The other day I was out walking the dogs around our town and I noticed a red post box. It was the kind built into a wall and it was one I’d not noticed before. I then realised it had the “GR” lettering and I thought I knew what that meant. But when I got home I decided to look into it.
What did I think it meant
I can remember my Mum explaining to me when I was a lad that a post with “ER” was made while the current Queen Elizabeth II was our monarch and that ER stood for Elizabeth Regina. And that a “GR” post box was installed under King George VI. I had always presumed that GR stood for George Regina.
But actually, I wasn’t quite right (or my Mum wasn’t).
What do the letters mean
The letters are called the “Royal Cypher” and they signify the King or Queen that was the monarch at the time when the postbox was installed.
A GR post box was put up during the era of King George. G stands for George and R stands for Rex, which is King in Latin. This was my first piece of lacking knowledge as it wouldn’t have been George Regina at all. If there are no more letters around the GR, then it’s likely from the period of King George V, and if it’s from the era of King George VI you may notice a little “VI” next to the GR. This I didn’t know and on close inspection of my photo above of the post box that I encountered, you will see a small “VI” between the G and the R.
An ER post box was set up either during the rule of King Edward or during the time of Queen Elizabeth. The E standing for Elizabeth or Edward, and R standing either for Rex or for Regina, which is Queen in Latin. To know the exact monarch the postbox is honouring, you have to look at the accompanying numbers. For example, if there’s a little “II” near the ER it indicates the postbox was installed in the era of Elizabeth II rather than in Edwardian times. Likewise, a “VII” or “VIII” between the E and the R indicates the E stands for Edward. However, you’ll never see a postbox from Elizabeth I’s era since she reigned between 1558-1603, long before the first red post box was put up in 1853.
Have a look yourself
Although GR and ER postboxes are the most commonly seen post boxes, you may also spot a VR on occasion. Next time you’re next to a post box, look out for these letters to work out when it was installed:
VR post box – Queen Victoria (postbox put up between 1853-1901)
ER VII post box – Edward VII (postbox put up between 1901-1910)
GR post box – George V (postbox put up between 1910-1936)
ER VIII post box – Edward VIII (postbox put up between 20 January 1936 – 11 December 1936. Before he abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson.)
GR VI post box – George VI (aka Bertie from the King’s Speech: postbox put up between 1936-1952)
ER II post box – Elizabeth II (postbox put up between 1952-present)
Thanks for reading.