UPU Procedures

Distribution of Specimen Stamps by the International Bureau

At the Second Congress of the General Postal Union, held from 2 May to 4 June 1878 in Paris, a number of regulations were adopted. Among these, Article XXIX dealt with communications which were to be sent to the International Bureau. Clause 2 of this Article concerned “documents” which members of the Union were to transmit to one another via the International Bureau, and sub-Clause 4 stated that such items should include “a collection of their postage stamps”. In its Circular dated 12 December 1878, the International Bureau stated that, in compliance with this regulation, 70 copies of each of the documents specified would be required by the Bureau for distribution.

In cases of urgency, administrations could transmit documents direct to one another, so long as they also provided the International Bureau with a collection. Those specimens which have been noted in official collections, including that of the International Bureau, but to which no reference has been found in a Circular, are believed to have been sent direct to other members. These are so described in the catalog.

Types of Documents
Although no specific instructions have been found, it appears to have been taken for granted, in most instances, that collections of postage stamps and items of stamped postal stationery then current in the various countries were required for distribution. Also, specimens would be required of any new items that differed in design, value or color (but not normally in watermark or perforation) from those previously in use. The intention, no doubt, was to keep postal administrations well informed as to the officially-issued postage of all the other members of the Union, and to enable them to compare with the issued items any suspected forgeries which might reach their offices through the post.

Items designated for special purposes, such as parcel post, registration or special delivery, were not required to be included, but nonetheless occur circulated. Some countries have also distributed Telegraph forms but others have not, evidently because they were deemed non-postal. Also distributed have been Annual Reports and other printed documents published by various postal administrations. At the Seventh UPU Congress held from 1 October to 30 November 1920 in Madrid, it was agreed that specimen impressions from officially adopted stamping machines (meter stamps) were also to be provided for distribution.

Military Occupations
Occupation overprints often have a political intent, to demonstrate the change of administration. Distribution of postal products to the international community via the UPU could be seen as reinforcing the message.

During and immediately after the First World War, many items issued for use in territories conquered by the Allies were sent to the International Bureau by the British Post Office. Those which had been protected are listed in the catalog; others were circulated in normal unused condition. The covering Circulars state that the items are distributed “at the express wish of the British Postal Administration”

The procedure for distributing specimens changed little over the years. The required documents were provided by individual postal administrations, or later, in many cases, by the printers, to the International Bureau, where they were assembled into collections which were then distributed to members. In many cases, all contact with the UPU by Colonies and other dependent territories was via the Colonial Power rather than direct.

For each distribution, a covering Circular or Bulletin listed the enclosures, but in the early years of operation of the system, often only in general terms, e.g., “a collection of postage stamps and stationery”. The specimen stationery distributed after about 1945 are exclusively in normal unused condition, and consequently, of limited interest to philatelists unless marked by a receiving authority.

Although the procedure is in operation today for adhesive stamps, the 1964 Vienna Congress abolished the exchange of “impressions of postal franking machines” and ruled that only postage stamps, blocks and miniature sheets, to the exclusion of postal stationery (postcards, aerogrammes, etc) must be exchanged between administrations. Therefore, after 1964, specimen postal stationery was no longer sent to the UPU for exchange purposes.

It is important to differentiate between the number of specimens prepared by the issuing postal administration, the number required to be sent to the International Bureau, and the number actually distributed. Quantities were not given in the original website. However, the records of many Administrations have become available to philatelists in the past few decades, and many include the quantity of specimens printed and/or distributed. Consequently, a column can be added to country listing to include this information. It is requested that interested collectors assist by providing this information, citing the source.

It should be remembered that the number printed and/or distributed may differ from the number of specimens required by the Bureau. The authority may also have wished to retain a number of specimens for its own records. Until 1899, the International Bureau intentionally requested more specimens than were required for distribution so as to build up a reserve stock for future members at a time when the membership was growing rapidly. This procedure resulted in a very large stock which had to be stored in the strong-room of a Berne bank. In 1899 the International Bureau wrote to members advising them that the surplus stocks of stamps supplied by them would be returned.

For many years after 1899, the International Bureau requested the exact number required for distribution plus one copy for its own collection. In consequence, since 1900 there have been frequent requests to members to send collections of specimens direct to new members, but it has not proved possible to determine to what extent these requests have been met.

The number of specimens has varied over the years for a number of reasons, including changes in procedures at the International Bureau, increase or decrease in membership, alteration in the number of specimens to be supplied to each member (in 1886, 1892 and 1907), varying requirements of the postal administrations of the Colonial Powers who handled the affairs of their Colonies and other territories, and variations in the requirements of individual members.

Details of the numbers required up to 1929 are set out in the button UPU Members. Thereafter the numbers declined from 426 in 1930 to 351 in 1942, and rose to 565 at the end of 1987, largely as a result of decolonization and the addition of new independent members.

The current regulation, as stated in the 2012 Doha (Qatar) UPU Congress, states in Letter Post – Convention Article 8; Protocol Article IV; RL 113 of “Postal Payment Services Regulations and Final Protocol” is:

Postage stamps. Notification of issues and exchange between designated operators.

  1. Each new issue of postage stamps shall be notified by the designated operator concerned to all other designated operators, with the necessary information, through the intermediary of the International Bureau.
  2. Designated operators shall exchange, through the intermediary of the International Bureau, one set of each of their new issues of postage stamps and shall send 15 sets to the International Bureau. This represents a total of 235 stamps to be dispatched for each new issue.

However, as noted previously under “Procedure”, postal stationery is no longer included, and such exchange regulations today pertain solely to adhesive postage stamps.

Receipt of Specimens by Members of the UPU

General Observations
It has not proved possible to determine how most postal administrations have dealt with specimens received from the International Bureau in the past, other than by inspecting collections in Postal and other Museums as they exist today. A number of these “official” collections were examined in detail by Bendon, as well as the collection at the International Bureau. While the following is from Bendon’s study for his book of specimen adhesive stamps, the comments, in principle, could also apply to postal stationery.

In examining these collections several things are clear: Although the stamps are mounted on album pages they have not in general been arranged by philatelists, the collections have been remounted (in some cases several times) over the years and in consequence earlier annotations lost or distorted, there have been many ill-conceived attempts to 'complete' the collections by adding stamps which have not been received from the UPU, and finally stamps have been removed either with or without authority. Also, as described under individual countries in the catalog, there have in the past been supplementary distributions which differed in detail from the original; some postal administrations have included the original distribution, others the later and yet others both.

As a result, there are considerable differences between the various collections; this has greatly added to the difficulty of compiling the catalog.

As an example of how distributions are handled today, what happens to specimens received by the British Post Office is described. Two triple collections are received by the National Postal Museum and are broken into six single collections. One is sent to each of the postal administrations of Guernsey: the Isle of Man and Jersey, for whose relations with the UPU the British Post Office has a continuing responsibility. One is retained by the National Postal Museum for its 'Berne Collection', one is sent to The British Library for its Philatelic Collections, and one has since 1910 been sent to Buckingham Palace. This last collection is divided; stamps issued by countries currently members of the British Commonwealth are retained for The Royal Philatelic Collection and the balance is forwarded to The Royal Philatelic Society, London for its own collection. It is interesting to note that no specimens are retained by 'working' departments of the British Post Office such as the International Letter Service Department which might wish to make reference, as was intended when the system of distribution was originated.

Collections Examined
The following collections (referred to as “official collections”) have been studied during compilation of James Bendon’s book. The names used in referring to them are shown in brackets:

Collections originally formed by postal administrations and now housed in museums: Collections originally formed by postal administrations and since sold at auction:

In addition to the official collections, access to the personal collections has provided valuable information to supplement the author's reference collection.