A Brief History
Mailboxes are tools for sending letters. They have a close relationship with humans. Wherever there are communities, there are mailboxes. All mailboxes have their unique stories, shapes, colours, fonts, logo and etc. Their designs are often related to the cultures and historical backgrounds of the countries. Mailboxes are usually durable and persistent. They can stand for centuries through heavy rainfall, strong winds and violent storms. That’s why people like collecting them. The stories about mailboxes are just as many as those of the stamps. People who are interested in the history of mailboxes are never discouraged to collect them though the mailboxes are usually huge in size. There are many commercial publications about stamps. Relatively speaking, there are fewer writings about mailboxes.
It is commonly known that different countries normally have set different colour schemes for their postboxes. The mailboxes in Great Britain are red in colour. Those in the western European countries like France, Germany and Spain the mailboxes are in yellow colour. Those in the East Europe are in light blue while those in Japan are orange. Singapore has white mailboxes. In the US, the mailboxes are darkish blues and its express mailboxes are white and blue. Most letterboxes in China are painted green. This is also true of the mailboxes in its neighbouring areas such as Taiwan and Hong Kong (after the handover).
Green is the major colour scheme of the mailboxes in China. However, you can see some mailboxes being painted pink in Beijing. They can only be found standing right beside the postal offices. Pink mailboxes are rare in other parts of the world. In Beijing, there is a story to go with those pink mailboxes. It is known to the local people that the pink mailboxes are especially for ‘love letters’. Pink represents warmth and harmony. Letters of love and friendship are therefore posted in those pink mailboxes.
England is the first country where stamps were printed and used. The same went to the use of mailboxes. Research shows that the first mailbox was dated back to 8th February in 1853, being placed in the Union Street. It is believed to be the first mailbox in the world.
All mailboxes in England bear the royal badges. Whenever there was a change of regime, so was the badge. No wonder, mailboxes bearing royal badge of different regimes on the sides can be found easily everywhere in the streets of England. But there is an exception. Postboxes bearing the Victorian badges can rarely be found in London because most of them had already been destroyed when the German air force bombarded London during World War II. Today most of the mailboxes in England are inscribed with the Royal Badge of the present Queen Elizabeth 2nd.
In order to have a look at the mailboxes made in Victoria’s time, I went to Buxton, Next to the Opera House in Water Street in Buxton; there stands a letterbox which is hexagon in shape. It is believed to be one of the two existing Victorian boxes. They have been in service since 1867. I was deeply impressed by its terrific design. It symbolizes the golden era of arts in the time of King George. The designer is always praised as the pioneer in design of mailboxes.
Research shows that US is a country with the largest number of car owners and every 2.5 people there owns a car. Therefore mailboxes are especially designed for the users of motorcars. They are made into a height which is similar to that of the drivers or passengers sitting in the cars. In this way the people sitting inside the cars do not have to walk out of their cars to drop their mails. The Americans may never notice the unique characteristic of the local mailboxes. But to the tourists or those who have never been to US, they will not be able to figure out the tiny objects standing in the streets, which are the mailboxes.
Compared with the post boxes used in other countries, Singapore’s have two distinct features. First, all post boxes are painted white from top to bottom which is rarely found in other parts of the world. The post boxes in New Zealand and the express mailboxes in the US are painted white on one side only. Second, the four sides of the post boxes in Singapore inscribed the word ‘Singapore’ in the center. There are not many post boxes in other places which bear the name of the nation on them. Even there are, the words are normally inscribed on one side only.
The first generation of post boxes in Singapore were typical of the British colonial style. They were cylindrically-shaped bearing the royal badge of Queen Elizabeth 2nd on one side of the box. Actually all 10 British colonies, such as HK, Malaysia, Cayman Island and Gibraltar, had made post boxes of almost the same style.
Until 1971, when Singapore regained her independence and the Postal Services Department became autonomous, all red colonial post boxes were replaced by yellowish rectangular ones, which were the second generation.
Eleven years later in 1982, the post boxes were given a new facelift. They were then painted orange, white or grey to mark the merge of the Postal Services Department and the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS). These were the 3rd generation.
In 1992, these same post boxes were re-painted blue and white when Singapore Post became a subsidiary of Singapore Telecom Limited and a public listed company in the Stock Exchange of Singapore. These are the 4th generation. Now we can see them standing in the hustling and bustling streets of Singapore.
Those post boxes described above can now be seen at the Singapore Philatelist Museum. More than that, you can bring them home. The Museum is now presenting the series of the post boxes to tourists and overseas collectors. It is hoped that the new unique postal culture of Singapore can be spread to the four corners of the world.
South Africa is a country with the most varied designs of postboxes. According to researchers there are 20 different designs. Before the Suez Canal was built, passage to Asia from Europe went around the Cape of good Hope. At that time, the Cape of Good Hope was considered by the travellers as a very distant place. Sailors serving this adventurous shipping route always wished to send letters to their family whenever they came to the Cape of Good Hope. However, it was difficult to meet a returning fleet. They therefore made an arrangement of fixing a meeting place next to a big rock where they could hand their letters to their counterparts who would be returning to their hometowns.
Then, some British people brought a mailbox from England and made it stand at the Cape of Good Hope. Meanwhile, among the powerful countries at sea such as Netherlands, France and Portugal, they began to place the mailboxes of their countries on the same spot to help send the letters of their people back home. Since then, mailboxes made in England were placed as far away as in India and Malaysia. Netherlands mailboxes were placed in Indonesia. Spanish mailboxes were placed in the Philippines. French letter boxes could be found in Vietnam and Portuguese ones in Macau. These South Asia countries eventually became the colonies of the European countries. Then World War II marked the end of the era of colonies. All that is left in these colonies are the mailboxes.
Business Grabs The Idea
With the introduction of the postbox, many businesses could see the benefit in having their own mailbox, and the large capacity meant that more post could be delivered without the need of staff to be involved. The added security of having a lockable secure mailbox that restricted access to those with keys also became attractive.
It did not take long for different departments to have their own mailboxes, thus further savings were made on mail sorting, and this practice also gave birth to the modular or bank mailbox. It is quite common now to see whole banks of modular mailboxes and postboxes that have been erected in a vertical bank or horizontal bank or even a bank built into a wall. Some banks may be mounted within large stands. Each of the modular or banked boxes can be accessed only by key holders which is a nice security bonus.
Business Needs Develop
With the ever increasing demand for business mailboxes and postboxes it was only natural that specialist boxes would be developed to fulfil particular roles. Anti-arson mailboxes were developed so that premises could be protected from the spread of fire from something as innocuous as a match to a more serious threat.
Anti-Arson mailboxes come in 2 varieties, the traditional fire extinguisher built into the box type or an intumescent lining that expands to fill the available space and the fire is starved of oxygen. In the first case (extinguisher) of fire, generally the boxes only need cleaning and the extinguisher or tube replaced. Spares are available here of course. The second type (intumescent) it is likely that the entire box will need to be renewed in case of fire. Therefore, this style should be considered where the risk is low and a maintenance free installation is required.
Mailboxes that attach to a mail chute were developed to go through walls , and add security as the mail cannot be interfered with once posted unless the mailbox is opened by an authorised user with a key. the chute would be telescopic to fit through varied sizes of walls. The added bonus of having the mailbox or postbox internal also added to the increase in secure mailbox solutions.
Rear retrieval mailboxes soon found their way onto the market, as the need became apparent that not all internal secure mailboxes needed to use mail chute. rear retrieval mailboxes gave the versatility to be freestanding, or mounted to a wall or even a fence with the mail slot exposed to receive mail and a door at the back for rear retrieval.
At about this time many European countries started to develop stainless steel mailboxes and postboxes, this greatly enhanced the look and life span of all mailboxes and postboxes and gave external mailboxes and postboxes a much need boost of acceptance.
The Courier Decade Arrives
The late 1980’s and 1990’s in particular has seen a massive increase in the number of courier deliveries that are made to business and domestic properties, and yet another niche market of mailboxes and postboxes was too be found. Many companies now use large capacity boxes for small parcels and there are now larger opening mailboxes and postboxes specifically designed for parcel deliveries.
These devices have become extremely secure with the introduction of parcel delivery mailbox and postboxes that be can receive parcels without a member of staff being involved, these unattended delivery mailboxes have found wide appeal for many small , medium and large business where parcels and packages are left but need to be secure.
Business Meets Domestic
The advent of internet business has increased the need for the domestic user to have unattended deliveries for internet orders to be delivered at home whilst they are at work. Many people now work from home in a SOHO environment and find larger capacity mailboxes essential.
Apartment blocks, flats and the like have found the need for modular mailboxes just like businesses use as great convenience in these kinds of properties.