Just hours into the Olympic Games, the Royal Mail issued new stamps to celebrate six gold medals Britain had won in London. Won on a Saturday, the stamps were on sale the following Sunday at selected post offices. It is the first time the mother of all posts has issued stamps honouring individual athletes, and only the third time a host nation has issued individual Olympic gold medal stamps. “We hope that we will be printing many sets, just as the nation hopes that it will be celebrating many victories next summer,” the Royal Mail’s Stephen Agar said when first announcing the plan a year ago.
The stamps feature both individual and team gold medal wins. Of course, these stamps do not represent the Royal Mail’s first Olympic foray. The postal administration first issued Olympic Games stamps in 1948, with four stamps bearing the five Olympic rings. The stamps are offered at more than 500 post office branches, all of which will remain open on Sundays during the Games, the first time Royal Mail branches have been open on any Sunday. A further 4,700 branches were to sell the gold medal stamps within a week of the wins.
Australia Post was the first postal service to issue gold medal stamps to mark home team Olympic victories in 2000, with Hellenic Post in Greece following suit in 2004. In 2008, China Post issued a single commemorative sheet of stamps to mark their national team’s success in Beijing. More recently Canada Post issued a stamp to mark the first gold medal won on home territory at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in 2010. The Paralympic stamps to be issued by the Royal Mail, assuming a win, will be the first issued by any postal authority for those Games. The program calls for a set of six stamps featuring groups of Paralympic winners and will go on sale starting Sept. 27.
In a related venture, the Royal Mail has painted some of its iconic red postboxes gold. Designated boxes will be painted within days of each win of an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal. The postboxes chosen will, wherever possible, be in the hometown of the winning athlete, or both hometowns for teams of two. To celebrate a gold medal win by teams of more than two competitors, a postbox will be selected that is relevant to all team members. The U.K. was among the first countries to erect postboxes.
Anthony Trollope, the famous 19th-century author and former chief secretary to the postmaster general, is credited with introducing pillar-boxes to the U.K., having seen them in France and Belgium. At first, U.K. postboxes were painted green to blend in with the landscape. However, to make them more visible to the public, bright red was introduced in 1874. Red has remained the standard ever since. The gold boxes will remain in use with their collection schedule unchanged and repainted red in the future.