As iconically English as double-decker buses, red pillar boxes have been repositories for British mail since 1852, a mere dozen years after the country introduced the penny post with penny stamps. Usually round, but sometimes octagonal or squared, many original post boxes are still in use across the British Isles. And strangely, some of them are blue.
That’s right: blue!
The advent of air travel in the early 20th century meant not only people could be transported faster, but also the mail (see my review of the film Only Angels Have Wings). But flying the post was more expensive than transporting sacks of mail by train or ship, so customers paid a premium price for the service.
To separate the “high flying” letters from the more grounded masses, the British government began installing a new set of pillar boxes painted Royal Air Force blue in 1930. These collected letters until the outbreak of World War II suspended air mail. After the war, UK citizens could post their air mail letters anywhere, with the postage amount and blue stickers distinguishing air from surface mail.
A few blue pillar boxes still survive as remnants from an age when air travel seemed more special even for letters.