Friday, 29 June 2012

Collecting Postal History - A Brief Introduction

Part One of an Occasional Series

I've been collecting stamps for over 40 years, and covers for almost as long. While a postmark on a stamp can give an insight into what the stamp "did", only a cover can provide the full story. A postmark might tell you the where and when of postage, but can very rarely tell you the how and why.

This is the allure of postal history. The term was coined by Robson Lowe, and can be described as the study of postal systems and how they operate. The beauty of postal history is that it is a somewhat specialised field, so bargains really are everywhere.

The covers in the blog were all picked up for a song, because the people selling them didn't know what they were.

This grubby cover was sold as "Nigeria King on envelope". It's actually a First Flight cover, for the first direct flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Croydon, England. Addressed to Government House, Antigua, the airmail sticker has two pen marks through it. This is known as a jusqu'a cover (a French word which can be translated as "as far as"). The pen marks were  added on receipt at Croydon to indicate that the cover would not be conveyed by airmail from that point onwards, as there was no airmail service from Croydon to Antigua.

Franked with a pair of 1935 Silver Jubilees SG33 and 6d SG40.

Australia opened a number of Antarctic bases in the 1950's and the first Australian Antarctic Territory stamp was issued in 1957. Before that date, Australian stamps were used.

This cover is franked with SG224 and SG251, and is postmarked at Mawson Base 15 FE 54. The date is the key point on this cover.

An Australian party raised the Australian flag on 13 February 1954. Just two days later, 15 February, the Post Office opened, so this is a first day of usage cover from a brand new post office in one of the world's most remote places.

Argentina has disputed British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas) for hundreds of years. On 2 April 1982, war broke out when the Argentinians invaded the Falklands. The Post Office was closed from 2 April and reopened on 5 April. An Argentine circular date stamp was introduced, and from 6 April to 10 April, the Argentinian flag was at the bottom of the CDS. It's believed that the Falkland postal workers deliberately inverted the CDS! Argentinian stamps weren't available until 8 April, so any mail already in the system carried Falklands stamps.

This cover shows how they were handled. The Falklands stamp SG417 was crossed through with biro strokes, and the CDS was placed elsewhere on the cover.

Whilst this isn't postal history, I've included it as an example and illustration of the need to look closely at a cover before dismissing it as run-of-the-mill, and to take in the whole thing when looking.

This is an illustrated GB 1948 Olympic Games FDC. However it has a lot going for it. Firstly, it's postmarked with the Olympic Games slogan cancel, and the Wembley CDS. Although the signatures are obvious, the seller paid them no heed. A quick Google search before I bought it showed that it was signed by Les McKay, Australian Water Polo player, and Australia's flag bearer at the opening ceremony in London in 1948. I haven't yet identified the second signature

That's a very brief insight into postal history. In future parts of this series, I hope I'll show enough interesting covers to convey the fascination of this area of collecting!


  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

  2. I'm glad you liked it, it makes writing very worthwhile when someone enjoys it. If you haven't subscribed, we'd love to have you aboard so we can keep you informed when new updates are done.

  3. Wonderful are a genius collector!

    1. Rangarajan, I'm so glad you enjoyed the blog! Thanks for the compliment, but I'm definitely no genius!