History of the Railway Philatelic Group

by Tony Goodbody

Before the RPG

The circumstances surrounding the Group’s formation are curious. In a certain house in Rotherham, the journal of the TPO and Seapost Society was produced by Norman Hill [doyen of the Travelling Post Offices (TPOs)], using a Gestetner duplicating machine. The text and diagrams had to be typed onto a ‘skin’, and this in turn was used to produce the required number of copies with the use of the machine. The snag with this system was that the skin wore out after producing 260 copies. The consequence was that the number of members of the TPO & Seapost Society was limited to 260 … but there was a long waiting list!

A New Society

Conditions were therefore ripe for the founding of a new society catering for TPO enthusiasts who were unable to join the existing society: that new society was the Railway Philatelic Group (RPG). The annual subscription then was set at one guinea (21/-, or £1.05) which, in real terms, was probably more than the subscription is today!

The Committee Members in those far off days were:
– S R Turner (President)
– R L Cantwell (Chairman)
– R Kirk (Secretary, plus Journal Editor)
– J Eaton (Treasurer, plus Exchange Packet Secretary)
– A Johnson (Librarian)
– J Smith, M J Burrows and D Burton (Committee Members)

More than TPOs?

The founder of the new Group was Roger Kirk, who was still a member up to his death in 2005. Roger and the other members of the Committee very quickly realised that there was more to Railway Philately than just TPOs. The first edition of Railway Philately (the journal of the Railway Philatelic Group) reflected this diversified interest by including articles on Thematic Stamps, Railway Letter Stamps, Railway Perfins, etc. as well as the inevitable TPOs.

The RPG Journal (Railway Philately)

Volume 1, No 1 of Railway Philately was launched to an unsuspecting world in 1966. The journal was of high quality and printed on 7” x 9” glossy paper. This format lasted from 1966 until September 1974. Over the years, other editors have taken their turn, each one using the latest developments in technology to advance the quality and content of the RPG Journal.

A Group?

Many people have asked why we are a Group and not a society. The expectations of the early members were modest, and they probably envisaged a smallish membership – although a limit was never considered. However, the Group grew quickly at first, both in the number of members (eventually swelling to over 200) and in the range of activities which it embraced.

By the Spring of 1967 the name of R P Cornish appeared on the mast head of the journal as Editor of the Thematic List (a publication which attempted to list all the stamps worldwide showing trains and railways).

The following issue saw two more names added. Cliff Hall was the Postal Auctioneer and F N Green the Business Manager. Presumably the job of the latter was to solicit advertisements from Philatelic Dealers which were a prominent feature of the early journals. As membership grew it became necessary to appoint a Membership Secretary, and Alan Violet was appointed to this post in 1969.

The Annual Convention

For many years, an important activity of the Group has been the Annual Convention and AGM. The first Convention, held on 25 October 1969 at Loughborough and attracted 25% of the UK membership of that time. It was held in a village hall and was generally deemed to have been a success. A special one-day Post Office hand stamp was produced to commemorate the event, the first of many to be used in subsequent years.

The formula of having a one-day event in a school or church hall was followed for many years until the Convention was held in the rather more elegant surroundings of the Royal Station Hotel, Newcastle. However, it was not until our Fortieth Anniversary in 2006 that the mould was broken when we held a residential weekend Convention and AGM at Liverpool University. In 2008 another successful weekend Convention was held in Glasgow.

The established pattern has now become a one-day Convention in one year followed by a weekend Convention the next year.

Winds of Change

Today the Group numbers some 200 members at home and abroad. The aims of the Group remain much as they were 50 years ago but circumstances are different. The Postal Auction has to compete with internet auctions, but still remains a great attraction. The Exchange Packet has to contend with high postal charges, but remains popular. The Journal is produced in colour to a high quality, using a computer, and it is no longer necessary to send original items to the editor. The Thematic List eventually became a Stanley Gibbons catalogue Collect Railways on Stamps.

What next?

What will the next 50 years bring? With the withdrawal of the Travelling Post Office service in 2004, and the termination of the nationwide Railway Letter service, together with the dwindling use of adhesive stamps, the Group will inevitably look both to the past (where we still have much to learn), and to new railway post developments in the wider world. New items will continue to be discovered and railway philately will continue to provide excitement for its many followers.

Most members are well versed in their own specialist fields, but may have only a passing familiarity with other fields of railway philatelic interest. We are therefore looking to publish a series of ‘Introduction To …’  articles in the Journal to introduce members the delights and fascinations of Railway Postmarks, Railway Thematic Collecting, and Railway Letter and Parcel Stamps etc. There is also the possibility that we might be able to make these ‘Introduction To …’  articles available on this web site so that visitors to the web site can share these delights!

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