British Post Office Greetings Telegrams (1935-1978), after various artists
dimensions, including frames:
33 x Telegram 9 ¾ x 11⅞ in. (24.8 x 30.1 cm.)
31 x Telegram 10 ½ x 12 in. (26.8 x 30.5 cm.)
12 x Telegram 11 ½ x 18 in. (29.2 x 45.7 cm.) and similar
12 x Telegram 9 x 11½ in. (22.9 x 29.2 cm.)
1 x Telegram 11 ¾ x 12 ¾ in. (29.8 x 32.4 cm.)
1 x Telegram 9 x 10 ⅜ in. (22.9 x 26.3 cm.)
1 x Telegram 8 x 10 ½ in. (20.3 x 26.7 cm.)
A set of ninety-one (91)
To view numbered images (referencing the below chart), please go to the online catalogue.
The historical equivalent of a text or WhatsApp message, the first telegram was sent in code in 1844 from Washington to Baltimore by Samuel Morse, asking “What hath God wrought?” By 1870 (the year that the British General Post Office nationalised the service), more than 3,000,000 telegrams were being sent annually, of which one of the shortest ever was from Oscar Wilde, who, enquiring as to sales for his new book, sent a solitary “?” to his publisher. The response was “!”.
To harness new commercial appeal, the Greetings Telegram was introduced in 1935. Costing three pence more than a standard telegram, the initiative was a great success, and nearly 25,000 were sent out in the first week.
In 1943, during the Second World War, production of the Greetings Telegram was halted due to paper rationing and exigencies. Upon its reintroduction in 1950, demand was on a steep decline due to the increasing popularity of the telephone, and also the negative association that the telegram had acquired through informing families that their loved ones had been killed or were missing in action. The final British Greetings Telegram was produced in 1978, and the overall service came to an end in the United Kingdom in 1982.
As the present collection illustrates, Greetings Telegrams were extremely popular for celebrating special events: from newborn babies to weddings; from Christmas and coronations to Valentine’s day. Indeed, more than 50,000 of Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s design of 1936 were dispatched. The Greetings Telegram was a great way for artists to increase their profile and reach an incredibly broad audience, combining - in a very Warholian manner - mass production, consumerism and art. The artists featured in this collection include Edward Ardizzone, Rex Whistler and John Strickland Goodall. However, the first Greetings Telegram was designed by Mrs Calkin James, a Post Office employee.
12 There are still a number of countries where you can still send a telegram, namely Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Slovenia, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States. However, 15 July 2013 was the day that the telegram stopped being used on a mass-scale, when India terminated it’s service - usurped by the email and messaging.