Project of the week/2010/Sep 05

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Post Box.JPG
Briefkasten Briefmarkenautomat.jpg


It's great to send letters and postcards, but just finding a post box can be hard when you don't know the area. With OpenStreetMap it's made easy, and finding postboxes to add to the map can be an exciting challenge, you'll be surprised at the variety and the places they can hide.

In the UK the Freedom of Information Act was used to get a list of all postboxes from Royal Mail. We found out that they don't even know exactly where they are, but the reference numbers provide a great tick list. You'll find the reference at the bottom of the information plate, looking a bit like a postcode.

  • Matthew Somerville provided a postcode locator with swing-o-metre to show how well you've done. That site allows non-OSM contributors to quickly click where a postbox is, but currently there is some concern about importing the added data.
  • PostHoc is a similar system, which displays a comparison of contributions to Somerville's site, with pure OSM data. Somerville's website shows the list so you can look for the ones you missed. I regularly passed and missed on blended into the red wall of a restaurant it was embedded into, and another was hidden amongst the leaves of a hedgerow.
  • Post box Guesstimator tells you where is a lack of postboxes because in Germany there are policies how much area has to be covered by a box

In other countries there may be multiple mail companies, OpenStreetMap is expandable to and can hold this information in the operator tag. It could also be of use to include the physical appearance as some are very iconic or rare. In the UK they are usually named after the current King or Queen, and sometimes they get repainted for use in other countries!


The following tags can be used to map a postbox:

tag description
amenity=post_box (required)
operator=* company collecting post from this box
collection_times=* e.g. 'Mo-Fr 15:00,18:00,19:00,23:00; Sa 15:00; Su 10:30,23:00'
post_box:type=* e.g. pillar, lamp, wall
ref=* the internal reference number for this box
royal_cypher=* the monarch's initials, eg VR, EIIR etc
damage=* e.g. reference/information plate broken off, graffiti, notes

See also Postbox and Proposed features/Extend post box


You can visualize the post box network on this maps:

This Project of the Week was proposed and written by Gregory Marler, who has previously talked about Postbox hunting on his blog Living with Dragons.

Feel free to edit, or to add photo(s) from my Postbox hunting blog post. I won't be at a computer to look at this before it gets posted, so I trust Richard and the general OSM community.