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.
While technological changes have meant that the volume of Christmas cards has declined dramatically in recent years, the tradition of sending turkeys and geese through the post is a distant memory now and the days of having 1800 telephonists on duty over Christmas are long gone, it’s still a very busy time of the year for the Post Office. People still very much like our Christmas stamps and I have picked out here a selection of some of the attractive stamps we have issued over the years.
The Irish Post Office first issued a special Christmas stamp in 1971 and since then there has been a great variety of designs and styles – from the iconography of Trinity College’s famous Book of Kells and paintings by the great masters to the fresh artistic expressions of children. The GPO’s traditional nativity scene is on display in the Public Office and with the building marking its bicentenary this year, it’s a good time to visit the Museum, post your cards and maybe buy a few souvenir items in our Philatelic Shop, special stamps or prize bonds as Christmas presents.
Over the centuries a great many people have worked for the Post Office in Ireland and I regularly receive enquiries from people who are trying to piece together their family history. It’s well-known that a great deal of Irish historical material has been lost and the GPO’s role in the 1916 Rising means that Irish postal records suffered a like fate. Occasionally, however, it is possible to find out information that does help people in their research and the case of Thomas Hollinshead is one such.
The portrait, by Lawrence of Dublin, shows the distinguished figure of Thomas Hollinshead, an Englishman whose family was long settled in Staffordshire. He had joined the privately owned Electric Telegraph Company in 1854 and, when telegraph work was taken over by the Post Office, found himself a postal employee. He moved to Ireland and transferred to the survey branch of the Post Office, being appointed Assistant Surveyor of the Irish Midland District from 1884. He ended his days in Wales and died in 1910.
Thomas Hollinshead GPO surveyor (donated by family)
The photograph was kindly donated to the An Post Museum & Archive by his descendants when the Canadian and Irish branches of the family joined up and met me in the GPO recently. When, a couple of years ago, I received similar genealogical enquiries about Thomas Hollinshead from both Canada and Ireland, it was rewarding to be able to reunite family members who had lost touch over the intervening generations.
Heritage Week at the An Post Museum will be taking place from the 23rd August to the 30th August 2014 here in the GPO Dublin. Please note that the GPO is closed on Sundays.
Heritage Week is a great way for people of all ages to discover and explore Irish history and heritage.
Here at the GPO Dublin, the An Post Museum will be open for free from 10am to 5pm.
There are a number of special tours organised for the week-long festival exploring the history of the Irish Post Office.
Free tickets are available through Eventbrite.
Image of the Month: May 2014
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.
50th Anniversary of the Irish Olympic Council
World Ploughing Championships in 1973
Image of the month – April
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.
As we enter March, the thoughts of Irish people everywhere turn to St Patrick and the day set aside in honour of Ireland’s patron saint, the 17th March. Special postcards have been produced by printing firms for well over a century and the tradition of sending postcards to family and friends throughout the world survives, though to a much reduced extent, today. A study of these cards is an interesting exercise as it reveals the creation and portrayal of a particular iconography associated with Ireland – the shamrock, of course, saints, a bit of blarney and a land of Celtic mist at the edge of the world. This card, produced in Belfast in the early years of the last century, is an attractive example of the genre.
The last few weeks have been busy ones for the postage stamp. First introduced in 1840 to show that postage had been paid on a letter, this small rectangular piece of paper is particularly busy during Christmas and New Year.
Certainly, the introduction of email and text messages allows a wider range of options for communication but for many people, the humble stamp is still first choice to convey letters and messages of goodwill throughout the globe.
Apart from stamp design and the obvious attraction for collectors there is more importantly the personal touch associated with the stamp. There is the care and preparation that someone takes in putting pen to paper, the eager anticipation waiting for that envelope to drop through the letterbox and the knowledge that it has been handled by loved ones hands – modern technology has its place but it doesn’t offer this!
For those who still write letters, finding a stamp will probably mean a trip to the local post office and, more often than not nowadays, what will be sold to them will be a little label that is printed off by the clerk at the counter. The system is convenient in many respects and offers advantages to the Post Office but, for older customers and the traditional stamp collector, it certainly marks a change in the way in which stamps are produced and made available to the public. It is probably a good time, consequently, to recall something of the specialist printing work that went into the production of Irish stamps over the years and at the Irish national stamp exhibition, STAMPA, the An Post Museum & Archive will have some archive sheets on display this weekend.
Understanding and using the different printing techniques and processes, from traditional letter-press or typography to photogravure and offset lithography, calls for specialist knowledge and making stamps requires the collaboration of many different people. Artists and engravers, printers and IT people all contribute to the stamp and along the way they need to draw on others who know about paper and gums as well.
The STAMPA 2013 exhibition is on at the RDS (Anglesea Road entrance) from Friday the 18th to Sunday the 20th October and is open from 11am to 6pm daily. Admission is €5 for adults and €2 for children.