Strong ties between Britain and India massively influenced the postal service.

Assistant Curator Georgina looks at the key stamp designs created under British influence as well as since Indian independence.  

The 15th of August 2017 marked 70 years since Indian independence from British Rule. The history and changes of this period can be expressed through the history of the postal service and more particularly the country’s issued stamps.

The British Crown took control of India from the East India Company in 1858 ending centuries of control. Britain however never completely ruled the whole of India and in fact 2/5 of the country was independently governed. Britain tried to justify its rule but its main interest was the economic benefits. British rule did encourage infrastructure in areas such as railways and mining, but it also left Indians poorer and prone to famine.

Map of India split up into coloured sections to differentiate between British India and Native States and Territories.

Political Divisions of the Indian Empire, The Imperial Gazettteer of India, 1909

British influence on the postal service.

The British Post Office was involved in the enhancement of postal connections between India and England. Initially, the journey of a letter took 3 months however in the 1820s Thomas Waghorn introduced an overground route between Alexandria and Suez which only took 35 days. Later in 1854, 14 years after Britain, uniform postage rates were introduced into British India. As in Britain, this led to a huge surge in the number of people sending post.

Two stamps; on the left the penny black depicting an image of Queen Victoria on a black background and on the right the first issued stamp in India after the British introduced uniform penny post, also depicting an image of Queen Victoria on a blue background.

Penny Black, 1840 & India Half Anna, 1854


The first stamp used in India was issued on the 1st of July 1852 from the Sind Provence. However, it wasn’t until 2 years later that we begin to see Queen Victoria’s profile appear along with the stamp value. On the 1st of November 1858 Queen Victoria took control of British India, though Indian stamps wouldn’t acknowledge British rule until 1877 when she became Empress. It was at this point that we see the inscription ‘East India Postage’ change to just ‘India Postage’ even though the East India Company had lost control of India 19 years earlier.

Two stamps of Queen Victoria used in British India, one with the words East India Postage and the other simply India Postage.

East India Postage, One Anna, 1865 & India Postage, Half Anna, 1883

It’s not until King George V that we really see a move away from British stamp design influencing Indian stamps. This is not to say that they didn’t continue to use recognisable stamp designers. For the new British India definitives they used an effigy produced by Bertram Mackennal of the King wearing Indian insignia. This image was also used on Indian coinage. Interestingly in this image King George V is wearing a crown which he was never depicted wearing in British stamps.

Two stamps depicting King George V by Betram Mackennal, one for Great Britain and the other for British India.

King George V, Three Half Pence, 1913 & King George V India Postage, Three Pies, 1912

Stamps for India were initially produced in Britain, packed and shipped over. In 1924 a security press was set up in Nashik under the management of Thomas De La Rue, head of the company who had been printing Indian stamps for many years. By 1925 the factory was up and running producing stamps with plates sent from De La Rue in Britain.

First Indian pictorial stamp depicting a de Havilland DH.66 Hercules plane, issued 1929.

Air Mail, de Havilland DH.66 Hercules, 3 Annas, 1929

India’s first pictorial stamp to be produced was for airmail in 1929. The stamp depicted a de Havilland DH.66 Hercules, a 1920s British airliner that flew between England and India. This issue would then be followed by a set of six pictorial stamps marking the government’s move from Calcutta to New Delhi.

Six stamps for British India depicting sites connected with the inauguration of New Delhi.

Set of six pictorial stamps for British India issued in 1931.

Indian independence

There are numerous factors that brought about Indian independence, but British rule began to unravel in the 1940s with a move towards self-government. The main leader in Indian independence was the Indian National Congress founded in 1885. The group was spilled between those that believed in violent protest and others such as Mahatma Gandhi who practiced non-violence. Gandhi led many national movements and was imprisoned for his actions.

Indian independence didn’t come until after World War Two. The last viceroy in India was Lord Louis Mountbatten who pushed for a speedy removal of British power, leading to Indian Independence on the 15th of August 1947.

Stamp depicting the Indian flag for the first stamp issued after Indian Independence.

Indian National Flag, Independence, Three and a Half Annas, 1947.

The first independent stamps to be produced in India after the removal of British control were a set of 3 depicting a Asokan Capital, the Indian Flag and a Douglas DC-4 plane. All of these stamps bear the inscription ‘Jai Hind’ which in Hindi means ‘Long Live India’. A year later in 1948 to mark one year of independence an issue was produced to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi, who had been assassinated earlier that year.

Two stamps depicting images of Mahatma Gandhi for the first anniversary of Indian Independence.

Mahatma Gandhi, First Anniversary of Independence, 1948

Stamps have this brilliant ability to transport you through history. Here we have been able to document the changes in Indian history and government through stamps being produced at the time. I am forever amazed at how these small items are able to educate us on not only our own history but that of the rest of the world.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately)