sure that many of us receive items of postal stationery through the
post that we have bought in auctions or on ebay. Unless we can
attend a stamp fair or an auction in person, it is about the only way
we will be able to obtain new additions to our collections. Some
auction houses and stamp dealers in the UK use the new horizon labels;
those plain, large, white, self adhesive squares of paper that do
nothing to enhance an envelope or encourage the younger generation to
start collecting stamps. But other dealers still try to give us
something extra by using commemorative stamps or miniature
sheets. Some are even able to use postal stationery, especially
if they operate from a country outside Great Britain.
More or less from the start of
philately itself, dealers have always tried to go that little bit extra
for collectors, without asking anything in return, apart from continued
custom from their clients. From the end of the 19th and well into
the 20th centuries, British stamp dealers used a number of ways of
making their letters and packets more attractive. I’ve picked up
some of these items when browsing boxes of postal stationery at stamp
fairs, or occasionally some have turned up in auction lots. They
can make an interesting sideline to a collection, or even a main
subject in themselves, and I thought I would share these with you.
I cannot decide if these items
should be classified as philatelic creations, since some have been
deliberately prepared for stamp collectors, or whether they can fall
under the heading of ‘commercial covers’. After all, even though
they may have paid the postage in some unusual ways, they did serve a
postal purpose, paying for letters or goods sent through the
post. Perhaps they are a mixture of both. If you give a
selection of stamps to anyone who is not in a hurry, ask them to stick
the appropriate amount onto an envelope, most will use a little
artistic skill in fixing the stamps in an attractive group.
So what did the stamp dealers of
years ago use? Prepaid parcel labels are difficult items to find
in any reign. So I was lucky to pick up the one illustrated here
[Fig 1] produced by Whitfield King, the stamp dealer based in Ipswich
in the East of England.
This dealer also used stamps cut
from postal stationery to pay for the postage on letters. Cut out
stamps had been banned from 1870 when postcards and newspaper wrappers
were introduced, but were permitted again from 1st January 1905.
The envelope shown as figure 2 is quite an early example having been
sent on 7th April 1905. The return address has been added using a
rubber stamp, but a later envelope used in 1909 has much more detail
printed in the top left corner [Fig 3].
Whitfield King also had their
own registration envelopes printed in Queen Victoria’s reign, but were
unable to have the Post Office registration die impressed on them,
having to be satisfied with the normal STO dies [Fig 4].
One other odd way of paying for
postage which Whitfield King employed, was to use stamped to order
(STO) envelopes as parcel post labels. The two examples I have
acquired [Figs 5 & 6] would have paid for fairly heavy parcels,
probably containing stamp albums or catalogues.
Of course Whitfield King was
only one of several important dealers in the United Kingdom.
Alfred Smith, who started off his business in Bath, produced numerous
combinations of STO envelopes with different advertising
vignettes. He had his name and business interest printed above
and below some of the impressed postage stamps, [Fig 7] a kind of
simple advertising ring.
He also printed a drawing of his
premises in Bath on the left hand side of envelopes [Fig 8].
However, I think he was probably exaggerating the size of his premises,
and in all probability had one small shop on the ground floor.
These envelopes were used up following
his move to London by being overprinted with his new address details
[Fig 9]. I have not seen any fancy Alfred Smith envelopes used
after this period, but he continued to use rather more plain envelopes,
which would have been much cheaper to print [Fig 10].
Another of the philatelic dealers who
operated in South London was L’Estrange Ewen. He had parcel
labels specially produced for posting heavy albums and catalogues [Fig
Another dealer from the same
area was Oswald Marsh. He also had labels made up for sending out
parcels of albums and catalogues [Fig 12] and sometimes sent out his
weekly lists using cut out stamps [Fig 13].
One, or perhaps both of these
dealers also sent out registered letters to many clients, probably
containing new stamp issues. Some of the envelopes were
pre-stamped [Fig 14] while the postage on others was paid for using
stamps cut from items of postal stationery [Figs 15 & 16].
This particular example, with ‘am……..’ still visible along the top of
the cut out, clearly shows that the King Edward VII 6d stamp has been
taken from a telegraph form.
Another London dealer, the Williams
Stamp Company of 120 Leadenhall Street, EC, also used stamps cut from
postal stationery. In all probability the 6d stamp in figure 17
has also been taken from a standard telegraph form. These could
be obtained from the Post Office at their face value, unlike the
envelopes sold by them which always carried a premium to cover the cost
of the envelope. So if the postage demanded it, it was cheaper
for the dealer to use a stamp cut from a telegraph form rather than
William Lincoln produced printed albums
for collectors and had his own envelopes created with his personal
advertising ring subsequently printed around the stamp. Some of
these were used as cut outs in the beginning of the last century, and
one example [Fig 18] uses these to pay part of the postage on a large
parcel to South America.
Although I only have a mint
example of one of these envelopes [Fig 19], I am sure they were also
used for corresponding with philatelists. Also indulging in
advertising rings on envelopes were the Philatelic Quarterly and the
Publishers of the Permanent Stamp Album, both based in Brighton [Figs
20 & 21]. But I have never seen any other type of cover that
I can identify as being from these last two dealers.
Another dealer based in the Channel
Islands, Charles & Co., had unstamped reply postcards
produced. He sent these to collectors to promote his approvals
selections, with the reply half intended for collectors to tell Charles
& Co. of their wants lists. He also used stamps cut from
postal stationery to make his mail more attractive to collectors [Fig
22]. The note on the reverse is interesting [Fig 23]. “We
also have post cards, envelopes, cut squares and fiscals, which we sell
cheap”. There was not a great deal of interest in postal history
or postal stationery in those days!
One well known dealer who
operated from Stockwell, London, was H Edgar Weston. He produced
a huge amount of philatelic material and had his stamps specially
printed in sheets of 48. But his story will have to wait for
Even today one or two dealers in
Britain still try to enhance their packages, using postal stationery
envelopes and cut out stamps. Figure 24 shows one I received a
couple of years ago from Andrew Whitworth, paid for with stamps cut
from air letters. Regrettably Andrew is no longer trading.
Our society still uses overprinted postal stationery [Fig 25] and about
10 years ago had its own prepaid envelopes printed in the unusual
colour of puce [Fig 26].
So with all this material, collectors of
75 or 100 years ago must have been served very well indeed. There
were envelopes and parcel labels, stamped to order envelopes, cut outs
from various sources and advertising rings for those who patronised the
right dealers. Fortunately for us collectors today, many of these items
have survived so that we can tell the story of Victorian and Edwardian
Finally, this article is based
on items from my own collection. As I said at the beginning, I
have not gone out of my way to collect this material, but have come by
it while hunting for other types of postal stationery. No doubt
there are many more dealers from the last two centuries, who enhanced
their envelopes and packets when writing to their clients. Of
course there are still some today who continue to do so. So if
anyone can add to this story of philatelic fancies, please let me know
and we will try to publish an update to this article in the future.
(This article is reproduced from
the August 2010 issue of The Postal Stationery Society Journal.)
Copyright 2003-13. All Rights Reserved
updated: 13 August 2013