100 Years of Slogan Postmarks

To mark the centenary of slogan postmarks, volunteer Cyril searched through our collections for these printed messages.

The British Post Office first used postmark slogans around the 10 December 1917, reluctantly following Government’s pressure to promote the sale of War Bonds.  By the autumn of 1917, the Great War had reached a stalemate and more funds were urgently needed to support the war effort and ultimately bring the war to an end.

Following a suggestion from the British Postmark Society, Royal Mail was initially enthusiastic about celebrating this anniversary with a postmark slogan, but subsequently declined it “as it clashes with another that was scheduled.”

A cover sent on the first day the British Post Office introduced its first slogan die. This impression is from a Columbia machine.

The Postal Museum did mark the occasion in February 2018 by mounting, at Spring Stampex Show, a small display including an early example of a War Bonds slogan on the cover and a selection of the steel dies from which more recent slogan postmarks were printed.

The Postal Museum’s collections include some 3,000 slogan postmark dies, but no examples of those used for printing War Bonds slogans. The earliest slogan dies in the collection date from the 1925 British Empire Exhibition. Here we show one of the dies promoting the Exhibition and an impression from that slogan, cancelling one of the special Empire Exhibition stamps on a postcard.

slogan postmark die

The slogan postmark die promoting the 1925 British Empire Exhibition.

Postcard featuring an impression of the 1925 British Empire Exhibition cancellation

Postcard featuring an impression of the 1925 British Empire Exhibition cancellation, used to cancel the exhibition commemorative.

In the 1890s the Post Office allowed trials of a number of stamp cancelling machines (SCMs), mainly manufactured by North American companies; the collection does include a very rare slogan-type die dating from one of those trials undertaken in the autumn of 1897. Although so-called flag cancellations were very popular in North America, it appears that the British did not favour them.

Shown here is a photograph of the die, celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and a rare impression from that die. The die is shown upside down as that was how such dies were orientated in SCMs. This was because of the way letters and cards were fed through the machines with their lower edges uppermost.

The slogan-type die used in an 1897 machine trial

The slogan-type die used in an 1897 machine trial

A rare impression of the actual postmark.

These trails led to the Post Office making its first purchases of machines to cancel the stamps on letters instead of them being cancelled by hand stamping. The first slogan postmarks advertised postal and telephone services and events of national and international importance; others were vehicles for government propaganda, particularly during World War II.

It was not until 1965 that the Post Office relaxed the regulations and permitted postmark slogans to promote local events and anniversaries.

– Cyril Parsons, Curatorial Volunteer

Sign up to our newsletter for stories of extraordinary communication and more.