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April 04, 2012, 01:36 PM

Private use of antique Royal Mail pillar boxes or post boxes

By Thornton Kay

Restored pillar box and postboxes for sale on SalvoWEB at UK Architectural Antiques [Photo UKAA

Somerset, UK - A reader asked where outdoors can she put her old Royal Mail postbox or pillar box? Are there laws, rules and regulations on siting antique postabilia? How near to the boundary can it be positioned?

Thirty years ago advice to salvage yard customers was that a decommissioned post box could only be put on private property in a spot where it could not be seen from a road or footpath. Nowadays some dealers tell prospective customers that an old post box can be sited anywhere on private property provided the enamel signs stating collection times have been removed. Which advice is correct?

Jenny Karlsson from the British Postal Museum told SalvoNEWS that it is not true that the collection plate can simply be removed and the box put anywhere. She said that if the box is in a public place then the opening should be blocked and the box painted a colour other than red, usually white, black or sometimes grey. On private land reuse is acceptable provided the box is not be accessible to the public easily, for example within a walled garden. To site a wall-mounted postbox on the edge of a property where it could be accessed and used by the public would not be acceptable. There would also be the question of planning permission if it was on public land. Royal Mail have assumed planning permission for boxes under the Town and Country Planning Act but this does not apply to boxes in private hands. Finally, she said, English Heritage now state that postboxes should remain in use wherever possible so Royal Mail would not be selling boxes generally. Obviously those that are now out in the public domain after being sold years ago are different. When Royal Mail sold boxes in the past they drew up a contract of sale that enshrined certain conditions.

Helen Crabtree at the Letter Box Study Group told SalvoNEWS that the Royal Mail used to sell post and pillar boxes under terms which dictated how and where they would be used. The sale contract stated that the postbox must not under any circumstances be sited so as to confuse a member of the public that it was a genuine Royal Mail postbox. If it was within sight or reach of a public highway, it had to be either painted a different colour or have a notice attached which stated that it was not for use by the general public, or it must not be lockable. It was regarded a crime tantamount to fraud to site a private postbox within reach of the public which could be used by them for posting mail. Lastly, the terms stated that should the new owner of an ex-Royal Mail postbox who no longer wished to keep it had to offer it back to Royal Mail for first refusal before any subsequent resale.

We spoke to one of Royal Mail's Regional Requisitioner (tel 0844 800 9191) who looks after several UK counties and who said that, although there used to be sale conditions attached to reuse of a postbox or pillar box, there were no laws attached to reuse unless its position confused a member of the public into placing their mail into that box. He said that he had been a requisitioner for 25 years and had to intervene only three times when a private postbox was causing problems, and each case was resolved amicably by repositioning the postbox without resorting to legal action.

He told SalvoNEWS that the Royal Mail's red paint colour was copyright, so technically anyone painting or repainting a postbox with that colour technically could sued by Royal Mail for breach of copyright, although to his knowledge this had never happened. He also said that Royal Mail no longer sells off postboxes or pillar boxes because they might be needed for cannibalising or replacing existing postboxes.

Even though the Royal Mail may no longer be selling them, there are still plenty of originals around, although prices are steadily rising and Chinese and other reproductions are readily available, many at salvage yards. A dealer told SalvoNEWS that Chinese reproduction postboxes can be spotted because they are not as well fettled as the originals and often use steel components instead of cast iron.

Last year around 20 postboxes were for sale at the Salvo Fair, mostly antique post boxes on Fred Nixon's stand. There are also several wall-mounted and post-mounted postboxes and pillars boxes on SalvoWEB, mostly for sale by UK Architectural Antiques, a Salvo Code dealer in Staffordshire.

British Postal Museum & Archive
Letter Box Study Group

Story Type:  Reference

ID: 65716

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