Sunday, 27 July 2008

Training Stamps By Allan Oliver ( part 3)

You may remember a few weeks ago Allan Oliver posted a short but detailed account about Training Stamps, in the account he promised a follow up. Here it is hope you find it of interest, I certainly do.

Post Office Training School stamps
Although this information has been requested in relation to the Machin stamps of Great Britain, it was thought best to start at the beginning with the King George 5 issues and work into the required period. This has been done as a great deal of the information from earlier periods relates to the more modern system, and thus an understanding of why things were done in a certain way at this earlier time will give the collector a better understanding of the system and the way it worked, or at least the way it was supposed to work. With regards to the historical details, I have left out details regarding the engineering school, telephone school and the like as these details to not relate to the use of postage stamps and although part of the overall story would in this context only clutter the details.

The post office training schools came into being in 1920 to train staff, [in different departments], post office procedures and it was initially a way of standardizing services by way of counter staff in main post offices, as well as those in smaller sub post offices. The other branches it was used to standardize were the telephone, telegraph and the mechanical engineering sections. The sorting and delivery section was originally part of the training done with counter staff, but this was changed, and the two sections were separated sometime between the start of the school and 1924. One of the main items used in training, and used by almost all sections at some time, was, and still is, the definitive postage stamps, both low and high values. At various times commemoratives were also used for specific purposes, as were postage dues. The stamps used by the training school were initially overprinted with two vertical black bars to each low value definitive stamp, and thus the high values and later the commemoratives have three or four bars to the width of the stamp when the setting was not changed. This overprinting was done for two main reasons, as follows: -

1. To alleviate pilfering so as not to be used on normal mail
2. To save the trouble of having to account for the stamps used.
Items from the schools' came out in various ways, many of these being against post office regulations and for many years it was considered illegal to have them in your possession. These rulings have been relaxed since 1972 with the introduction of decimalisation. It would appear that in general mint stamps are more plentiful on the market than used examples but this is not always the case with documentation used in courses or instructional pieces.

The first school was opened in 1920, and was situated at Roman Bath Street, London EC2. This school was established to train staff working in the post office sales and service, post office transport, sorting, and delivery of mail departments. Following the opening of the first school, many other departments opened schools with very specific areas of training. The telephone schools were first represented by the London school for manual systems, which opened in 1923 at the Clerkenwell exchange. The second telephone school, the London automatic school, opened in October 1931 and was sited at the Terminus telephone exchange. Next in line was the engineering school, which opened in 1924 at the King Edward, building. This school moved after six years, and in 1930 was in new premises at Dolis Hill.

In the years since the first schools opened, many changes have taken place, both in the schools and in the way that training has been given to staff. The counter and delivery of the mail aspects of training have been separated into counter training and postman/woman training. In London both of these were initially situated near to Kings Cross station, which was useful when training courses were arranged on the work of the T.P.O. The training for telephone operators has been discontinued by the post office with the take over of the telephones by British Telecom. The engineering school is still at Dolis Hill, and has expanded considerably both in size and in the type of work and training given.

From the start the training schools were designed so as to be representative of branch offices with all the necessary stores and equipment available in each of the classroom. Maps, along with enlarged copies of various documents that were in use, and actual items on display. When particular forms of documents are in use for training purposes, 'specimens' are distributed to the students. This is a feature of not only the counter school, but is a process used by all the other schools, as is the use of visits to other departments to demonstrate the connections between them. Since the early 1970's the policy on training seems to have moved towards training in the work place, and much more material is being found from sub offices as well as branch offices. Several other changes have taken place that reflect changes in society in general. Initially men and women were trained separately and by same sex instructors.

This is now in line with equal opportunities policies. The names of the classes have also changed along with the times. Originally there were three levels of class: - junior class, senior class and Supervising class. These now, throughout the service, reflect the work being done. The junior class becoming Postal or Service operative; instead of senior the words higher grade is used. I.E.: - Postman / Post woman higher grade. The supervising grade seems to have been maintained.

Maintaining the training schools is quite a large operation. It has many permanent (male / female) instructors, and other supervisors are co-opted for specific courses. Many department supervisors are used as instructors when courses make visits to specific departments. The other area most often forgotten is the vast number of personnel who spend their working day making up course material for practical instruction.

The counter and delivery training schools

The postal training school for counter staff, and also delivery personnel was as already stated, originally one school, which was sited in Roman Bath Street but was split into separate schools sometime in early 1924. It appears that in the years between 1920 and 1939, training for counter staff was organized in such a way as to be given in training schools at main post offices, as was that for delivery postman being held at main sorting offices for areas or regions.

Counter and Telegraph office

In 1929, at a meeting held in the post office, (papers 80,337/29 C.T.O. held in the post office archives), a suggestion was made ‘.... to employ a number of those who have attained a certain degree of telegraph proficiency in the C.T.O. school on part time B.O. training instead of on collecting &c. duties in the C.T.O.’ The clerks working in post office branch offices were employed to serve at the counter and also send telegraphs. Originally the sending of telegraphs was done by Morse buzzer, the message being received and hand written on to the telegraph form for delivery. This suggestion therefore, having been accepted, meant that training now continued with telegraph duties being taught at the C.T.O., which was now part of the London postal service. The counter duty training was now carried out at branch offices, with convenience to the student. By June 1931, this system was so well established that a memo was sent from the controller of the L.P.S., (London Postal Section), to the secretary. This is transcribed below.

The secretary

It is recommended that the manual B/139 should also make reference to the Training in the L.P.S. School and it is suggested that the paragraph should read as follows: -
"139. Training: - New entrants to the class of counter clerk and telegraphist (London Postal Service) are trained in telegraphy at the Central Telegraph Office. They are also given instruction concurrently in Counter duties, and are required to attend at Branch Offices for part of their training."

L.P.S. 19 June 1931.
Signed by K Clark.

Added to the bottom of this, is a hand written note, which refers to changes in the wording, which have been made by the secretary. The changes made are as follows :-
1. The words ‘given instruction’ changed to ‘trained’
2. The words ‘in the London Postal Service’ inserted after ‘.... counter duties’.
This addition is initialled by the secretary, W.D.S. (W.D. Sharp), and dated 25 June ‘31. (Papers held at post office archives Ref. 17881/29).

A further memo, to the secretary (held in post office archives ref. 84535/30), gives the date of starting these arrangements as November 1930. The memo is signed by E.J. Robinson, and dated 19 January 1931.
There are also papers of the London Postal Service, (Ref. 18049/31), which state ‘On the 9 January 1931 the secretary decided that, so far as the L.P.S. is concerned training in Morse should cease and be replaced by teleprinter working; and on the same date he decided that the probationary counter clerks and telegraphists destined for the L.P.S. should not be employed half daily on collecting duties in the C.T.O., as hitherto, but should be diverted to the L.P.S. for preliminary training in counter work.’ It was also stated ‘The period of teleprinter training is expected to be much less than that required for Morse training, viz., about 5 to 6 months instead of about 9 months. ... The probationer will be fit for a regular counter at the end of (say) 6 months’ training.’ There was also a note that the syllabus of training was recast. The 1931 document, which gave details of the recast syllabus, is reproduced in the appendix of the book we published on the subject and a link will be provided at the end of this write-up where anyone interested can download a free copy.
In the post office archives, there is a book dated 1934, which reviews the activities of the post office for a number of years previous to this date. The following is an extract from this book relating to training at that period.

The additional facilities offered to the public in recent years, and the development in the older post office services, have inevitably added to the complexity of the work of the counter officer. While the bulk of the work of the post office is performed in the background, the chief contact between the department and the public is across the counter, and the need for the systematic training of counter officers is fully realized.
A school for training staff in counter work was established in London in 1931. It provides for the thorough training of all new entrants to the class of counter clerk and telegraphist in the junior duties of that grade, and for further training to be given in the more responsible counter duties after a few years’ actual employment on the simpler duties at Post Office counters.

The training given is essentially of a practical nature, and the instruction is so arranged as to develop the interest of the student in their own work and to enable them to appreciate the relation which that work bears to other Post Office activities. Post Office counters of modern design, together with all the necessary stores, are provided in each classroom; specimens of all documents met with in the course of the counter duties, are supplied for use by the students, and, in order to demonstrate the connection between the counter work and the work of the other sections of the Post Office and to secure co-operation, they make visits of inspection to various branches of the Post Office, such as the sorting office, telephone exchanges, and Money Order and Savings Bank Departments.

The training of new entrants in the school consists of a series of sort lectures, each followed by practical work at the school counters where actual working conditions are reproduced. Each student in turn acts as a counter clerk, under supervision by the instructor, while another student acts as a member of the public. Dummy letters, packets, parcels, etc., are handed in and the transactions are completed in precisely the same manner as they would be under actual working conditions. Money is used, change is given and sheets of stamps are available so that the students may get accustomed to tearing of the stamps in the correct manner. A large number of cards bearing questions on Post Office services likely to be asked by members of the public in actual practice are prepared; and the students are asked these questions, as nearly as possible, under working conditions.

The students are also trained to find accurately and quickly from various books of reference any detailed information that may be required regarding Post Office services. Similar schools to the one in London have recently been opened experimentally at Liverpool and Leeds, and if they prove successful the scheme of training is likely to be extended to other large centres in the provinces.’

In the minute book for 1937, at the post office archives, minute number 14557 makes reference to a meeting where counter training establishments were to be set up in the provinces at Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Rhyl. These papers have not been stamped as destroyed but were not available.
As can be seen from the extract above, sheets of stamps were available, and thus cylinder pieces, items showing sheet numbers and the like were in existence. It should also be stated that special training money was used. Later examples of this have been seen, but again this strays away from the stamps issue.

Training school during the Second World War

With the previous experience of the use of female labour during the first world war, (1914-1918), an increased number of females were employed by the post office during the Second World War, (1939-1945). With the destruction of buildings on the home front services were disrupted and temporary and local buildings, and even tents replaced many post offices and sorting offices. The training was very much reduced on a formal basis but considerable personnel training was done on the job, and this it is felt had great implications on post office training in the future. It is probable that due to the hostilities of the Second World War and the blitz of many British towns, that the use of the training school was a low priority for staff during the years 1940 - 1943.

This would account for the very low use of the 2/6d brown, the 5/- red and the 10/- dark blue of the first issue of the King George VI high values with horizontal bars overprint from the training school. All three of these values were issued before the suspension of the training school, and by the time the school had resumed operations, two of these values had been replaced with new colours. The 2/6d was now in green and the 10/- was in ultramarine. This set is of extreme rarity and only a handful of each of the three values is known to exist. It would appear that, as training of staff became a priority that most postal areas or regions set up their own schools. This was done for counter training, sorting and delivery and probably many other areas requiring a uniform process. It would also seem that there was a definite intention to produce a work force that performed tasks in a co-ordinated way.

This can be seen by comparing training material from various areas or regions; which, although produced on a local basis; teach the same basic process. I.E. some regions go to the extent of having standard printed material while others have the same items, but produced by hand then copied. There would seem to have been a specific method of teaching in mind, but these differences may have occurred due to managers using their own budgets.

This is important when we get into the Machin period, as managers still have to work within their budget and the method used for additional items required, including stamps, varied from place to place. Some using a pen to ‘overprint’ extra stamps obtained, others using a hand-stamp and so forth.

The counter training school

Originally male and female staff were trained in separate classes in a formal school which provided classrooms equipped as post offices. Gradually this changed, through classroom training with mixed male \ female staff, to training on the job in actual post offices. This appears to have coincided with the Second World War period when the post office policy changed to employ both male and female operatives. After the war period, 1946, the post office undertook to train their staff for main post offices and sub offices.

This changed at a later date when the post office also undertook to train licensees and their staff that ran privately owned premises, such as newsagents, which had post offices counters on the premises. The training throughout has entailed all forms of service provided by the post office over the counter. This has been the case since the start of the school, and over the years many variations of forms have been used. I.E.: - Certificate of posting - Registration / recorded delivery - payment of allowances (pensions) - Licence payments - savings, and payment of bills and taxes.

With many of these services over the years, there have been modifications to both services and forms used. There has also been a need for a method of payment realistic to that met with in the working situation. This has produced several types of paper money, cheques, postal orders, and credit cards. Some services introduced, over the period of the counter school, link with mail delivery services and fall into a category of use by both training schools. I.E.: - Registered / recorded delivery. Many of these require receipts for charges and labels and stamps show these services. Again much of this does not concern the Machin collector so will be skipped.

The Sorting and delivery training school

This branch of the service was one of the last to accept both male and female staff. The changes started to take place in the early 1950’s following rethinks in the employment policy of the post office. Prior to this the delivery of mail was seen as a totally male province. The school originally set up in 1920 in Roman Bath Street, at the time was a one off of its type. The use of training was soon recognised and further schools were opened to cover a region or area. Later this was extended to allow some courses to be done in the workplace, and sorting offices were the target buildings used. Again, this happened from the 1950’s onward, but again recently a combination of school - workplace, and then school again has been used.

The courses have also been changed over the years and at present; as has been the case in the past, start by targeting the grades of worker. I.E. Postman/Post woman; Postman higher grade, (this to include females), then more recently to produce courses to target specialist workers. These specialist courses include driving, sorting, (via specialist machines); this to be combined with the engineering school.

Specialist services are also targeted such as registration, special delivery, redirection of mail and charged mail, COD, postage due, customs etc. Many of the services overlap with the work done in the counter training schools, and as such identification of the course on which an item was used is best done on complete covers used with the specific hand-stamp.

Telegraph issues

At one time it was the procedure to cancel stamps put on to telegraph forms, to pay the charges, to be punched prior to use. This practice, it is believed, started at about the same time as the training school. It’s known that the practice continued almost to the time of the introduction of decimal stamps. Stamps punched with similar holes to those used on the telegraph forms, have been seen on training items.

These items include covers, used for registration, and redirection of mail for change of address standard forms. These are known with the punched holes applied to the stamps before being put on the forms and alternatively, punched after, through the forms. Almost all issues from the time of introduction of training schools, through to the introduction of decimal stamps, can be found with these punched holes.

The most common of these holes is virtually identical to those punched in stamps from voucher booklets for advertising. The second most common group are the circular punched holes and the third group, is a miscellaneous group of punched holes which are different to all the others, but very few have been seen to be able to confirm them as new groups. It is possible that they are an extension of the shaped-hole type.

Overprinting, Damaged stamps, Inverted watermarks and Ghost bars
Many of the stamps overprinted for use in the post office training school are found to be damaged, either by creasing or tearing. It would seem likely that these damaged sheets or part of sheets come from waste items from stores, which have been written off. (See section on imperforate stamps below). These are likely to be used for training courses with their respective overprints. The residue of sheets from printings for coils and booklets are also possibilities for use with overprinting.

It is likely that much of the overprinting of bars was produced by the use of rollers printing the black bars of various widths. The clear sections between the printed bars, as well as the creation of variations of overprints, being achieved by spacers placed between the print rollers. The wear on these spacers and rollers would be the reason for bars that vary from the vertical. Smaller pieces than full sheets could also cause this by slippage and variation of grip by the print rollers due to irregular sizes.

This is shown by pieces found which illustrate the points above, i.e.: - block 4 of the half penny orange of King George VI, a tete-beche strip 3 one penny photogravure King George V with one stamp inverted and one penny block showing bar slippage from top to bottom. This is probably the reason for the existence of some inverted watermark stamps, especially on the earlier issues. Residue and damaged sheets from booklet printings would be included with other sheet stamps for overprinting. It is also possible that the slippage or pressure on rollers would be responsible for some stamps showing ghost bars on the overprinting. The other possibility is off setting of bars from wet overprinted sheets put on top of each other.

Imperforate stamps

Imperforate stamps can be found with training school black bars overprints. The four pence of King George VI that is from the original issue in grey green colour are from sheets specially prepared to illustrate to staff what imperforate stamps look like. Copies of this stamp un-overprinted had previously been purchased through a post office. The other stamp occasionally found overprinted and imperforate was possibly an oversight when overprinting damaged sheets and appeared at the school. This was the 2 ½d pale blue from the 1941 King George VI issue, and was seen by the author, in its original form, an irregular block of 35. A stamp dealer later cut this into pairs for re-sale. The only other imperforate, also from the King George 6 period is the 6d from the definitive issue. Only 9 copies exist, originally a block 3x3, from which a strip of three has now been removed and is in the authors collection.


From the introduction of commemorative stamps, many of them have been used to familiarise staff as to their size, colour and in some cases special use, such as exhibitions etc. The main group of staff that this applied too were those using these items on a day-to-day basis, i.e. staff at exhibitions and special post offices to do with commemorative events.
Almost all the commemoratives issued between 1924 and 1948 were produced in different sizes for each issue. All of these issues except the 1925 Wembley and the one-pound PUC, of 1929, have been found overprinted for use in the training school. It therefore seems reasonable that the large stamp for the PUC issue should exist overprinted but as the 1925 issue were the same size and design as the 1924 issue and for the same exhibition, these were probably never used.

A set of labels in the colours of the proposed decimal issues were produced for use by both the training school and post offices, to familiarise staff at all levels with the changes that would be introduced with the new decimal stamps. These in the context of the Machins provide an interesting link between the pre-decimal and first decimal issues.

This concludes the historical information on the training schools that I feel is need for a better understanding of both the subject in general and the Machin design that I will cover in the next article. I hope that the information presented here proves useful to those who collect these stamps and should any additional details be required I will be happy to supply what I can.

The next section (4) will deal with the stamps themselves, and as such should be of more general interest to all levels of collector. I will check this posting on a regular basis and post replies for all to see – as this is the way we all learn a little more.

Note: Thanks Allan, we look forward to your next instalment


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