From the Head Post Office to Benczúr House

The Wanderings of the Post Museum

The collection of the Post Museum’s material began in 1881 in a first floor room of the head post office where machinery, equipment and parts were held in store for the telegraph office for the purposes of replacement, exchange or training. From this telegraph storeroom the collection called the Telegraph Museum was created, which later also provided a historic overview. Greater impetus was given to the conscious collection of objects related to postal history by the national exhibition held in 1885, which introduced the country’s agriculture, industry, commerce and transport – and within this postal institution – to the general public. Despite the growing number of holdings, the exhibition on postal history in the first exhibition area for public display, which had a floor space of only 70 m2, was modest while that on telegraph history was far richer. The lessons drawn from this exhibition prompted the enlargement of the museum’s collection. When the post and the telegraph office merged in 1887, some wished to solve the problem of where to house the collection by dispersing it, while others saw the solution in the creation of a joint museum for the merged institutions. Gábor Baross, the minister responsible, accepted the latter proposal and in 1890 instructed that a post and telegraph museum be set up simultaneously with the closure of the Telegraph Museum, thus officially laying the foundations of the Post Museum. The next wave of collecting was inspired by the 1896 millennium exhibition marking the one thousandth anniversary of the Conquest of Hungary. On this occasion the organisers wished to present the historic development of the post, the telegraph and the telephone in a manner befitting the prestigious institution of the Hungarian Royal Post. At the event, the institution appeared in a separate pavilion combining the post, the telegraph and the telephone with great success. The several thousand objects displayed in the exhibition hall with 600 m2 indoors and 200 m2 outdoors were intended to enrich the independent Post Museum. After the exhibition closed, the hall was dismantled and the Post Museum began its wanderings. Some of the objects were on view in the Museum of Transport between 1899 and 1945, while a large part of the collection was placed in postal storage. Between 1945 and 1953 the entire collection which survived the war was mothballed. 1955 was a turning point when the reorganised Post Museum, designated a specialist museum with a national collecting remit, was able open an independent exhibition in the building of the Post Office Headquarters. From here the collection moved to the Saxlehner Palace on Andrássy Avenue in 1970, where it opened in 1972, and from there, after 40 years, it moved to Benczúr House. As regards the museum’s maintainers, Magyar Posta created the Post Museum and maintained it until 1990, when the company split into three (Magyar Posta Vállalat, Magyar Távközlési Vállalat and Magyar Műsorszóró Vállalat). Now, after a 22-year period of joint maintenance, which is relatively brief compared to its long past, it is again Magyar Posta which feels the importance of guaranteeing the future of the museum preserving the memory of the postal profession’s past and this collection forming part of the country’s national heritage by accepting responsibility as the rightful owner.

 

The collections of the Post Museum

In the beginning, when the first collection began in 1881 from the inventory of the National Finance Office and the Central Telegraph Storage, the collection mostly consisted of items related to telegraph history. However, the 1885 national exhibition started the planned collection of postal relics, while telegraph items also became more popular after the Millennium Exhibition in 1896. During the millennium event, the exhibition hall of the Hungarian Royal Post was named post, telegraph and telephone hall, clearly demonstrating the unified institute's intention of displaying each branches similarly to the general public. The collections of the Post Museum were organised along the same policy for the times to come, with the inclusion of radio- and television history items in later decades. The Hungarian Royal Post was not only the founder of the Post Museum, but also the expander of its collections. The institute organised nation-wide collections and issued six (1894, 1916, 1931, 1940, 1941, 1945) ministerial decrees on this topic. The Hungarian Post continued this practice after the war, the latest central ordinance on the collection and preservation of postal relics was declared in 1989. As a result, the Post Museum holds numerous antique items of postal, telegraph, radio and television history, while also possessing a collection of significant pieces from recent times.

 

Founders and supporters of the Post Museum collections

The museum collection was first held in the Central Post Office and was supervised by directorate secretary Ottó Pilcz, who was succeeded by post office engineer Frigyes Schaden. The ministerial decree that officially established the Post Museum was drawn up by chief engineer Endre Kolossváry, who completed his work with the permission of managing director Péter Heim. The Postal Committee of the Millennium Exhibition was led by Péter Heim and later by chairman Péter Szalay, while the main organiser and coordinator of the exhibition was Endre Kolossváry, whose service was a large contribution to the Committee's work. Lajos Oberhäuszer, who was a postal advisor at the time, became the first official to be elected museum director after the Millennium Exhibition. Following the dismantling of the exhibition hall, managing director Károly Follért became a supervisory board member at the Transport Museum, which also housed the Post Museum collection. Chief engineer Bernát Paskay was elected a member of the committee within the supervisory board. Baron Dr Gábor Szalay, managing director of the post, prepared a ministerial decree on the improvement of the post museum collections for the 50th anniversary of the first telegraphy service in Hungary. Even though the list of contributors is not complete, there were numerous other experts and supporters who committed themselves to the foundation of an independent Post Museum. These renowned or anonymous patrons did not only promote an ideal, but also improved the Post Museum collections with their personal items and family relics.

 

The reorganised Post Museum

After the closure of the 1896 Millennium Exhibition, when the Hungarian Royal Post decided to move the Post Museum collections temporarily to the Transport Museum, hopes for the construction of a separate museum building were high. The members of the supervisory board and committees (managing directors, museum directors and collection supervisors) were constantly representing the interests of the post collections by sounding the importance of improving, recording and exhibiting collected items. While trying to achieve these goals, the plans of an independent Post Museum were not neglected, and its importance was stressed occasionally. However, the almost half-century-long common history of the Transport and Post Museums did not end with the realisation of these wonderful plans, as the Second World War broke out in the meantime. After a bomb hit the Transport Museum in 1945, the remaining exhibited postal items had to be moved to various storage rooms. Under the circumstances, the plans of a new exhibition area and an independent Post Museum in the Lágymányos part of the city were no longer feasible. After the war in 1951, post advisor Dr Endre Vajda came with a new proposal and started the plans of a Post Museum, which would be set up at a temporary location. As a result of his work and the actions of the Reorganisation Committee, which was also coordinated by Vajda, the first exhibition of the Post Museum was opened in 1955 in the Post Directorate building. The first independent, nation-wide postal collection could exist in the 330m2 temporary area for 15 years, as in 1972 it was moved to the Saxlehner-palace located in Andrássy Street.

 

The placement problems of the Post Museum collections

Since the safekeeping of collected items is a major undertaking, the Post Museum constantly faced storage problems during the 65 years before the opening of the 1955 exhibition. During this period, postal items were stored on the first, second and third floors of the Central Post Office; in various rooms at the finance offices of the National Post and Telegraphy Office; in an 8 room caretaker's apartment of the Lágymányos Telegraph Centre that was assigned for museum use; in 2 rooms at the Pauler Street storage; in the vehicle garage of the Óbuda post office and the post station in Stefánia Street. Even after 1955, the storage problems of the Post Museum still existed as the opening of its first subsidiaries in Balatonszemes (1962) and Nagyvázsony (1968) did not resolve the situation. An own museum building would have provided a solution to the storage deficit. In an effort to accommodate the postal museum, the Post Directorate purchased the dilapidated Slovak Evangelical church building located at 57 Rákóczi Street in 1970. Due to high renovation costs, however, the postal museum was moved into a lodging, namely the exquisite halls of the Saxlehner-palace located at 3 Andrássy Street, from where the Hungarian Philatelic Society had just moved out. The impressive halls have housed the Postal Museum exhibitions for 40 years, but the building was not suitable for storing larger collections. Although the number of subsidiaries increased significantly in the following years with the involvement of settlements like Debrecen (1980), Ópusztaszer (1987), Hollókő (1990), Budapest (1991), Diósd (1995), Miskolc (1998), Pécs (1999), Kiskunhalas (2002) and Kőszeg (2004), storage problems are still unresolved.

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