The BPMA Handstamp Collection

by Freya Folåsen, Cataloguer (Collections)

The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) museum collection has just about any object type one can think of when it comes to the British postal service: postal stationary, pens and stamps; letterboxes and sorting machines; vehicles and uniforms. A very large part of the collection consists of handstamps: these are implements used to apply a postmark by hand. The BPMA has several thousand handstamps which are in the process of being catalogued and made available online, and 952 handstamps were added to our online catalogue yesterday.

The impression of a rare Dumb Canceller Obliterating Handstamp, which has a wooden die

The impression of a rare Dumb Canceller Obliterating Handstamp, which has a wooden die

The handstamp collection shows the history of the Post Office from the 18th Century to the present day. It also covers most parts of the UK, from Penzance to Canterbury, London to Haroldswick and Llandeilo to Belfast. The majority have a metal or rubber die with a wooden handle, but there are also some with plastic handles and even some rare handstamps with wooden dies. Handstamps often have a permanent inscription with the name of the town or post office around the edges with space in the centre for the date, either made up of loose slugs or a revolving dateband. Many handstamps have an office numeral in the inscription to identify the office it was stamped at and some have numbers to identify the individual postal worker who used it.

An impression of a parcel handstamp from Hadley, Wellington, Shropshire

An impression of a parcel handstamp from Hadley, Wellington, Shropshire

When thinking of handstamps it is often the ones used by Post Office Counters that spring to mind, such as date, registered and parcel handstamps (2009-0336/1). These make up a large proportion of the collection but there is an amazing array of different handstamp types.

Provincial penny post handstamp impression from Hounslow, Middlesex, circa 1838

Provincial penny post handstamp impression from Hounslow, Middlesex, circa 1838

Older handstamps include some used prior to the introduction of the uniform penny postage reform in 1840, such as a provincial penny post handstamp from Hounslow, Middlesex dated around 1838, as well as uniform penny post handstamps with a numeral and the abbreviation ‘d’. The latter type was used to denote cash prepayment as an alternative to adhesive stamps during the 1840s and early 50s (2009-0429/12).

A To Pay handstamp for the postcard rate

A To Pay handstamp for the postcard rate

Surcharge, or ‘To Pay’, handstamps range from the simple, unframed version with the value to be paid in a prominent numeral and the post office numeral below; framed handstamps with ‘TO PAY’ at the top with the explanation for the surcharge, such as ‘POSTED UNPAID’ or ‘LIABLE TO POSTCARD RATE’; to the later all-purpose handstamps without office numerals and with five reasons for the surcharge.

An impression of a special handstamp celebrating the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890

An impression of a special handstamp celebrating the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890

Special handstamps are used on mail posted on special occasions and they come in many different styles, covering all types of events such as the Penny Postage Jubilee in 1890; the first aerial post in 1911 (OB1995.341); the opening of a Volkswagen headquarters in 1978 (2009-0336/2); and a host of anniversaries, naming ceremonies; birthdays; and special events.

The impression of an address handstamp for GPO Headquarters, St Martins Le Grand

The impression of an address handstamp for GPO Headquarters, St Martins Le Grand

Apart from all the handstamps used on the covers of letters, there are also ones used in less official capacities. For example, there are address handstamps to stamp outgoing business letters, promotional material or notices from post offices, sorting offices and district offices. There are also similar handstamps used by individuals within the postal service, with their job title and contact details, as well as title handstamps used to sign documents (2009-0313/05).

Impression of a handstamp celebrating the opening of the National Postal Museum (now BPMA) on 19th February 1969

Impression of a handstamp celebrating the opening of the National Postal Museum (now BPMA) on 19th February 1969

In addition to the many handstamps from Royal Mail there are also some handstamps made especially for the National Postal Museum, now the BPMA. There are special event and address handstamps, but the most exciting example is the handstamp used by HM the Queen at the opening of the National Postal Museum on the 19th of February, 1969.

These are just a few of the many handstamps now available on the online catalogue. The cataloguing of the collection is ongoing and there will be even more treasures uncovered as the work continues.

One response to “The BPMA Handstamp Collection

  1. JOHN STEWART

    I am most impressed by your website, and somewhat staggered by the range and number of pstal artifacts in your collection. I am specially interested in printing, as well as rubber and metal stamps, and the details of your handstamps really caught my eye. Well done so far: looking forward to the next 10,000 handstamps! More power to your efforts, or should I say to your elbow.
    Well done!
    John Stewart, Melbourne, Australia, 10th February 2010

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