It's a red-letter day for the 'antique' post-box

Enthusiasts put their cheque in the post

Once upon a time, old post- boxes signed off and died. They were either scrapped, sold off by the Royal Mail or given to retiring postmen. But last year the sales stopped, following discussions with English Heritage, which wants to preserve these solid red symbols of Britishness on our street corners.

Once upon a time, old post- boxes signed off and died. They were either scrapped, sold off by the Royal Mail or given to retiring postmen. But last year the sales stopped, following discussions with English Heritage, which wants to preserve these solid red symbols of Britishness on our street corners.

On one hand, this is good news for the 800 or so members of the Letter Box Study Group (LBSG), who spend their spare time "spotting" letter-boxes, photographing them and noting down their specifications. They have campaigned since 1976 for the preservation and appreciation of all types of letter-box, sometimes leading to certain ones obtaining preservation orders as listed buildings.

On the other hand, for those who collect them - and there are many at home and abroad - there are now fewer available to buy or restore.

For Arthur Reader, though, an electrician who lives on the Isle of Wight and owns 141 letter- boxes, the concern is not so much that prices could go up but that the boxes could be in jeopardy. "The Royal Mail is already fighting a losing battle against vandals and thieves," he says, "and it's not easy to keep the old ones, particularly the lamp- boxes, as they can get stolen. If people think they're valuable, they might just take them."

That is a danger, although there is not much chance of a pillar-box being stolen: these sturdy iron constructions can have a "root" underground of up to three feet deep. However, they may have lost doors or, importantly, locks. "The real value is in the lock," says Tony Inglis of Unicorn Kiosks, which reconditions and sells all types of letter-box and phone kiosk. "The price of a box very much depends on its condition - a good wire cage inside, the enamel plate in good condition and nice brass fittings - but it's rare to find one with the lock still on. Chubb made them specially for letter-boxes but they tend to come off before the box comes on the market."

In fact, very few whole post- boxes are delivered to the market. Mr Reader says he picked up most of his collection as scrap, which he then rebuilt or reconditioned. In some instances, he had to use three boxes to make one. "I've got hold of them because I've known a lot of people up and down the country who worked for Royal Mail," he explains, "and they've known when old boxes, or bits of boxes, were being thrown out."

He, like many other members of the LBSG, describes himself as a historian first and a collector second. One dedicated member travelled all the way to the Falkland Islands to photograph a George VI pillar box in Fort Stanley. The society's secretary, Avice Harms, says: "Collecting letter-boxes is not an investment; it's a way of saving our history and heritage. Americans love collecting them but we don't want to see too many go out of the country."

It is hard to see how American collectors can get hold of letter-boxes here, other than paying top dollar to Unicorn Kiosks: a really good pillar-box in mint condition costs up to £3,500 plus VAT.

"They do turn up in antique centres around Britain," says Ms Harms. "You sometimes see them on eBay [the internet auction site] for silly prices, and there's a shop in Newbury [Berkshire] that seems to get them sometimes, but I don't know where they get them from."

When Hong Kong got rid of all its British-style boxes, they were bought by Americans and Japanese collectors. But even with foreign interest, prices have not really risen much in the past 10 years. It is possible that, owing to the determination of English Heritage, the boxes will stay where they are for now, which means that those owned by collectors will have rarity value in 10 years' time. But that is a long time to keep big, bulky "antiques" if you don't have a real feeling for them.

PILLAR TO POST

Prices

Lamp-boxes (the smallest ones, originally mounted on lamp-posts) cost £300 to £400 each. Wall-boxes sell for £450 to £1,100, and pillar- boxes £1,600 to £3,500. (These are prices for whole boxes in reasonable to good condition.)

More information

* The Letter Box Study Group - www.lbsg.org - costs £8 a year to join. You receive a newsletter and see other enthusiasts at meetings twice a year.

* www.Consignia.com/heritage has lots of information about stamps, boxes and post history.

* Paul's Unofficial Letterbox Pages ( www.wicks.org/pulp) and Malcolm Smith's Postbox Pages ( www.masmith100.freeserve.co.uk) offer photographs and information from enthusiasts.

* Unicorn Kiosks: www.unicornkiosks.com, 020 8651 2436.

* Bath Postal Museum ( www.bath.co.uk/postal-museum) keeps exhibits of all things postal dating back to Victorian times.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living