Famous Box Design

National Standard Pillar Box

There are many things that the British view with fierce pride. Among them is the red pillar box, which English Heritage chairman Sir Neil Cossons has described as, ‘a classic icon of British design inextricably linked to our national image’. Britain’s first red free-standing cast-iron pillar box appeared in Jersey’s capital, St Helier, in 1852, ushered in not by an engineer, designer or planner, but by the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope.

A surveyor’s clerck for the Post Office at the time, Trollope had been sent to the Channel Islands to study ways of improving postal services and quickly arrived at the solution of the roadside post-boxes that are now regarded as Britain’s first nationwide communication system.

These first hexagonal boxes were designed by local designer John Vaudin and made their debut on mainland Britain in September 1853. But the shape of the boxes presented problems, including difficulty in emptying them. The mainland boxes were also painted in different colours, among them dark green, bronze and red, making identification on the street difficult, and they came in any shape or size that the relevant postal district desired. Some were 2.5 m (8ft) tall in the form of fluted Doric columns with domes and ornate crowns, others were rectangular with an aperture in their roof, an obvious failing given the nation’s inclement climate.

The cylindrical National Standard, originally green but painted red in 1874 to aid visibility, was derived from an 1858 design by Richard Redgrave at the Department for Science and Arts, at what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. In 1859 the design was improved in a number of ways. Among these was the introduction of a protective hood on the roof covering the repositioned aperture (from the top to below the rim) and a wire cage that held the post when the door was opened.

Manufactured by Messers Cochrane & Company, the arrival of the first National Standard Pillar Box in 1859, as the name suggests, standarized the box across the country. In November 1875, a model for a cylindrical box was produced, which was to become the box we see today. The design was superseded by the iconic ‘Anonymous’ box without any royal cipher in 1879, which apart from a few recent experiments has chaged very little since.

The only addition has been the placement of the words ‘POST OFFICE’ on either side of the aperture. This is the now the National Standard and its key innovative design elements have remained almost untouched.

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