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; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
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

    Law Costs

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

    Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

    DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

    £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

    Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

    £60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution