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98/2/78 Collection of telegram forms and stationery, paper / ink, Australian Post Office / Postmaster Generals Department, Australia, 1883-1987. Click to enlarge.

Collection of telegram forms and stationery by Australian Post Office

From its modest beginnings since Isaac Nichols was appointed Australia's first Postmaster in 1809, the Post Office (renamed Australia Post in 1975), has grown to become Australia's largest business enterprise. This large collection contains many objects of significance documenting Australian postal history.

The earliest object in the collection is an Earnshaw clock known to have been used in Isaac Nichol's post office in lower George Street Sydney from 1809.

The first street posting boxes were cast in bronze by the Bubb & Sons foundry at Pyrmont in 1856 and soon became widespread, even being exported to New Zealand. It is interesting to note that they were not painted in pillar box red until the 1870s. The posting slots were vertical to facilitate posting a letter from horseback. The collection contains many later types of posting and pillar boxes including emergency boxes made during World War 2 in wood instead of metal and one of the boxes from Mt Koscuiosko.

The first postal uniform in the collection dates from the 1850s which is also shown in a hand painted version by an unknown artist. Many later changes of style can be traced in both male and female uniforms right up to the present.

Hand postmarkers often have a special story to tell. Those in the collection have been selected to show changes of design and style over the years or because their post office was itself significant. A group used on the railway travelling post offices which ran from 1870-1985 in NSW are particularly important because this form of sorting was particularly efficient for country mail delivery. This group is complemented by hand held obliterators from the colonial times and red wax seals used before the introduction of the lead type in 1927.

Post office furniture in this collection includes a writing slope and postman's sorting cabinet which might have been used in a small post office such as Ultimo (built in Federation style in 1901 and purchased by the museum in 1985). Postal forms, telegrams, books of regulations and published annual reports are also included in the collection.

A diverse range of objects from the General Post Office Sydney include a lightening conductor from the roof to the decorative overmantle from the PMG's waiting room. Crockery from the ninth floor dining rooms exhibit the change of style of the post office logo over time. Guidebooks of public tours of the GPO, including its famous clock tower, are important in helping to piece together its eclectic history.

The human side of the post office can be seen in the small illuminated address presented to Miss Lilly Isaacs, Postmistress at Dulwich Hill on her retirement in 1908, a postmaster's wash stand from the former Castlereagh St Sydney post office residence and parts of the postcode encoding equipment from the Sydney Mail Exchange in operation from 1967 to 1985.

Until the appointment of a postal historian in NSW in the 1940s, little thought was given to systematically documenting postal history. Apart from written records and photographs, now lodged with Australian Archives, the gathering of these objects dates from this time until 1989 when negotiations were begun to transfer it to the museum. It has been subsequently supplemented by important objects from similar collections in other states.

Parts of the coding equipment from the former Redfern Mail Exchange (1967-1985) were also donated to the Museum in 1993 (93/121/1) including documentation of its use.


Object No.


Object Statement

Collection of telegram forms and stationery, paper / ink, Australian Post Office / Postmaster Generals Department, Australia, 1883-1987

Physical Description

Collection of telegram forms and stationery, Australian Post Office, paper, 1883-1987

Collection of various telegram forms and envelopes including several types of pictorial social telegrams and wartime condolence telegram. Plus booklets and brochures about the telegram service.



Refer to B Hancock "NSW telegram forms & envelopes..." (2 vols).



The telegraphs were originally a separate department in NSW and became part of the post office in 1893.After federation the use of telegrams increased until it peaked in the 1940s. The last telegram was transmitted in Australia in 1983. Social telegrams were encouraged and special pictorial forms and envelopes were designed. A special form and envelope in purple was used when conveying condolence details during World War 2.


Credit Line

Gift of Australia Post, NSW Headquarters, 1998

Acquisition Date

15 January 1998

Cite this Object


Collection of telegram forms and stationery by Australian Post Office 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 19 October 2020, <>


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