house.    CC BY-SA 2.0
Antique Architectural Post Boxes: An Edward VII postbox embedded in the wall of a house. CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

George IV: 1910-1936

George IV reigned during the period of the first world war and nearly until the second world war. With all those letters being written to and from the front line, post boxes took on a special symbolic imporatance in British social history.

Imagine how many letters must have been posted in these boxes to soldiers fighting a war in far off lands - many to never return home.

In seaside towns, many of these early post boxes will have been used by people sending postcards to their friends and family, as they enjoyed their holidays all those years ago.

Antique Post Boxes: George IV Post box.    CC-SA-3.0
Antique Post Boxes: George IV Post box. CC-SA-3.0 | Source

Edward VIII: 1936

Edward VIII was the King who abdicated. The king who abdicated the throne after less than a year, to marry Wallis Simpson.

As he was only King of England for about 10 months, there was less time for post boxes to be made bearing his royal sign. In fact, there are probably less than 200 Edward VIII post boxes surviving. There were strong feelings after the abdication and a lot of the doors were replaced.

If one ever comes up for sale, it'd go for a fortune!

The photo shows the ER, which is Edward Regina (Edward, King) - and a crown, then in the middle you'll see the VIII.

Rare Edward III Post Box
Rare Edward III Post Box | Source

George VI: 1936-1952

George VI wss the present Queen of England's father, and the brother of the King who abdicated. He died at an unexpectedly early age, but was still on the throne for 16 years.

No Regnal Number

Some postboxes from this period say GR, without denoting which King George they refer to - so that would take a little more research and sleuthing to establish. What happened was that the GPO still had old stocks from George IV, so they used those up before making new doors. By 1937 they had used up the old stocks - after this time boxes used the official scroll with Roman numerals with a Tudor crown.

It's interesting how in some areas the insignia are picked out carefully with gold paint - and in other areas they are simply painted quickly all over in red.

King George VI reigned during the war years - just think how many sweetheart letters must have been posted in this box, to soldier boyfriends, fiances and husbands so very far away; many never returned. It must have been difficult for the widows to walk past those boxes every day, thinking back to the days when they'd have had a letter to post to their loved one.

Source
Elizabeth II Postbox: Painted in gold after the Olympics 2012 win of Bradley Wiggins.
Elizabeth II Postbox: Painted in gold after the Olympics 2012 win of Bradley Wiggins. | Source

Elizabeth II: 1952-Present

The present Queen has been on the throne for over 60 years, there's no shortage of post boxes that bear the insignia of Elizabeth II. That makes these the most affordable of collector pieces if you're ever looking to buy a post box for your own garden.

The markings on an Elizabeth II post box will show E R, for Elizabeth Regina (Elizabeth, Queen), then you'll see the II between these letters.

Summary of Post Box Identification and Dates

Monarch
Letters
Years
Postbox Years
Victoria
VR
1853-1901
48 years
Edward VII
ER
1901-1910
9 years
George IV
GR
1910-1936
26 years
Edward VIII
ER
1936-1936
1 year
George VI
GR
1936-1952
16 years
Elizabeth II
ER
1952-Present
60 years

Overall, there's an unbelievably huge following for post boxes and a lot of history too. It's certainly an interesting hobby to follow and one in which everybody can participate by looking out for - and photographing - the boxes they find in their local area and while travelling.

It's also not uncommonn to find village talks on post boxes - perhaps there's one near you soon!

There are many variations produced over the years, with many makers and ID marks to collect, spot and collect too.

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Comments 7 comments

cornwall_UK profile image

cornwall_UK 3 years ago from Cornwall, UK

I didn't know you could buy old post boxes. Neat!


earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

I've just been following an ebay listing for a post box to buy .... too tempting. It'd have looked great in my garden too. I'll start clearing a spot once the rain stops and work out where I could put one.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

How neat love the boxes the green is my favorite. I will have to check them out on ebay. Voted up on your hub and shared.


earner profile image

earner 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

If you've the space for them, they're certainly a good investment and conversation piece.


2uesday profile image

2uesday 3 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

I know it is odd but I felt upset when I noticed that one of the set in the wall red post boxes had been removed from a nearby village recently. It was like a little landmark that had stood the test of time, until this year. Even if the post office no longer wanted to collect post from it, they could have left it there and boarded it up so it did not get used to post letters.

Or has someone in an office miles away, seen the potential of removing these as a way of raising funds for the post office?


Estelle 9 months ago

I have an Edward VII post box and wondered whether you could estimate its value? If I wanted to sell it, who would I take it to?


cornwall_UK profile image

cornwall_UK 7 months ago from Cornwall, UK

Estelle - take some good photos and then visit local auction centres to get their advice on whether it's something they can handle, or which specialist auction rooms would be best.

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