Missent & Misdirected Mail

There are several reasons why letters go astray in transit, the main one being that addresses are frequently badly or incorrectly written by the sender.

Before the age of computers and postcodes, letters were commonly mis-sorted. A Post Office sorter might easily mis-read the destination town and direct the letter to say Cranley instead of Crawley – a simple mistake to make when the address is not carefully written in block letters. Other letters may go to the wrong destination by simply getting caught-up in other mail.

Throughout most of the 18th Century “missent” and “dead” letters were grouped together and sent to the Dead Letter Office in London where they were sorted out and the “missent” letters redirected to their correct destination. In 1793, the Post Office decided that all missent mail should be forwarded to the correct destination direct from the office that first discovered the mistake.

The earliest known “missent” handstamp is dated 1787 on a letter addressed to Newark in Nottinghamshire. From then on, a variety of “missent” and “misdirected” handstamps were used. They are known in several designs, both framed and unframed and in various colours. Towns that did not possess a “missent” handstamp would write the words “Missent to” on the letters and an impression of their ordinary name-stamp or datestamp used by that office would be added after the written words.

A similar range of “Missent” stamps were also used at many Scottish and Irish offices.


The PDF link below is a searchable table listing relevant items in The Postal Museum’s Postal History Collection. They have been arranged in alphabetical order of where missent.


Table Glossary


Auck. Postal Markings of Scotland to 1840 (2nd Edition) by Bruce Auckland, edited by Ron Stables

BCC. The British County Catalogue of Postal History (Volumes 1 to 5) by R.M. Willcocks & B.Jay

Wilson. The Travelling Post Offices of Great Britain and Irelandby Harold S. Wilson

cds = circular date stamp

d.arc = double arc

d.r = double ring

ds = datestamp

hs = handstamp

mm = mileage mark

ms = manuscript

nr = near

PO = Post Office

PP = Penny Post

RPO = Railway Post Office

rec. = receiving

RH = Receiving House

rect.hs = rectangular handstamp

s.r = single ring

sl or st.l = straight line

s/w duplex = sideways duplex

TPO = Travelling Post Office

UDC & udc = undated circle