Five things you didn’t know about postage

Postage plays a crucial role in the way we communicate and share - even after all these years. This is especially true in the UK. In fact, Britain has the largest postal sector in the whole of Europe, with tens of millions of items sent every day.

Now, it might not top the list of interesting things to chat about in the pub, but the industry certainly has its quirks. Did you know, for example, that companies in the US used to print advertisements on the back of stamps, to be seen (and licked) by the soon-to-be sender?

The first-class fun doesn't stop there, either. Below are five things you probably didn't know about postage.

1. The UK is the only country in the world to omit its own name from its postage stamps. Instead, it uses the reigning monarch's head as identification - hence the presence of the queen's head on most examples. This is because stamps were invented in the UK, so there was no need to differentiate at first.

2. We've all used or at least heard the whole 'lost in the post' excuse, perhaps when a wedding invitation mysteriously didn't turn up. In truth, though, this scenario is pretty unlikely. Around 15 million letters are sent with the wrong address every week, but only 25 per cent of these end up going back to the sender - most find their way eventually. Postal workers clearly have magical detective powers.

3. If you go by comic-book logic, dogs and postal workers don't get on. It sounds silly, but there might actually be some truth to this idea. In Germany, 3,000 postmen are bitten by dogs every year. The cost is more than 2,200 (ripped) pairs of trousers and £8 million in medical bills. In an attempt to combat the issue, the German post office introduced dog psychology training courses for staff in 2001.

4. Postcodes have been used in the UK for more than four decades now, having been fully introduced in 1974. In total, there are around 1.8 million at present, covering 29 million addresses. As if the grand residence wasn't enough by itself, the Queen's Buckingham Palace has its own special postcode: SW1A 1AA. The Prime Minister's house, at 10 Downing Street, has SW1A 2AA as its postcode, with number 11 (where the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives) taking SW1A 2AB.

5. Mailing sacks tend to be made of woven plastic these days, but it hasn't always been the case. In the 1800s, most were manufactured using cloth instead - a material mice liked to eat. In 1868, to stop the furry critters causing damage and reaching the letters, Post Office bosses employed three cats to live at the company's headquarters. They were paid one shilling a week, and one - 'Blackie' - even had an obituary in the official Post Office Magazine.

So there you have it, the mailing world isn't quite as boring as you first thought. Now just wait until the postage round comes up in the next local pub quiz - you'll be ready to save the day!

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