Today Royal Mail has released a generic sheet to mark 350 years of the postmark. The sheet offers a fascinating visual record for postmark and postal heritage enthusiasts. Alongside the stamps are different postmarks that illustrate, in date order, the development of the postmark.
Henry Bishop, who was Postmaster General from 25 June 1660 until 6 April 1663, is credited with introducing the postmark. Postmarks are believed to have come into use in late April 1661. Bishop later explained the reasons for the postmark’s introduction as follows:
A stamp is invented that is putt upon every letter shewing the day of the month that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carryer may dare detayne a letter from post to post; which before was usual
“Bishop marks”, as these original postmarks were titled, are known to have been used in England, Ireland, Scotland, the North American colonies (including New York, Philadelphia, Quebec and Nova Scotia) and India during the 17th and 18th Century. There were a number of different types, but the best known were round in shape with a horizontal line at the diameter. The first Bishop marks showed the first two letters of a month in the upper half and the days of the moth in the lower half.
Our collections include an example of the Bishop mark which appears on the “Pomery Letter”, a lettersheet addressed to Arthur Pomeroy Esq, Kildare Street, Dublin which is handstamped with three postmarks including a large Dublin Bishop mark and a postmark that reads CLONARD.
The letter is believed to have been sent between 1747 and 1797; this date was determined by the type of Bishop mark on the sheet, which shows the month above the day.
Other notable postmarks featured on the generic sheet are marks from the Dockwra penny post and the original Pearson Hill stamp cancelling machine, a War Bonds machine slogan, and a postmark from the final day of the Travelling Post Office.