High Values: "Surreptitious Removal"

High Value Stamps punched for use on Telegraph forms to prevent 'surreptitious removal':

During the early part of the 20th century the Post Office were becoming increasingly concerned that high value postage stamps were being removed from telegraph forms and sold on the philatelic market. This was mainly from telegrams handled through the various Telegraph Companies(1), some of whose employees were in fact charged, rather than on forms handled by the Post Office themselves. Stamps were either torn off forms or the actual forms themselves were removed after the message had been dispatched. Some missing stamps were no doubt the result of having been insecurely affixed and falling off the forms, as loose stamps were found from time to time, but the forcible removal was usually obvious.

Stamps of high value on telegrams were normally 'blacked out' by the Post Office using an inked roller over the normal telegraphic cancellation to make them undesirable to collectors. This roller was normally a thick bar but rollers with an un-inked central diamond pattern have also been seen. This form of additional cancellation continued after the introduction of clippers where telegrams were handled by offices which had not been issued with clippers or where punched stamps had not been used. An example seen dated May 1929 has been additionally cancelled with a roller consisting of six thick black lines applied horizontally over the cds cancel.

As early as 29 March 1911 a joint investigation was carried out between the Central Telegraph Office and the Great Northern Telegraph Co in connection with forms handed in at the West Strand branch, and from which stamps were missing. These forms had been sent by tube(2) from West Strand to the Central Telegraph Office and then, again by tube, to the Great Northern Telegraph, so had been handled by a number of people. The enquiry concluded that the theft probably occurred at the Central Telegraph Office but were unable to identify the person responsible. A further investigation was carried out on 19 October 1911 regarding eleven forms from which stamps to the value of £1.9.4. had been removed plus a further form from which an attempt had been made to remove a 5/- stamp. A temporary clerk was suspected but the evidence was somewhat inconclusive so no action could be taken, although the clerk was removed to other duties.

Over the years the removal of high value stamps continued and although not substantial, was on the increase. As a result on 27 September 1915 A Mapley, the Assistant Controller in the Cable Room at Central Telegraph Office suggested mutilation at the accepting stage to render stamps worthless. He had noticed that certain high priced stamps had been clipped or torn in an elongated manner, presumably in the Accountant Generals Department, and suggested this might be used in the case of telegraphs.

A report dated 2 October 1915 states that clipping was adopted experimentally in the Foreign Telegraph Office. Although this did tend to slow down handling, further trials were suggested at one or two London Telegraph Offices. However it was pointed out that, apart from the extra time, there was the possibility that clipping might mutilate writing on the form. Although no official record of further trials has been seen, they must have taken place as examples postmarked 1 November 1915 from London Chief Office and Great Tower Street BO have been seen in official files.

The clippers used for this experiment appear to differ from those issued later. The 1915 examples seen show the clip coming to a point in the long direction.

Removal of stamps remained a problem and an investigation in 1916 by the Great Northern Telegraph Company led to an ex- employee, A L Andersen (a Dane, aged 22) being questioned. After initially denying any knowledge of missing stamps, he produced an envelope containing 26 stamps (six of £1, seven of 10/-, seven 5/-, one 2/6, three 1/-, one 9d and one 6d). He admitted taking them but claimed they were for a collection he was forming and that he had no intention of selling them. Subsequently Andersen admitted having taken stamps and selling them to J Louis & Co, 20 Moorgate Street, City Sales & Exchange, 94 Fleet Street and Bright & Son, 164 Fleet Street. Andersen was charged and appeared at Guildhall Police Court on 30 June 1916 where he pleaded guilty, but claimed he did not realise he was committing an offence, and was bound over in the sum of £10 for six months.

An enquiry by the Eastern Telegraph Co. Ltd. of Finsbury Pavement commenced when one of the staff noticed used stamps, which he recognised as having emanated from telegraph forms issued through their offices, in the window of a stamp shop in Moorgate Street. Examination of the actual stamps at the shop by officers of the Company confirmed the nature of the stamps and the proprietor of the shop stated that these had been brought in by a 'young boy' who had given his name as C Riley and said he worked for Western Union. Further enquires elicited the information that similar stamps had been offered to 'Palmers, round the corner'. A similar story was told by the proprietor of Palmers, who said the boy had again given the name Riley and wore the Uniform of a Telegraph Company Messenger, although the investigator considered Palmer was not particularly helpful.

A search by officials at the Eastern Telegraph office carried out on 22 October 1917 discovered that some original telegraph forms were missing, as follows:

On 23 October, Charles Riley, age 15, an Indoor Messenger at the Eastern Telegraph Company was dismissed from the Company's employ for stealing and destroying Post Office Telegraph forms and disposing of the stamps taken from them to Mr. Louis, Moorgate Street and Mr Palmer, 9 Moorgate St Buildings. Louis had produced stamps with a face value of £10.11.5. which he stated were almost all he had received in the only transaction he claimed he had with Riley. Palmer produced 69 stamps (26 x10/-, 17 x 5/-, 23 x 2/6 and 3 x 1/-) which he claimed he had purchased in three transactions with Riley, before refusing to accept further stamps unless Riley produced authority from his employer. The report also stated that a letter, in Riley's handwriting on Company notepaper, had been found amongst his effects giving such authority and 'signed' in his senior's name. Although there was sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution, it was decided by the Company not to proceed.

As a result of such incidents further experiments into clipping stamps intended for use on telegraph forms commenced. In July 1918 trial punches were issued to Throgmorton Avenue BO and West Strand BO whereby stamps were initially perforated after affixing. The West Strand trials commenced on 20 July and ended 2 August and the Throgmorton Avenue trials from 18 to 25 July. These proved satisfactory, although senders were asked to position stamps in suitable positions so that messages were not affected.

A further trial was carried out at Throgmorton Avenue from 1 to 7 October in which stamps were perforated before affixing. As a result it was suggested stamps should be punched after affixing otherwise punched stamps might be used on postal correspondence.

These trials were not considered entirely satisfactory and on 31 December 1918, the following instruction was issued:

It has been arranged to have a further trial made of punching high-priced (2/6 and upwards) stamps affixed to telegrams. The trial at Throgmorton Avenue BO will be on the lines of punching the stamps before their issue to the public to be affixed to telegraph forms, and at West Strand BO after they have been affixed. In both cases the trial will commence on the 2nd proximo and will continue for one week.

The result was that one omission to clip was observed at Throgmorton Avenue but at West Strand 72 cases of failure or partial failure were detected. The final decision was 'the removal of temptation to steal high priced stamps would best be served by clipping such stamps before attachment'.

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