British Postal Markings

Postal markings include datestamps, rate markings, and indications of the origin, route and arrival of mail. With more modern mail they also show evidence of automatic cancelling and sorting. BPMA's extensive collections cover all these, but most are not public record. We also have a number of examples of different types of handstruck postal markings.

Frank Staff collections

Three major collections of postal markings were obtained from Frank Staff, a well-known postal historian. One of the Staff collections charts the history of the Penny Post from its private beginnings in 1680 in London by William Dockwra. The other two collections are his studies of markings on maritime mail and transatlantic mail up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Postal markings albums

The BPMA also holds more than 200 albums dating from before and after the introduction of the first adhesive postage stamp in 1840. These include entire letters, covers, envelopes, postcards and postal stationery. They also contain studies of particular markings for penny posts and for the various transport systems, such as ships, railways and airmail.

Postal mechanisation and meter marks also have extensive coverage and bring the collections into the modern era.

Special Studies

The following studies of specific types of postmarks are available online:

Image of Provincial Penny Post/5th Clause

Provincial Penny Post/5th Clause

Postal markings from the early days of the UK postal service, before local post existed.

Image of Mileage Marks

Mileage Marks

Markings from 1635-1840, when letters were charged according to the distance they were carried.

Image of Missent and Misdirected Mail

Missent and Misdirected Mail

Before postcodes letters were commonly mis-sorted. These "missent" letters were marked before being redirected to their correct destination.

Image of Ship & Packet Letters

Ship & Packet Letters

Before airmail all British mail going to or coming from abroad travelled by sea. Handstamps were not recorded until the early 18th Century.

Image of India Letters

India Letters

From 1815 packet services ran from India, with the letters charged at less than normal sea-postage rates. This necessitated special handstamps.

Image of Paid-At Stamps

Paid-At Stamps

Before 1840 most letters were paid for by the recipient. Some pre-payment did exist, though, and such letters were marked with Paid-At stamps.

Image of Uniform Penny Postage and the Reforms of 1839 & 1840

Uniform Penny Postage and the Reforms of 1839 & 1840

In the period between postal reform and the introduction of postage stamps, handstamps were used to mark letters which had been pre-paid.

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Cancelling Machines

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Internal Postage Rates

Internal Postage Rates

Download documents listing internal postage and parcel rates

Internal postage rates from 1635 to the present day (including postcard rates), and parcel rates from 1883 to 2009.




Ever wondered why stamps were perforated with initials?

Read our history of the perfin, an ingenious means for preventing stamp theft that became a form of advertising.


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