TWO postboxes stolen in the forest may be part of a national crimewave, after at least 25 boxes were reported stolen in the first two months of this year.

More than 55 have vanished in the past five years, and replacing the boxes can cost the Royal Mail more than £1,000 a time.

The two boxes were stolen from villages near Wimborne and Christchurch in the last two months. Another two have been taken in the Weymouth and Dorchester areas in the same period, say Dorset Police. However Hampshire Police was unable to provide details of any similar thefts, due to the way its crimes are recorded.

The reason for the thefts is thought to be that there are collectors willing to pay thousands for their own postbox.

Websites such as eBay and Gumtree advertise second-hand postboxes for sale from £180 to £5,775.

The quintessentially British boxes are particularly popular abroad.

The pillar box was introduced by novelist Anthony Trollope, then a postal surveyor, in 1852.

Each pillar or postbox bears the royal cypher of the monarch in whose reign they were created.

Some postboxes date back more than 200 years. The oldest, in Wakefield, was installed in 1809. A further 7,000 carry the letters ‘VR’ signifying that they were installed during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Among collectors, the most popular — and consequently the most valuable — are Victorian free-standing pillar boxes, which can go for more than £5,000.

The Royal Mail used to auction off old postboxes that had been decommissioned. But the practice stopped in 2003, and these days, old boxes are repaired and kept in stock as potential replacements.

As a result, a thriving black market in stolen postboxes has developed.

Boxes are not marked with serial numbers, meaning it can be impossible to tell where it’s come from.