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Postal Mechaniasation

The equipment used to process mail, markings applied and associated material.

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John McCallum10/04/2014 12:50:13
409 forum posts
583 photos

Postal mechanisation looks at the processes employed to process an item of mail through the system. The item may than carry indications of the processes involved These include postmarks, barcodes and idents from the machines used. The study of these is not restricted to the sorting process but the machines involved, literature and other materials such as cigarette cards.

Other threads have hinted at some of the wealth of material available. The items from the waste bin illustrated a cover were the only address was 43 G81 2BX. It arrived because that was the minimum information required for processing. Another thread an album illustrated Lambert and Butler cigarette cards showing what the Post Office was doing in the 1930s.

There is even postings illustrating the IMP (Integrated Mail Processor) cancels appearing in conjunction with recent stamp issues including the Remarkable Lives issue.


The Postal History from the Waste Basket illustrates three examples of the NEC Flat Sorting Machine (FSM) cancel in its normal mode - being used to cancel large flats. However, it can be used on normal mail with a more normal cancel. An example is shown here.

Over a number of posts, I hope to illustrate some of the hardware used in the 1980s photographed during a visit to the Glasgow Mechanised Letter Office along with some associated material.


GLasgow MLO circa 1984.

John McCallum10/04/2014 12:54:55
409 forum posts
583 photos

How many of you remember seeing and complaining about blue dots on your mail and particularly when the dots appeared on the stamp(s)? I remember seeing complaint letters in the philatelic press over how these dot degraded and devalued the stamp.


Well here is the cause. This was one of 48 coding desks at Glasgow MLO used to code the mail by converting the postcode or the last line of the address into a binary format that the sorting machines could interpret and direct the letter into the appropriate box.

Julia Lee10/04/2014 13:59:31
2047 forum posts
1002 photos
230 articles

Excellent stuff, John.

You can always link to pictures or threads by:

  • highlighting the text you want to lead to the item
  • copying the URL (eg www.stampmagazine/forums/postings.asp?th=84723) at the top of the item
  • clicking the globe-and-chain icon above the writing window
  • pasting the URL in the box that appears and hitting ok.
John McCallum10/04/2014 18:58:56
409 forum posts
583 photos

Other side of the coding desk. The pulleys and continuous band carries the letter to the coding area and post coding it slides down the chute to a band that runs underneath all 12 desks in the suite. The letters are collected and transferred to the sorting machine.


A piece of the blue coding tape used at the time. At the top are two rows of square dots which were the start dots for the rows printed on to the envelope.


Close up of the keyboard. Basically of QWERTY type with a few modifications.


John McCallum10/04/2014 19:02:12
409 forum posts
583 photos

How the Manchester MLO presented the technology to the Manchester Public circa 1981 at a Manchester Lord Mayor's procession.





John McCallum10/04/2014 19:04:55
409 forum posts
583 photos

Automated Letter Facer or ALF - In use since the late 1950s/early 1960s. Glasgow MLO 1985.


John McCallum10/04/2014 19:09:37
409 forum posts
583 photos

The photos that I have used in MY postings may be used free of charge as long as they are referenced. I hope that others will post examples of postal mechanisation here whether it is a piece of hardware like those illustrated above, a postmark or cover with barcode or other marks. If in doubt post and, hopefully, someone may tell you more about your item.

John McCallum13/04/2014 13:49:48
409 forum posts
583 photos


One of the letter sorters af Glasgow MLO c1985.

John McCallum13/04/2014 13:54:04
409 forum posts
583 photos

Older manually fed cancelling did continue in use.This one was being used to cancel aerogrammes.



Edited By John McCallum on 13/04/2014 13:54:51

John McCallum13/04/2014 13:56:46
409 forum posts
583 photos

Another view of the sorting machine. Notice the bundle labels above each box.


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