History of the Post-Box

The Letter-Carrier System: Prior to 1840, posting letters in Ireland was operated under a letter-carrier system. To deliver a letter the letter-carrier had to knock at the door, wait until it was answered and then wait until the money was found for the postage. This was a slow business. With the introduction of pre-paid postage, it was suggested that everyone should cut a slit for letters in their front door. At first, people objected to cutting slits in their mahogany doors, but by the early 1850s most people had conformed.

Uniform Penny Postage was introduced in 1840. There was a rapid growth of correspondence following the introduction of uniform penny postage in 1840. Between the years 1839 and 1842 the quantity of Irish letters increased from 9 million to over 24 million a year. This dramatic increase put a considerable strain on the letter-carriers who not only delivered letters, but also collected them.

In England, there was a similar problem, and the Post Office decided to follow France's example and provide road-side posting boxes. A trial of the setting up of four post boxes was carried out in Jersey in 1852. They were so successful that the scheme extended to mainland England, and Ireland received its first roadside letter boxes in 1855. Five boxes were erected in Belfast, Ballymena and Dublin. The Dublin box, rectangular in shape, may be seen in the National Museum. By early 1857 there were pillar boxes in the more prominent parts of Irish cities. At the same time the Post Office started wall boxes in Ireland.

The Handyside Pillar Box was introduced in 1879. Complaints about letters being caught up and delayed by faults in the internal construction of the hexagonal boxes resulted in the decision in 1874 to adopt the cylindrical shaped boxes, not only because of their superiority in capacity, but also because of their greater economy as regards both their costs and repairs. The successful iron-founder was Handyside of Derby. Distribution of cylindrical boxes commenced in March 1879. At first, the new boxes had their horizontal posting aperture very close to the roof, causing large letters and newspapers to become lodged in the top of the boxes. Lowering the aperture a few inches therefore amended the design.

Surprisingly enough, it was not until November 1887 that it was realised that the new cylindrical boxes did not bear the Royal Cypher or indeed any indication that they were Post Office property. By the end of the year a new design incorporating the Royal Cypher on the door and the words "Post Office" on the collar below the rim of the roof, had been approved. No radical change in the external design of the cylindrical pillar boxes has taken place since their adoption in 1879. It is the various ciphers utilized through time that makes postboxes identifiable.

Most of the early pillar boxes were painted dark bronze green throughout the United Kingdom, but in 1874 the Post Office decided to make pillar boxes more obvious by painting them a striking royal red. With Independence the Irish Post Office changed the colour to green.

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