Postbox of the Russian Post in Moscow

A post box (British English; also written postbox; also known as pillar box), also known as a collection box, mailbox, letter box or drop box (American English), 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.

History of post boxes


A Victorian era Type B pillar postbox in Hull

In 1653, the first post boxes are believed to have been installed in and around Paris.[1] By 1829, post boxes were in use throughout France.[2] The first public post boxes in Poland were installed in Warsaw in 1842.[3]

A post box originally installed in the wall of the Wakefield Post Office is dated 1809 and is believed to be the oldest example in Britain.[4] It is now on display at the new Wakefield Museum.[5]

In Britain, the first red pillar postboxes were erected in Guernsey in 1852.[6] 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 the United Kingdom 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.[7] In 2012, to celebrate Olympic gold medals for Team GB, selected boxes were painted gold.[8]

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 (99 lb).[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 until the late 1990s. From the 1890s to 1997 the boxes were painted red and after 1997 were painted green.[10]

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 Eastern cities.[11] American collection boxes were initially designed to be hung or supported, and were mounted on support pillars, lamp-posts, telegraph poles, or even the sides of buildings.[11] By the 1880s, these pillar boxes were made of heavy cast iron to deter theft or vandalism.[11] As mail volume grew, the Post Office Department gradually replaced pillar mailboxes with larger free-standing models, though many of the pillar boxes continued in service as late as the 1960s.[11]

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 American city street corners.[11][12]

Unlike Canadian mailboxes, which were painted red,[13] American mail collection boxes were originally painted in red or green. Beginning in 1909, all mail collection boxes were painted a dark green to avoid confusion with emergency and fire equipment.[11] Dark green gave way to olive drab green after World War I, when the United States Army donated a large supply of olive drab green paint to the Post Office. Olive drab green subsequently became the standard colour for all American mail collection boxes until 1955. On 4 July 1955, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield announced that the Post Office would begin painting all mail collection boxes in red, white, and blue to make them easily identifiable. Subsequently, the Post Office began painting mail collection boxes in red and blue, with white lettering.[14][15] In 1971 the United States Postal Service changed mail collection boxes to the current USPS Dark Blue with contrasting lettering.[12][15][16] The coming of the automobile also influenced American mailbox design, and in the late 1930s, an extension chute or "snorkel" to drive-up curbside collection boxes was adopted.[11]


[17] In 1500, a Portuguese sea captain named Pêro de Ataíde lost much of his fleet in a storm off the Southern Cape. He wrote a message reporting the damage and a warning relating the state of affairs in India, for future Portuguese captains to avoid Calicut, which was now hostile. Ataíde tucked the message in a boot dangling from a milkwood tree near a spring where sailors often drew water, Aguada de São Brás (Mossel Bay).

Miraculously, the message was retrieved by its intended recipient, João da Nova, admiral of the outgoing 3rd armada, the very next year. The tree became a de facto post office box, where sailors would exchange letters protected in boots, iron pots, or beneath rocks. Seamen would leave their messages behind, trusting that their countrymen would pick them up and deliver them to their correct destination, albeit very slowly.

The Post Office Tree, now believed to be approximately 600 years old, still continues to send and receive mail. A large post office box shaped like a giant boot has been constructed beneath the tree, where people can send letters anywhere in the world and receive a special stamp. Presumably, delivery now takes less than a year.

Types of post boxes

Varieties of post boxes (for outgoing mail) include:

Some postal operators have different types of post boxes for different types of mail, such as, ordinary 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.[18]

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.[12][19] 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.[12][19][20] Bright colours are often used to increase visibility and prevent accidents and injuries.[21][22] Entry openings are designed to allow the free deposit of mail, yet prevent retrieval via the access slot by unauthorised persons.[12][23]


Post boxes are emptied ("cleared") at times usually listed on a collection plate fixed to the box. In urban areas, this might be once or twice a day. Busy boxes might be cleared more frequently 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 shown on the box, with no indication of whether the box is cleared at other times earlier in the day. Royal Mail say they needed to increase the type size of the wording on the plate to help those with poor sight, and so there was not enough room to list all collection times throughout the day. Some post boxes may indicate the next collection time by a metal 'tab'[24] 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.

Some boxes have been used as a dumping ground for used hypodermic needles.[25] In such cases staff are issued with protective equipment.[26]

Terrorism and political vandalism

United Kingdom


Main article: Pillar Box War

In 1952, a number of post boxes were attacked[quantify][where?] in Scotland in a dispute over the regnal number adopted by Queen Elizabeth II, which was displayed as the EIIR cypher. This included at least one damaged in Gilmerton Road, The Inch, Edinburgh by a homemade explosive device. This was because many Scottish people did not believe Queen Elizabeth II should take that title. Rather Elizabeth Queen of Scots as Scotland had never had a Queen Elizabeth before.[27][28]

Following a civil case in the Scottish courts, a compromise was reached where the Crown of Scotland was placed upon Scottish pillar boxes in place of the St Edward's Crown, without any reference to the particular reigning monarch. To this day Scottish post boxes and Royal Mail vans use the Scottish Crown with no mention of Queen Elizabeth II or King Charles III.[27][28]

The Troubles

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 survive unscathed was a Victorian pillar box dating from 1887 (a type A Jubilee pillar).

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.[29][30][31]

United States

Nearly 7,000 USPS collection boxes were removed following the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax attacks in which letters containing anthrax spores were placed in public collection boxes.[11]


Colors of post boxes for standard mailings
Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Denmark (Post Danmark), Gibraltar, Greece (express post), Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, India, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy (domestic post), South Korea, Japan, Jersey, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands – surviving heritage and PTT boxes, New Zealand, Norway (national and international mail), Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain (express mail), South Africa, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (airmail and prompt delivery), Thailand, Uganda (Posta Uganda), United Kingdom[32]
Algeria, Australia (Express Post), Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus (red before 1960), D.R.Congo (scpt), Finland (2nd class), France, Germany (Deutsche Post), Greece (regular and international mail), Iran, Lithuania, Malaysia (Express Post), Montenegro, Morocco, Norway (local mail), Russia (1st Class), Rwanda (iposita), Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (regular mail), Sweden (national and international mail), Switzerland (and Liechtenstein), Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Vatican City, Vietnam
Belarus, Finland (1st class), Faroe Islands, Germany (many private postal companies), Guernsey, Alderney, Dominican Republic, Sark, Italy (Air Mail only), United Kingdom (Air Mail – 1933–1940), Portugal (1st Class (Blue Mail) only), Sweden (local mail), Russia, United States
China, Hong Kong (red before 1997), Taiwan (regular mail), Sudan (SudaPost), Republic of Ireland (red before 1922), Some heritage boxes in the United Kingdom, notably Stoke on Trent, Rochester and Scunthorpe
Czech Republic, Estonia, Indonesia, Netherlands (TNT N.V./PostNL (red before 2006))
San Marino, Singapore
United Kingdom (only for 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics gold medal winners)[33][34][35]
United Kingdom (only for 2020 Black History Month)[36][37]


Swedish Royal Post
Irish Post & Telegraphs "P&T" logo


See also

References and sources


  1. ^ Lawrence, Ken. "Before the Penny Black". Ken Lawrence. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  2. ^ Batcow, Stan (2 December 2001). "The Post Boxes of Blackpool, England". Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  3. ^ Hampel, Tadeusz (1993). Encyklopedia filatelistyki. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN. p. 509. ISBN 83-01-11373-1.
  4. ^ "Putting history on an envelope". BBC NewsSouth West Wales. London. 18 August 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2012. The earliest known surviving posting slot was placed in the wall of Wakefield Post Office in Yorkshire in 1809
  5. ^ "BBC Slaithwaite gets the stamp of approval!". BBC. 24 August 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2014.
  6. ^ Barford, Vanessa (2 March 2012). "Are there places more British than the UK?". BBC. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  7. ^ Wicks, Paul (2002). "History of British Letter Boxes – Part 1: Victorian Letter Boxes". Paul Wicks. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  8. ^ "Royal Mail goes Gold this summer". Royal Mail. 24 July 2012. Archived from the original on 18 August 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  9. ^ "Priority postboxes - Delivering coronavirus tests to NHS staff". Royal Mail. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  10. ^ "Hongkong Post to cover royal cyphers on 59 historic post-boxes to 'avoid confusion' – Hong Kong Free Press HKFP". 5 October 2015. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Marsh, Allison (20 March 2006). "Postal Collection Mailboxes". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  12. ^ a b c d e Shaman, Tony. "Antique Street Letterboxes". Retrieved 16 August 2008.
  13. ^ Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, History in a Box: Red Forever!,
  14. ^ U.S. Post Office Bulletin 19867, 9 August 1955
  15. ^ a b Marsh, Allison; Pope, Nancy (28 April 2006). "Orr & Painter mailbox". Postal Collection Mailboxes. National Postal Museum. Retrieved 16 August 2008.
  16. ^ United States Postal Service v. Lost Key Rewards, Inc., U.S. Patent and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, Opposition No. 91185802 (15 November 2010). Retrieved 23 January 2012
  17. ^ "The Post Office Tree: South Africa's First Mailbox". Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  18. ^ Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, Colour, A Postal Symbol,
  19. ^ a b Glancey, Jonathan (16 January 2007). "Classics of everyday design No 6". theblog, The Guardian. Retrieved 16 August 2008.
  20. ^ Marsh, Allison (29 April 2006). "Street collection box damaged September 11, 2001". Postal Collection Mailboxes. National Postal Museum. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  21. ^ "A Victorian post box in Brecon – made in the Black Country". Black Country Bugle. 28 June 2007. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  22. ^ "Campaign to preserve red post boxes". BBC UK News. BBC. 3 October 2002. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  23. ^ William, Earle (29 April 1975). "Secured mailbox". USPTO Database. USPTO. Archived from the original on 23 January 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2008.
  24. ^ "Changes to post box collections: Collection Tabs". Archived from the original on 30 June 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
  25. ^ "Used needles found in post boxes". BBC. 17 October 2008. Retrieved 6 January 2013. Postal workers in Derby are being warned to take care after a rise in the number of used syringes being found in post boxes.
  26. ^ "Somerset postal workers given gloves to protect against needles". BBC. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2013. Protective gloves are issued to postal workers emptying a Somerset postbox used by drug addicts to dump needles.
  27. ^ a b Mclean, David (3 September 2014). "Lost Edinburgh: the Queen and the exploding post box". Arts and Culture. The Scotsman. Retrieved 24 June 2022.
  28. ^ a b Dalgetty, Lee (6 June 2022). "The Edinburgh post box war that saw a bomb go off in a housing estate". History. Retrieved 24 June 2022.
  29. ^ Quinn, Louise (4 February 2009). "Green postbox row MLA told to say sorry". The Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  30. ^ "Anger over green postboxes". The Belfast Telegraph. 10 November 2010. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  31. ^ "Seeing red on green postboxes". Derry Journal. 10 September 2008. Archived from the original on 3 May 2012. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  32. ^ 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 BS 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).
  33. ^ "Jessica Ennis gold postbox in Sheffield vandalised". BBC. 8 August 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012. A postbox that was painted gold in Jessica Ennis's home city of Sheffield, to celebrate her Olympic triumph, has been vandalised.
  34. ^ "Laura Trott golden postbox painted in Harlow by mistake". BBC. 8 August 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2012. The Royal Mail has promised to paint a postbox in Olympic cycle champion Laura Trott's home town gold, after first painting one in the wrong place.
  35. ^ In 2012 UK post boxes mostly in the hometowns of Team GB gold medal winners in the 2012 Summer Olympics were painted gold.
  36. ^ "Black History Month: Postboxes painted to honour black Britons". BBC News. 30 September 2020. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  37. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin (1 October 2020). "Activists criticise 'tokenistic' efforts after rebrand of Royal Mail postboxes". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  38. ^ "PIN MAIL AG". Retrieved 16 April 2018.


Farrugia, Jean (1969). The letter box: a history of Post Office pillar and wall boxes. Fontwell: Centaur Press. p. 282. ISBN 0-900000-14-7.