UPU SPECIMEN POSTAL STATIONERY
UPU Specimen Stationery
In the earliest years of prepaid postage, samples of postage stamps and postal
stationery were often sent to Postmasters to announce new designs, changed colors,
new denominations, etc., so mail bearing unfamiliar postage would not be challenged.
It also enabled comparisons to be made with suspected forgeries. For example,
in 1840, specimens of the first adhesive stamps and the Mulready stationery were
applied to Circulars and sent to all Postmasters in the United Kingdom, before
the stamps were put on sale. The samples were mint, and could theoretically be
illegally removed from the circulars and used for the payment of private postage.
When the first one shilling stamps were prepared in 1847, specimens sent to
Postmasters were handstamped with the word SPECIMEN to prevent their use to
defraud the post office. The use of a defacing or cancelling device became a
common practice to avoid loss of post office revenue.
The philatelic meaning of a specimen item of postal stationery is: A proof or
issued item of postal stationery which has been provided or preserved as a sample,
for which no payment has been made and which has been defaced to prevent its postal
The “defacement” is very often the word SPECIMEN (or its equivalent in other
languages), hence the term “specimen stationery”, often shortened to “specimen”.
In this listing, a “specimen” may also be an item which has not been defaced,
provided it can be shown that it was supplied as a sample to a member of the UPU,
and it does not also exist as an issued item sold to the public, such as an item
prepared but never publicly issued.
Types of Specimen Stationery
The subject-matter of this catalog is confined to UPU specimens, explained in
detail in the next section. They have come into existence through a UPU procedure
for keeping member countries informed of one another's officially issued postal
paper. It is worth noting, however, that there are many other reasons for
preparing samples and these “non-UPU” specimens are outside the scope of this
work. They can be classified as follows.
- Postal Authority specimens. To give notification of an issue, the Postal
Authority may circulate specimens to its postmasters. As the postage stamp came
to be introduced in more and more countries, postal administrations notified one
another bilaterally (prior to, or outside of, the UPU) of their new issues, often
sending unused stamps and stationery as specimens. From the mid-1850s the practice
of protecting the revenue by applying some suitable marking slowly took hold.
- Printers' reference specimens. The printers of stationery need to keep
records of their work in the form of proofs, essays, color schemes and issued
material. To prevent postal use of these reference items, the printer may be
required to overprint or endorse them suitably as specimens.
- Official reference specimens. In Great Britain senior officials of the
Post Office and the Inland Revenue kept reference collections of postal material
in current use: These bear SPECIMEN or CANCELLED overprints. The Crown Agents
also had reference collections, though the items were uncancelled. Before the
UPU began distributing specimens in 1879, some reference collections were supplied
by Britain to overseas postal administrations, made up of uncancelled stamps
of the Crown Colonies.
- Presentation specimens. Special sets or collections made up for important
dignitaries have sometimes been given protective cancellations before presentation.
This is the origin, among the British Crown Colonies, of many of the locally
overprinted types of specimen.
- pecimens of stamp printing. When seeking orders, security printers have
often put together collections to illustrate the scope and quality of their
work. Previously issued stationery would normally be protected with a SPECIMEN
or CANCELLED overprint. Waterlow & Sons, Limited salesmen had a large portfolio
of examples, and the postal stationery samples previously produced for many
counties were overprinted with a distinctive red or blue circular design.
- Printers' samples. Samples for use in obtaining new contracts were sometimes
submitted. In some cases, such as in USA, the bidding process for each contract
usually required such specimens to be submitted with the bid.
- Post Office training specimens. These are stationery defaced before supplied
to postal clerks in training schools. Examples include stationery of Great Britain
cancelled with vertical black bars, and of France with 'SPECIMEN' or 'ANNULE'
- Exhibition specimens. There are instances where security printers have been
given permission to display issued stationery or proofs at National and
- Philatelic specimens. Postal administrations sometimes dispose of unwanted
remainders of obsolete issues or supply current issues at below face value to
stamp dealers and collectors, giving the stationery suitable protective markings
or cancelling them with a datestamp. Examples include remainders of Mauritius
which were overprinted 'CANCELLED' following the change to decimal currency in
1878, and stationery then current in the Australian States and Commonwealth which
were protected prior to sale at a discount to collectors. The Italian Post
Office similarly sold high denomination postal money orders to collectors at
nominal prices after they had been demonetized by handstamping them “ANNULATO”.
Philatelic agencies may also arrange for the supply of specimens, sometimes in
artificially controlled small quantities, to their agents. The great majority of
specimens produced in the last four decades fall into this last group. In some
cases, reprints are made for the collector market that, because they would still
be valid for postage, are demonetized.
- Press specimens. Administrations may publicize their new issues by sending
them direct to philatelic editors.
- Display specimens. Post Offices and bureaus sometimes have lobby displays of
postal stationery envelopes currently on sale. The USA, for example, offered a
wide range of sizes, colors and denominations, and display cases were made, using
SPECIMEN overprinted material.
- Receiving authority
Specimen Postal Stationery in Normal Unused Condition
Many postal authorities distributed unmarked examples from the very outset of
the system in 1879. These are naturally indistinguishable from the normal
issues without independent confirmation of their status, such as a Receiving
The notes to individual countries in
Members make clear where
circulation was by means of stationery in normal unused condition. Territories
which became members of the UPU after 1900 but which only circulated specimens
in normal unused condition, are included in
UPU Members but have no
corresponding entry in the listing. Any defacing markings encountered in these
areas are from one of the non-UPU types listed above.
The British Post Office adopted a compromise system both for Great Britain and
for the British Post Offices Abroad. In 1948 the British Post Office and the
Crown Agents decided to cease protecting stationery sent to the International Bureau.
There are a few cases where stationery samples were circulated through the UPU
but were, for various reasons, never issued. One of the best known examples is
the 8c carmine, King George V post card of Straits Settlements, which exists only
with a SPECIMEN overprint. Another is the Gibraltar brown Queen Victoria 1½d
reply card with the Type 1 surcharge, again only known as a specimen.
Administrations have sometimes made special printings and reprints solely to
supply the International Bureau,: when a distribution had been overlooked, when
insufficient stocks were available or upon joining the UPU.
Various methods have been adopted to protect stationery from unauthorized use:
- Overprints. The word SPECIMEN (or equivalent) is applied by a printing press.
- Handstamps. The word SPECIMEN (or equivalent) is applied by a manual device.
This handstamp is very often made of rubber that deforms somewhat during use,
and the dimensions and shape of the impression can vary.
- Perforations. The word SPECIMEN (or equivalent) is perforated into stationery
as a pattern of small holes.
- Postal markings. Datestamps and other postal obliterators may be used to
protect stationery. Examples include most of the Australian States, Australia
and its postal dependencies.
- Controls. Spain and its Colonies utilize a serial number scheme on its
stationery, with each impression of the press advancing the number. They usually
consist of a six-figure control marking with a prefix letter. Those reading
“000,000”are reserved for specimens, and are not valid for postal use.
Standard Type Protective markings may be applied either by the printers at the
request of the Postal Authority which ordered the product, or may be applied by
the Postal Authority itself (or by some other Government Department) after receipt
from the printers and before sending them to the International Bureau for
Where the stationery printers apply the protective markings, recognition of
certain standard types becomes possible. Markings applied by Postal Administrations,
on the other hand, rarely exhibit such general patterns. Close study of the
five British security printers, responsible for so many issues of the former
British Empire, has led to the a classification of standard types set out in
“Catalog Information”. Foreign printers have been less intensively investigated
but standard types may also be recognized among their work. Fuller details of all
these non-British types are given under the respective country headings.
Numbering System for Types
The numbering system, illustrations, and descriptions of the types of protective
markings are provided in Classification of specimen types
. The catalog
for each country repeats the information related to its listing.
As with any area of philately, collectors need to seek authoritative opinions
when there is suspicion or doubt. Forgery of postal stationery distributed by
the UPU with specimen overprints and handstamps is most unusual. However, bogus
overprints, perforations, and handstamps are an easy means for unscrupulous people
to enhance the value of the most common stationery.