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Blog > Pillar Boxes

If you’ve ever been to the U.K., you may have seen bright red cylindrical objects around town. These pillar boxes are the U.S. equivalent of the free-standing blue arch-like mailboxes (and should not be confused with pillarboxes, which are the black bars that appear to the sides of a movie image that wasn’t formatted for widescreen). Although they’re more common in the U.K. or in former nations of the British empire, versions of this special red post box can also be found in other countries, such as Japan or Portugal.

Pillar BoxPillar Box

Pillar boxes started to appear in 1852, twelve years after the first adhesive postage stamp was introduced. Before then, citizens would have to take their outgoing mail to the nearest letter receiving house or post office and personally deliver it to the postmaster after purchasing a stamp. Although they were initially proposed in 1840 by Sir Rowland Hill (who thought they would “add greatly to the public convenience”), it wasn’t until 1852 that the first pillar boxes were erected in the Channel Islands. It was a successful trial, which later spread with their implementation accross the mainland.

The boxes varied slightly from one area to the next, as each District Surveyor gave their own specifications for the design. You can find the most unique-looking ones that were made early on, when they included things like octagonal pillars, fluted columns, vertical slits instead of horizontal ones, and different coloring. The construction of pillar boxes was standardized in 1905, generally made of cast iron and in a cylindrical shape.

Pillar Boxes

There are three distinct parts of a pillar box: the cap, which sits on the carcass and is bolted down from the inside, the door, which is hinged and displays the Royal Cypher of the reigning monarch, and the carcass, the main body that produced down below ground level, giving stability to the pillar box. Over 150 designs and varieties of pillar boxes, and their cousins, wall boxes (mail receptacles that are set into a walls), have emerged, though not all have survived.

Next time you’re in the UK, or any other country that sports these postal beauties, look a little closer and see if you can guess what time period it was erected (check out this page for some clues on the Royal cyphers)!

Pillar Boxes

For a more in depth look into the history of these boxes, check out “Well adapted for a purpose…”, a really neat post from the British Postal Museum’s blog.

Happy pillar box spotting! :)

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23 comments so far

shui, Taiwan
Here is a photo showing the only pillar box still in use in Taiwan. It's in front of Pingsi post office in New Taipei City. :)

http://i.imgur.com/RIL91Hi.jpg
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Muttley, Netherlands
In Ireland we have a green pillar boxes (also on a stamp)... The British red pillar boxes were re-painted in green in 1922.
http://postcardsandmatchingstamps.blogspot.ie/2012/04/lamp-and-pillar-mail-box-from-ireland.html
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ned44440, Ireland
This letter box http://www.postcrossing.com/postcards/IE-56026 is what is known as a lampbox. This particular one is younger than 1922 as it has the letters P&T on it which stands for Posts and Telegraphs. Sometimes we have birds nesting in these boxes and of course that means they are out of commission for their intended purpose until after the young birds have left the nest. Occasionally snails can get into these boxes and damage the contents of the box. I've had to explain this to customers more than once. Not easy!!!
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bornokyo, Philippines
Interesting!
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Orangeskin, Netherlands
http://www.maltezerbeau.net/pagina378.html
search 1914 on this page to find the Old Dutch Mailbox, square version which can still be found near the entrance of our Dutch open air museum in Arnhem, right next to the old postoffice in the museum park.
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penangcrosser, Malaysia
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ankehelene, Germany
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nelly_zhou, China
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moonlessnite, Canada
Wonderful learning!
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HofVliet, Netherlands
Yes I have seen and used them! I love this log.
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MiniP, Japan
Homesick!!!
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geminiscp, Portugal
I love those pillar boxes and wish they live forever! Also like the blue version for priority mail that we have. :)
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Robin67, Austria
@ ned44440: I am sure the snail mail damages the poor snails too, if it falls onto their heads! :-/

I love all kinds of post boxes and am always interested to see them when I go abroad! :-)
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franhunne, Germany
They are featured in "Icons of England" - and they are on the cover there, too!
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zwiebelbaguette, Germany
I used one of those when I was in London a few years ago. :D It had two separate openings: one for mail destinated to go outside the country and one for inside the country, if I remember correctly. I checkt 3 times, before using it, because I was afraid to use the wrong opening. xD Of course, I wanted to send some mail back home to Germany to show my friends and family something from my great vacation. =)
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MaiteFrance, France
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juliaclaire, United States of America
A great article, and it goes along with all the news about William and Kate's baby boy lately.
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florencen, Australia
thanks for all the added links it certainly is an interesting post.
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scriptor, United Kingdom
Some of my pillar box postcards can be seen on
http://www.zazzle.co.uk/gifts?ch=scriptorspostcards
but if you would like a particular one made into a postcard I have photos of most types and will be happy to make it into a Zazzle card for you. Other people also have pillar box postcards on Zazzle.
(I hope Postcrossing blog doesn't mind me advertising this way but when I first wanted British pillar box cards I found them quite hard to get.)
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Micoky, China
Chinese pillar boxes are green.I prefer like Eglish pillar boxes .They are beautiful.HAHA~~~~O(∩_∩)O哈哈~
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Purpleflyer, United Kingdom
So without a pillar box, where does everyone else post their letters and cards?
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martymarty, Czech Republic
Yep, it´s a typical feature, love it.
What a pity that in Czech we have quite boring straight box-shaped ones.... at least the orange colour we have is quite catchy - you can spot it very easily.
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