Post box

Post box
Post boxes in Australia
The yellow box is for express mail.
A British Lamp Box post box of the 1940 pattern at Denvilles, Havant, Hampshire.
First Paris street letter box from c.1850
A public (though unconventional) post box in Japan shaped as tea caddy

A post box (British English and others, also written postbox, known in the United States and Canada as collection box, mailbox, post box, or drop box) is a physical box into which members of the public can deposit outgoing mail intended for collection by the agents of a country's postal service. The term post box can also refer to a private letter box for incoming mail.

Varieties of post boxes (for outgoing mail) include:


History of post boxes

Lamp box mounted next to a sewer gas destructor lamp in Crookes, Sheffield, England.


In 1653, the first post boxes are believed to have been installed in Paris.[1] By 1829, post boxes were in use throughout France.[2]

In the British Isles the first pillar post boxes were erected in Jersey in 1852. Roadside wall boxes first appeared in 1857 as a cheaper alternative to pillar boxes, especially in rural districts. In 1853 the first pillar box in Britain was installed at Botchergate, Carlisle. In 1856 Richard Redgrave of the Department of Science and Art designed an ornate pillar box for use in London and other large cities. In 1859 the design was improved, and this became the first National Standard pillar box. Green was adopted as the standard colour for the early Victorian post boxes. Between 1866 and 1879 the hexagonal Penfold post box became the standard design for pillar boxes and it was during this period that red was first adopted as the standard colour. The first boxes to be painted red were in London in July 1874, although it would be nearly 10 years before all the boxes had been repainted.[3]

The first public letter boxes (post boxes) in Russia appeared in 1848 in St. Petersburg.[citation needed] They were made of wood and iron. Because these boxes were lightweight and easy to steal, they disappeared frequently; later boxes were made of cast iron and could weigh up to 45 kilograms.[citation needed]


The post box arrived in the late 19th century Hong Kong and were made of wood. In the 1890s, metal pillar box appeared in Hong Kong and remained in use till the late 1990s. From the 1890s to 1997 the boxes were painted red and after 1997 were painted green.

North America

The United States Post Office Department began installing public mail collection boxes in the 1850s outside post offices and on street corners in large cities. Collection boxes were initially mounted on lamp-posts.[4] As mail volume grew, the Post Office Department gradually replaced these small boxes with larger models. The four-footed, free-standing U.S. Mail collection box was first suggested in 1894, following the successful use of such designs in Canada, and quickly became a fixture on U.S. city street corners.[4][5] Unlike Canadian mailboxes, which were painted red,[6] U.S. mail collection boxes were originally painted a dark green to avoid confusion with emergency and fire equipment, then to red and blue in the 1950s, and finally, all-blue with contrasting lettering.[5][7] The coming of the automobile also influenced U.S. mailbox design, and in the late 1930s, an extension chute or 'snorkel' to drive-up curbside collection boxes was adopted.[4]

USPS "Snorkel" collection boxes for drive-through access
A British pillar box with two apertures, one for stamped, and the other for franked, mail

Types of post boxes

Some postal operators have different types of post boxes for different types of mail, such as, regular post, air mail and express mail, for local addresses (defined by a range of postal codes) and out-of-town addresses, or for post bearing postage stamps and post bearing a postage meter indicator.[citation needed]

Some countries have different coloured post boxes; in countries such as Australia, Portugal, and Russia, the colour indicates which type of mail a box is to be used for, such as 1st and 2nd class post. However, in Germany and parts of Sweden, because of postal deregulation, the different colours are for the different postal services. Other nations use a particular colour to indicate common political or historical ties.[8]

Post boxes or mailboxes located outdoors are designed to keep mail secure and protected from weather. Some boxes have a rounded or slanted top or a down turned entry slot to protect mail from rain or snow.[5][9] Locks are fitted for security, so mail can be retrieved only by official postal employees, and the box will ordinarily be constructed so as to resist damage from vandalism, forcible entry, or other causes.[5][9][10] Bright colours are often used to increase visibility and prevent accidents and injuries.[11][12] Entry openings are designed to allow the free deposit of mail, yet prevent retrieval via the access slot by unauthorised persons.[5][13]


Post boxes are emptied ("cleared") at times usually listed on the box in a TOC, Times of Collection, plate affixed to the box. In metropolitan areas, this might be once or twice a day. Busy boxes might be cleared at other times to avoid overflowing, and also to spread the work for the sorters. Extra clearances are made in the period leading up to Christmas, to prevent boxes becoming clogged with mail.[citation needed]

Since 2005, most Royal Mail post boxes have had the time of only the last collection of the day listed on the box, with no indication of whether the box is cleared at other times earlier in the day. The reason given for this by the Royal Mail is that they needed to increase the type size of the wording on the "plate" listing the collection times to improve legibility for those with poor sight and that consequently there was insufficient room for listing all collection times throughout the day. Some post boxes may indicate the next collection time by a metal 'tab'[14] or dial that can be changed while the box is open. The tab displays a day or number, each number corresponding to a different time shown on the plate.

Terrorism and political vandalism

The surviving Manchester pillar box from the 1996 bomb

During 1939 a number of bombs were put in post boxes by the IRA as part of their S-Plan campaign. When the Provisional IRA blew up the Arndale shopping centre in the 1996 Manchester bombing one of the few things to survived unscathed was a Victorian pillar box dating from 1887 (A type A Jubilee pillar).

In 1952, a number of post boxes were attacked in Scotland in a dispute over the title adopted by the British monarch which was displayed in cypher on the boxes. This included at least one which was damaged in the Inch housing estate in Edinburgh with a home made explosive device. The issue in question was the fact that Queen Elizabeth I had not been the queen of Scotland, and so Scotland couldn't have a Queen Elizabeth II. The compromise was to put the Scottish crown on Scottish pillar boxes, without any reference to the particular reigning monarch. One such example can still be seen today in Hong Kong at Statue Square.

In the United States of America, nearly 7,000 USPS collection boxes were removed following the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and the 2001 anthrax attacks in which letters containing anthrax spores were placed in public collection boxes. Since that time, a decrease in first-class mail volume and the onset of online bill payment processing has resulted in lower demand for collection box service in the U.S.[4]

In Northern Ireland several red Royal Mail post boxes were painted green by Irish Republicans in early 2009, in order to resemble An Post's post boxes in the Republic of Ireland.[citation needed]

In Britain the disposal of hypodermic needles into post boxes is a modern problem. This raises concerns among employees about AIDS/HIV and other infectious diseases and has caused Royal Mail (UK) to issue metal needle-proof gauntlets for their employees in high risk areas to protect those employees from infection.[citation needed]



Swedish Royal Post
Irish Post & Telegraphs "P7T" logo
  • Australia – a styled red letter "P" on a white circle, "P" standing for "Post".
  • Canada – a combination of a bird wing and an aircraft wing in a red circle and flanked by the words Canada Post / Postes Canada. Previously the words Canada, Canada Post, or Canada Post Corporation) were used on post boxes. Some older post boxes had the words "Royal Mail".
  • Continental Europe – most designs include a Post horn, like those used by postmen to announce their arrival. In Germany the post horn is the only element indicating post services.
  • Ireland – from 1922 the Irish harp entwined with the letters "SE" for Saorstát Éireann, then "P7T" Gaelic script for Post & Telegraphs and from 1984 An Post with their wavy lines logo, often on the door as a raised casting.
  • Russia – logo of Russian Post (Почта России) written white on blue and black on yellow 1st class mail boxes.
  • Japan – a "T" with another bar above it (〒).
  • United Kingdom – all post boxes display the Royal Cypher of the reigning monarch at the time of manufacture. Exceptions are the Anonymous pillar boxes of 1879–87, where the cypher was omitted, and all boxes for use in Scotland manufactured after 1952 (including replicas of the 1866 Penfold design) which show the Queen's Crown of Scotland instead of the Royal Cypher for Elizabeth II. Private boxes emptied by Royal Mail do not have to carry a cypher. Royal Mail post boxes manufactured since 1994 carry the wording "Royal Mail", normally above the aperture (lamp boxes) or on the door (pillar boxes). Before this date all post boxes, with the exception of the Anonymous pillar boxes, carried the wording "Post Office".
  • United States – the United States Postal Service (USPS) eagle logo, except that boxes for Express Mail use the USPS Express Mail logo.

Gallery of Post Boxes from around the world

See also

References and sources

  1. ^ Lawrence, Ken. "Before the Penny Black". Ken Lawrence. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  2. ^ Batcow, Stan (2001-12-02). "The Post Boxes of Blackpool, England". Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  3. ^ Wicks, Paul (2002). "History of British Letter Boxes - Part 1: Victorian Letter Boxes". Paul Wicks. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  4. ^ a b c d Marsh, Allison (2006-03-20). "Postal Collection Mailboxes". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Shaman, Tony. "Antique Street Letterboxes". Retrieved 2008-08-16. 
  6. ^ Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, History In A Box: Red Forever!,
  7. ^ Marsh, Allison; Pope, Nancy (2006-04-28). "Orr & Painter mailbox". Postal Collection Mailboxes. National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-16. 
  8. ^ Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, Colour, A Postal Symbol,
  9. ^ a b Glancey, Jonathan (2007-01-16). "Classics of everyday design No 6". theblog. The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-16. 
  10. ^ Marsh, Allison (2006-04-29). "Street collection box damaged September 11, 2001". Postal Collection Mailboxes. National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  11. ^ "A Victorian post box in Brecon - made in the Black Country". Black Country Bugle. 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  12. ^ "Campaign to preserve red post boxes". BBC UK News. BBC. 2002-10-03. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  13. ^ William, Earle (1975-04-29). "Secured mailbox". USPTO Database. USPTO. Retrieved 2008-08-16. 
  14. ^ "Changes to post box collections: Collection Tabs". Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  15. ^ All Royal Mail / GPO post boxes were painted BS 538 Post Office Red between 1874 and 1969. With the introduction of the K8 Telephone kiosk in 1969, a new "red" colour was adopted for GPO street furniture, designated B.S. 539 Post Haste Red. After British Telecom and Royal Mail were split by the British Government, BT continued to use BS539 exclusively, whilst Royal Mail use both BS538 and BS539 in a seemingly random way. Prior to 1859 there was no standard colour although there is a document in the BPMA archive indicating that optionally, the lettering and Royal cypher could be picked out in white or black. In 1859, a bronze green colour became standard until 1874. It took ten years for every box to be repainted during this period).
  16. ^ PIN MAIL AG

Farrugia, Jean (1969). The letter box: a history of Post Office pillar and wall boxes. Fontwell: Centaur Press. p. 282. ISBN 0900000147. 

External links

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