British postal markings

Postal markings include datestamps, rate markings, and indications of the origin, route and arrival of mail.

With more modern mail they also show evidence of automatic cancelling and sorting. The Postal Museum’s extensive collections cover all these, but most are not public record. We also have a number of examples of different types of handstruck postal markings.

Frank Staff collections

Three major collections of postal markings were obtained from Frank Staff, a well-known postal historian. One of the Staff collections charts the history of the Penny Post from its private beginnings in 1680 in London by William Dockwra. The other two collections are his studies of markings on maritime mail and transatlantic mail up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Postal markings albums

The Postal Museum also holds more than 200 albums dating from before and after the introduction of the first adhesive postage stamp in 1840. These include entire letters, covers, envelopes, postcards and postal stationery. They also contain studies of particular markings for penny posts and for the various transport systems, such as ships, railways and airmail.

Postal mechanisation and meter marks also have extensive coverage and bring the collections into the modern era.

Special Studies

The following studies of specific types of postmarks are available online:

  • Provincial Penny Post/5th Clause

    Postal markings from the early days of the UK postal service.

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  • Mileage Marks

    Markings from 1635-1840, when letters were charged according to the distance they were carried.

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  • Missent & Misdirected Mail

    "Missent" letters were marked before being redirected to their correct destination.

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  • Ship & packet letters

    Before airmail all British mail going to or coming from abroad travelled by sea. Handstamps were not recorded until the early 18th Century.

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  • India letters

    From 1815 packet services ran from India, with the letters charged at less than normal sea-postage rates. This necessitated special handstamps.

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  • Paid-at stamps

    Before 1840 most letters were paid for by the recipient.

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  • Uniform penny postage

    Handstamps were used to mark letters which had been pre-paid.

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