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Oct 14, 2022 | Tales from Malaysia

Penang’s colonial era post boxes

According to the Royal Mail there are around 115,500 post boxes across the UK so that 98% of the population live within half a mile of one. Roadside post boxes were introduced following the introduction of adhesive stamps for pre-payment of postage in 1840. The growth in demand for postal services and the need for more convenient places where letters could be deposited led novelist Anthony Trollope, a General Post Office (GPO) official, to recommend cast iron pillar boxes and regular collection times. His scheme began in the Channel Islands in 1852 and since first installation boxes have usually carried the insignia or cipher of the monarch reigning at the time of placement. More than 60% of current British post boxes carry the EIIR mark of Queen Elizabeth II with those from the short 1936 reign of Edward VIII the rarest. About two dozen contractors have been engaged for their construction and the makers name is usually inscribed at the base.


Not India or Malaya but opposite Brighton’s Royal Pavilion in UK. 

Royal Cyphers

Royal ciphers (Source: Daily Mail)

By the end of the 19th century there were over 33,500 post boxes and many more throughout the British Empire which along with the railways, steam-ship travel and the telegraph relied on an efficient postal system for communication.

British manufactured post boxes are found in British Overseas Territories and some remain in Commonwealth countries such as Cyprus, India, Malta, New Zealand and Sri Lanka along with Hong Kong, the Republic of Ireland and other territories formerly administered by the United Kingdom. Most produced after 1905 were cast iron and cylindrical. In Cyprus pillar boxes painted yellow after independence are still in use. In Malta in the 1980s royal ciphers were ground off the pillar boxes in Valletta and Floriana but most others remained intact.

After the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China all post boxes were painted light green and the new Hongkong Post logo added. Of the 1,148 iron mailboxes across Hong Kong 59 still bear royal ciphers.

In 1867 the first stamps of the Straits Settlements colony, comprising the four individual settlements of Penang, Singapore, Malacca and Dinding, were issued followed by the individual Malay states. Penang Island, the earliest settlement, had been acquired from the Sultanate of Kedah by the British in 1786.


The oldest portion of Penang Island’s Georgetown has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2008 recognised as having:

‘a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in Eat and Southeast Asia’.

In addition to the well preserved pre-war buildings and shophouses there are eight colonial era post boxes of which  seven are still used for collection.


Upper Penang Road opposite the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. GR royal cipher (George V 1910-1936) and manufacturer’s name Andrew Handyside & Co. Ltd. at base.


China Street Ghaut outside the Customs Building. Ev11R royal cipher (Edward VII 1901-1910).


Beach St. VR royal cipher (Queen Victoria 1837-1901) and manufacturer’s name Andrew Handyside & Co. Ltd. at base.


MacAlister Road outside Penang State Museum. GviR royal cipher (George VI 1936-1952) and manufacturer’s name McDowall Steven & Co. Ltd. at base.


Penang Hill. VR royal cipher and manufacturer’s name Andrew Handyside & Co. Ltd. at base. Letter slot is sealed and it originally was located outside the fire station on Beach road.


One of two cylindrical postboxes on Ayer Itam Road without royal ciphers. Manufactured by Carron Company.


Dato Kramat Road junction of Siam Road. Rectangular post box with GR royal cipher possibly wall mounted previously.

The two other colonial post boxes I’ve seen in Malaysia are at Ipoh and Lumut but there are probably others to be discovered.


Ipoh railway station – the ‘Taj Mahal of Ipoh’. The second floor used to house the Majestic Hotel.


Dindings Pillarbox Lumut (2)

Letterbox in Lumut with royal cipher removed. Inscribed ‘McDowall Steven & Co. Ltd. London & Glasgow. (Source: 

Sgphilatelicmuseum (1)

Singapore Philatelic Museum. The ciphers on all post boxes were removed when Singapore gained independence in 1965. 

Malaypostman (2)

About The Blog

About Blog In March 2020, after 28 years in Hong Kong, I moved to Penang as a base to travel in the region. The Covid 19 pandemic ended that plan and I spent much of the time re-reading books I had collected over the years. The only new book I bought was ...
Palm Hand Draw


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