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Blog > The Little Mail Carriers at the RPSL


I believe most postcrossers have a soft spot for stamps. Who can help but be enthralled by their history and design, and the stories they tell in such a small format? There have been stamp collectors for as long as there have been stamps, but philately goes beyond simply keeping a collection. A big part of the field is actually the research of stamps and postal history.

One association whose members are dedicated to these goals is the Royal Philatelic Society London (or RPSL). We discovered it through Barrie (aka PeaceFox), who is both a postcrosser and one of RPSL’s assistant curators. When we first met him at a philatelic exhibition in Tampere last year, he talked so passionately about his work that we promised to check it out. Sometime after that, the Little Mail Carriers magically found themselves in the British capital with a bit of free time… so we sent them to the RPSL to explore and report back. Here’s their travel diary.

Hello from London 🇬🇧! There’s so much to see and do, and everything looks so posh here! But there’s no time for shopping or sightseeing today, as we’re on a mission: to visit and learn about the Royal Philatelic Society London, the oldest philatelic society in the world.

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The home of the RPSL is a lovely historical building in the heart of London, where we were received by their museum’s curator Juliet Turk. She explained that the Society was founded on April 10th, 1869 with a diary which they still keep…

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… but only truly became “The Royal” (as it is known among its members) 37 years later, when King Edward VII gave permission for the usage of the Royal prefix. Over time, several royal figures have been patrons of the RPSL, most notably King George V, who was an enthusiastic stamp collector and also served as president of the Society from 1896 to 1910.

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One interesting project that the Society is responsible for is the Museum of Philatelic History. Their permanent exhibition in the basement features displays on printing, using, collecting and exhibiting stamps, as well as post office tools and other interesting specimens… and even the printing press of Jean de Sperati, a famous master of philatelic forgeries!

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Visitors have access to temporary exhibitions and themed displays throughout the building, as well as historical artefacts related to philately — including this plaster cast effigy of Queen Elizabeth II by Arnold Machin. If she looks familiar, it’s because this is the image featured not only on the ubiquitous Machin stamps series, but its silhouette is also used in all the British stamps that don’t have a photo of the Queen herself.

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Juliet also gave us a peek into the museum’s archives, which include the Perkins Bacon records. This British company was responsible for printing many series of stamps, among which is the famous Penny Black. Their impeccable accounting and printing journals detail when each series of stamps were printed, and are thus a valuable resource for philatelists.

But… what about postcards?

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Oh, here they are! These date roughly between 1890 and 1920, and were sent to the RPSL’s Experts Committee, the department tasked with the job of certifying the authenticity of stamps.

Rosemary Green, a fellow of the RPSL, bequeathed a huge collection of archives, over 60 medals, 80 antique weighing scales and 50 Tunbridge Ware stamp boxes in 2012. Among the collection are these adorable kitten postcards, featuring scales.

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To keep their collections in good hands, many philatelists bequeath their stamps and prized postal possessions to the Society in their wills, and as a result, great treasures can be found in the RPSL’s own collection… and also some tiny ones, like this mini-postcard that Juliet showed us!

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How cute is that?!

There is also a library at the RPSL, where members come to research philatelic topics. Since every stamp is a mini-testimony to a certain era, there is a lot you can learn about the world through them. Over the years, we’ve seen many philatelic displays in exhibitions around the world, and it’s very likely that some of the research made for them came from the materials in this extensive library.

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At the end of our tour, we sat down with a cup of tea and marvelled at their colorful bookshelves stretching almost to the ceiling. You should definitely come visit, if you’re interested in stamps and philately! Independent Museum tours are free and guided tours start at £5, but booking is required.

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That was a brilliant visit — thank you Juliet and Barrie, for taking such good care of us! 😊

As we left the building, the sun was shining in London, so we went out to see the sights. Well tell you all about it in a different post… Stay tuned!

23 comments so far

figtrees, United Kingdom

Thanks for letting us see the Machin effigy - how interesting!

leelee21, France

Merci pour ce partage. Vraiment très intéressant.

rinadutoit, South Africa

Wow! What a trip!!! I will have to make a plan to visit this museum very soon! Thank you for sharing with us! Rina in South Africa

ned44440, Ireland

What a great place to visit and still very much on my 'to do' list. Must make it sooner rather than later.
The Little Mail Carriers certainly have the best of times.

hobbymail, United States of America

in my profile I recommend readers see The U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. after I visited it; it's easy to find, next to Union Station. 2 floors of exhibits and the historic building is beautiful. Thank you for showing us this amazing London Society and adding the links.

JetteLise, Netherlands

A new idea / theme for my " to do list " in London :) , thank you dear Juliet and Barrie!

radiohead92, Austria

Thank you very much for the nice information about the RPSL.
Sure, I have heard very much about this society but I never thought that a curator is a postcrosser.
BTW: I remember the great stamp-treasures at Tampere postimuseo of Queen Elisabeth II. It was for me magical to see these historical stamps.

meiadeleite, Portugal

@radiohead92 There are several postcrossers there, even! :)

Luziaceleste, Brazil

What a life these mail carriers live. Nice they share these discoveries with us. By the way,museums are about that: = share treasures. Looking forward for the next adventure of the couple!

fisherman, Ireland

I must visit that Museum too - Lucky little mail carriers

Bowyum, Australia

As a matter of interest the cameo head image used on U.K. commemorative stamps is different to the Machin head on the definitives. To me it looks more like the design created by David Gentleman.

BellSmallburrow, United States of America

That sounds like fun!

meiadeleite, Portugal

@Bowyum I think you're on to something... According to Wikipedia, David Gentleman gave the idea of the smaller silhouette, but it looks like it might have been based on a sculpture by Mary Gillick. Further investigation is required!

BeckyS, United States of America

Thank you Little Mail Carriers, for letting us tag along on your romp through the RPSL. If I am ever in London, I will be sure to drop in to the RPSL to take a gander at those bookshelves.

Chenoah, Germany

I love all the Little Mailcarriers posts alot and appreciate the hosts for letting us be part of the trip. Thanks!

sunshine0312, China

That is amazing.Longing to go.

SailorJ, Canada

Canada, as a part of the commonwealth, uses the same image of the queen on many of stamp series as well!

islander61, Bahamas

What an interesting find! Especially loved the kitten postcards. Was in London July/August 2017 and think that would have been a nice place to visit. Next time! :)

721sand, United States of America

Thanks for this information. Very enjoyable and educational.

cyberpunk, United Kingdom

Machin stamps were also the definitive stamps in Hong Kong in the 90s. I've been fascinated by them ever since I saw them in my dad's stamp album. I just talked about this plaster cast with my parents the other day :)

Flippie, Canada

Hi, Thanks for the tip, Anneke

prpltrtl946, United States of America

Thank you!! 8*)

shecurrantbun, United Kingdom

Thanks looks great ... need to visit


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