For the great majority of Inland letters in the early days of the postal system the postage was usually paid on delivery by the recipient. Accordingly, "pre-paid" or "paid" handstamps were few and far between and did not exist, except for the Chief Offices in London, Edinburgh and Dublin and a few major cities like Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow.
Provincial Office handstamps
The earliest paid handstamp used in an English provincial office on a pre-paid letter was in 1775 when Tetbury in Gloucestershire used a "Pd" mark contained in a circular frame. It was not until the 1820s that the first examples of what was to become a widely-used group of stamps were issued known as "Paid-at" handstamps and these can be found in use into the 1850s.
"Paid-at" stamps were used throughout the United Kingdom in a great variety of designs, both framed and unframed. The framed types are rectangular, circular, oval, octagonal and in the case of Tavistock, even scroll-shaped. They are usually struck in red ink, synonymous with pre-paid postage, but are also recorded in black, blue and green.
Types of handstamp
The British County Catalogues of Postal History by Willcocks and Jay have been widely used in compiling the listings of handstamps, and these in many instances fall into a number of families where the same type number (e.g. BCC.60) is allocated to handstamps broadly similar but not identical in appearance.
The most common variations within a single family are physical size, style of lettering, and where the words "PAID AT" are within a square or rectangular frame. The corners of the frames are often found square, chamfered and rounded.
The PDF link below lists relevant items in the BPMA Postal History Collection. They have been arranged in alphabetical order of where the postage was paid.
Paid At Stamps (PDF, 109 KB)
BCC.57, 59, 60, 61 etc. R.M. Willcocks & B.Jay. British County Catalogues of Postal History. Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Auck.S.25, S.26, ED.96, G.15 etc. Bruce Auckland. Markings of Scotland to 1840. Second edition. Edited by Ron Stables.
PH of GBI type 902, 904 etc. R.M.Willcocks and B.Jay. The Postal History of Great Britain and Ireland.
CDS or cds = circular date stamp
circ. = circular
d. arc. = double arc
ds = datestamp
H/S or h.s. = handstamp
MS. or ms. = manuscript
rec. = receivers or receiving
rect. h.s. = Rectangular handstamp
R.H. = Receiving House
s/l or s.l. = straightline
Letter, Devizes to Chard, 1831
Letter, Truro to Westminster, 1837
Letter, Tavistock to St Austel, 1831
Letter, Liverpool to New York, 1841
- Types of Handstamp
Handstamp BCC.57, Halifax
Handstamp BCC.57, Leeds
Handstamp BCC.57, Stratford
Handstamp BCC.59, Stroud
Handstamp BCC.59, St Asaph
Handstamp BCC.59, Devizes
Handstamp BCC.60, Lancaster
Handstamp BCC.60, Newry
Handstamp BCC.60, Howden