Royal Cypher Spotting with Victoria & Etta


With a new monarch comes an unexpected, and often unnoticed, change: new postboxes being installed bearing a new royal cypher. 

Easily unnoticed, the signature red boxes are a staple of Britain that we often take for granted — walking right by them as we hurry on to work or to do our shopping. However, spotting these postboxes and the cyphers they bear has become somewhat of a trend recently, and the fascination has not skipped over Victoria and her daughter, Etta. The pair has taken to spotting these bright red boxes on their strolls and noticing the cyphers on them — some dating as far back as Queen Victoria!

Though these postboxes can be found nearly everywhere, many don’t know the history behind them, or that they’ve been a part of the British landscape for such a long time. 

The first ever post box in mainland Britain was installed in Carlisle in 1853 and bore the royal cypher of Queen Victoria. This was done after Anthony Trollope, now better known as a novelist, travelled to Europe and was inspired by the roadside letterboxes in France and Belgium. Once he returned, a trial of these postboxes was approved to take place on the Channel Islands — a trial which was deemed a success and made it’s way onto the mainland.

During this early period, there was no design or size standard for these post boxes so they could be found in a variety of differing styles. Though the original post box can no longer be found in Carlisle, a replica was installed in 1989 to commemorate that the city was the first in mainland Britain to receive a post box. 

Now while we are accustomed to our bright red postboxes, they weren’t always so easily spotted. There was a short period of time in 1859 when they were painted green, so as to better blend in with the countryside. This had the somewhat inevitable effect of making them hard to spot. Many complaints were received from people having a hard time finding these boxes and being unable to post their mail! The colour was quickly switched back to the iconic red to make them more easily spotted.

Contrary to popular belief, when a new monarch takes over, old postboxes are not replaced. This may have seemed like the case with the long reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II — more than half of all British post boxes bear the “EIIR” cypher. Instead, new ones are installed as needed, bearing the royal cypher of the new monarch. Traditionally, these cyphers consist of the initials of the name and title of the monarch. The letter “R” stands either for “Rex” or “Regina” which are Latin for King or Queen, respectively. 

The monarchs whose cyphers can currently be spotted on post boxes are:

  • Queen Victoria
  • King Edward VII
  • King George V
  • King Edward VIII: Only 171 post boxes remain from King Edward VIII’s short reign of 326 days — see if you can spot one!
  • King George VI
  • Queen Elizabeth II: Around 60% of all UK postboxes bear Queen Elizabeth II’s cypher!

In the coming months and years, spotters will begin to see the cypher of King Charles III displayed on the prominent red boxes, to be installed as the need arises. According to the Royal Mail, postboxes that are already in production will retain Queen Elizabeth II’s cypher and once these have been installed, all new boxes will feature King Charles III’s cypher. The cypher was created for the king by the College of Arms and personally selected by His Majesty. It consists of his initial C with an R for Rex, III representing his title of Charles III, and the crown above the letters.

It is estimated that there are currently over 85,000 postboxes in England and 115,500 in the UK as a whole. With there being so many, it’s impossible for Victoria and Etta to spot them all — so help them out and let us know in the comments if you spot a new one!

More Posts

1 comment

There is a letterbox in Sandgate Road, Folkestone. With the royal cypher Queen Victoria on it. I have a photo. But I can take a better one.

Mrs Fowler

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.