Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Royal Cyphers: GR

One of the perks of being the reigning monarch in the United Kingdom is that you get your name on everything. For example, it's not just the British government, it's Her Majesty's government. The Royal Navy doesn't just have ships, and they don't just call them "United Kingdom Ship" such-and-such - they're Her Majesty's ships. I imagine it seems pretty antiquated and anachronistic to most Americans, but it's actually kind of... I don't know, "quaint" doesn't seem like the right word, but it's kind of comforting, and provides a bit of stability and continuity in a way that we don't really enjoy in the States.

One of the manners in which this manifests itself is in the royal cypher. Seeing as how a title such as "Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" is awesome, but sort of long, they shorten it. Pretty dramatically, actually. As such, they abbreviate it - a lot, actually - in the form of the royal cypher, which includes the monarch's initial, their generational title, and an "R" - "Rex" (Latin for "king") for men, and "Regina" for (Latin for "queen") for women. So, for example, the reigning British sovereign's royal cypher is "E II R", for "Elizabeth II, Regina".

The Royal Cypher appears on a lot of stuff over here. One of the places it appears most prominently is in the Royal Mail, particularly on post boxes. They're all red - like the phone boxes - and they're ubiquitous throughout the country. The thing is, when the Sovereign leaves the throne - typically upon their death - not everything gets replaced. Stamps, for example, switch over, but they don't go out and replace all of the post boxes with the former sovereign's cypher. I imagine they eventually do, should one post box wear out for some reason - but let's face it, a metal box with conspicuous red paint to weatherproof it? Something maintained that well could hold out for decades - and, in fact, they do.

For a long time, I figured that all of the post boxes just said "E II R" on them, but I've recently found several much older ones around Aberdeen. The three pictures in this post display the royal cypher of George V, who reigned from 1910 until his death in 1936. That means that there are post boxes outside the Cathedral Church of St. Machar, another one next to Mounthooly Roundabout, and a third on Union Street that date back to at least 1936. The world, and Aberdeen, have gone through a lot since then.

That one at the top is the first one I noticed in Aberdeen that wasn't "E II R" - in fact, I figured it must be a fluke! The thing is, once I noticed that one, I started looking at others. There are tons of old post boxes around Aberdeen, and these three of George V aren't anywhere near the oldest ones. So, what was the oldest one I found? Stay tuned to find out!

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