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Under the headline 'An interesting invention', The Times of Friday 10th July 1925 reported that "A luncheon was held at the Hotel Victoria yesterday for the purposes of explaining the aims of a company which has been formed to develop an invention known as Monomarks which was devised and developed by Mr. William Morris". In this manner The Times recognised the birth of the company known as British Monomarks Ltd, which currently resides at (and has done for a number of years) at Monomark House, 27 Old Gloucester Street, High Holborn in London.

As the company explained when its service was launched on the 5th November 1925, "by arrangement with the General Post Office" it simply provided a Post Office Box and mail forwarding service to its customers. However the distinctive feature of its service, heralded as "the greatest invention of its kind since people adopted names", was the 'William Morris System of Monomarks'. The idea being that every individual and business should have an unique identifying code such as 'TR3T', and that by prefixing this unique code with the letters 'BM' (for British Monomarks) or 'BCM' (for British Commercial Monomarks) and the addition of 'London WC1', everyone could therefore enjoy the "shortest name and address in the world". The company claimed that this "would make a decided impression on British trade", and that some four hundred "prominent companies" had applied for "commercial monomarks" prior to the service's launch.

Certainly the emergence of British Monomarks made some impression on the popular imagination as was a popular song entitled Have you got your Monomark? published in 1926 with words and music by R Rengaw and L Clarke. However by 1929 it was reported that profits were "negligible", talk of establishing an "international chain of Monomark companies" had been abandoned, and there it was even suggested that the company be wound up. The company nevertheless carried on trading, and for decades afterwards continued to advertise the advantages of "A London address, wherever you are!".

However the company's one distinctive contribution to British culture came about more or less by accident. For many years it was widely believed that the British Post Office (which was viewed by many as nothing more than an arm of the government to all intents and purposes) would quietly co-operate with whatever request the authorities made regarding the interception of mail. On the other hand it became known that British Monomarks would refuse to divulge the identity of any of its clients without a court order. It therefore become the practice for various 'alternative' organisations representing sundry anarchists, socialists, fascists, neo-Nazis, occultists, homosexuals, lesbians, flat-earthers, whatever, to use the services provided by British Monomarks in order to maintain at least some semblance of anonymity. Since by this time the company had largely dispensed with the idea of unique codes and allowed its customers to register more easily recognisable Monomarks, this led to the appearance of such postal addresses as BM Anarchy, and for many years a perusal of the classified advertising in many periodicals would have therefore revealed a bewildering array of organisations sheltering behind a BM postal address.

Even in the age of Internet when physical mail has largely been supplanted by its electronic equivalent, there are those that continue to put forward the advantages of such an arrangement, and such works as Road Raging: Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding from eco-action.org, advises would be environmental activists that they "must have a postal address", and recommends the use of the "BM Box confidential mail forwarding service, privately provided by British Monomarks" which it asserts "gives your address complete security" except, of course, "from the police".


British Monomarks remains in business although it now describes itself as "a provider of virtual office services" and has expanded the range of its services, and now offers a telephone answering service as well as private email, and various forms of marketing distribution. However it also continues to provide its now traditional mail forwarding service, and it therefore continues to be possible to join the ranks of such organisations as the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (U.K.) who have adopted BM EGC as their contact address.


SOURCES

Sources from contemporary newspaper reports and advertising in The Times, in addition to;

  • British Monomarks Ltd http://www.britishmonomarks.co.uk/
  • Road Raging - Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding http://www.eco-action.org/rr/ch2.html
  • The Sheetmusic warehouse http://www.sheetmusicwarehouse.co.uk/details.php?ref=11553

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