High Values: "Surreptitious Removal"

On 15 August 1919 clippers were issued to 26 office in England and Scotland plus four in Ireland, with the following notice:

In view of the frequent surreptitious removals of the high value Postage Stamps from Telegraph forms, it has been decided, after experiment at certain selected Offices, that stamps of 2/6 and upwards in value shall be clipped at Post Office counters by means of special appliances, in order to destroy the philatelic value, before being issued to the public to be affixed to the Telegraph forms. Two pairs of the appliances will shortly be issued. The stamp should be slightly folded before being clipped, in order that the perforation may be made about the middle of the stamp.

On 10 February 1921 a further 49 offices were issued with clippers, followed in August 1925 with six London Offices and a further six in Manchester, being issued with clippers.

From time to time the Post Office carried out checks on telegraph forms to see if procedures were being followed and invariably found that un-punched stamps were being used, contrary to instructions, as indicated by the following samples:

resulting in a number of Postmasters being reminded of their instructions.

Conversely a number of Postmasters cancelled ALL high value stamps irrespective of their intended use. On 14 October 1919 a number of parcels were noticed on which punched 2/6d stamps had been used - these had been posted in Nottingham on the 13th by T Adams Ltd and addressed to Guilio Padova & Co., Cairo. On the 22 October the Postmaster at Nottingham admitted that all high values stamps at his office had been punched, due to a misunderstanding of the instruction, but that the situation had now been corrected. Examples have been seen postmarked London Road, Nottingham (December 1919 - three on separate covers) and Chapel Bar, Nottingham.

The Postmaster at Gloucester Gate was another who was reprimanded when punched stamps were found being used on parcels to Italy.

A report dated 27 April 1926 refers to telegrams handed in by the senders direct to the Eastern Telegraph Company (where clippers had not been issued) in Newcastle (upon Tyne) bearing punctured stamps presumably issued by a Post Office in Newcastle over the Counter. It transpired that Tabb & Burletson regularly purchased higher value stamps at the Quayside BO for specific use in connection with pre-payment of telegrams. These telegrams may have emanated from this source. However examples of punctured high value stamps on registered/insured mail emanating from the Quayside office addressed to Hamburg are known used in March 1924. Another example with a Quayside cancellation is a 5/- stamp on a parcel label dated 24 January 1924 from Thos. & Wm. Smith Ltd., Newcastle upon Tyne, addressed to Finland. A further example has been seen, on piece (not from a telegraph form), which seems to be from a different Newcastle office.

A further postally used example has been seen, consisting of a 2/6 Bradbury Wilkinson used together with a 6d and two 9d stamps making up a 4/6 rate on a parcel post label from Thos and Wm Smith Ltd of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Finland.

Other examples of (probable) postal use have been seen from Doncaster (June 1925), London, Chatham (August 1923), Grimsby (26.10.21 - on part parcel post label), Middlesborough, Birmingham (October 1925), Great Yarmouth (March 1935) and Dudley, only the Doncaster example being on cover, but several are on piece which obviously did not come from a telegraph form. Some of the covers seen are almost certainly of a philatelic nature.

The practice of clipping high value stamps continued through to the present reign, although the file seen does not indicate when this ceased. Although the original clippers continued to be used at some offices, many of the QE2 examples seen have been mutilated by other means and show mutilation both before and after affixing so it seems the problem was never satisfactorily resolved. Of a random sample of 100 forms, 44 bore mutilated stamps of which 35 had been mutilated after affixing and 9 before. The telegraphic service from Post Office counters ended 1 October 1982.

Most of this information is contained in a Post Office file Post 30/3670.

Other sources of High Value stamps were Customs Duty labels (any stamps bearing Channel Islands cancellations probably emanate from Duty paid on tobacco brought in from those Island), and stamps used in payment of telephone bills. In the latter case the stamps were affixed on the reverse of the bill and cancelled by the local Post Office where the bill was paid. As these were under the control of the Post Office any high value stamps on these forms were additionally cancelled using the diamond roller. On some forms this additional cancellation is in blue, a colour not so far seen elsewhere.

A philatelic postscript. A note dated 2 December 1925 reads:

'Mr Bacon the King's Curator, recently showed me some 2/6, 5/- and 10/- stamps clipped in the centre which he had purchased at an auction sale. It would seem that so far from the clipping of stamps rendering them of no philatelic value the procedure has created new varieties for philatelists to collect'.

How true!

(1) Although the Telegraph Act of 1868 authorised the Postmaster-General to acquire the inland telegraph services, the long-distance cables were in the hands of different Companies and foreign telegrams were expressly excluded from the Postmaster-General's monopoly. Some of these Companies continued to operate overseas cables well into the 20th century.

(2) By this time considerable use was being made of pneumatic tubes for the transmission of telegrams between the Central Telegraph Office and branch offices in London, previously served by wire. This was also being adopted to some extent in the provinces.

A possible further trial to prevent "surreptitious removal" may have taken place as late as the 1980s. A number of parcel tags have been seen used in the Bankers Special Packet service (which operated in Scotland for the transmission of bank notes and coinage between banks and branches) from two offices under Inverness, namely Tain and Beauly. Between November 1983 and January 1985 high value stamps postmarked at Beauly were additionally 'cancelled' by punching using a blunt spike after having been affixed, whilst those at Tain were mutilated before affixing. Only 5 stamps have been seen used at Beauly, but no doubt any 1 or over stamps used would have been cancelled as well. Although all examples seen from Beauly were treated, there appears to have been a gap at Tain as uncancelled stamps have been found during the period, so perhaps any trial was not continuous. Because of the secrecy surrounding this service no official information is available, but research is continuing.

Update - August 2010: Four examples have been found of a previously unknown trial taking place at Tain during the BSP 10.88 rate period (26.1.81 1.1.82). The first example shows mutilation by tearing as occurred during the 1984 trials at Tain, but the other three are based on much earlier trials by utilising clippers whereby the stamps are folded in half (in this case top to bottom) and clipped before affixing. The 1984 Tain trials were also based on mutilation before affixing. The torn item is dated 2 September 1981 and the punched items between 17 September and 2 December, which could indicate a six months trial. I have no other examples used at Tain during this period so do not know if it was a continuous trial or how long it lasted.


High Value stamps overprinted for use in Ireland, which have an additional six-bar cancellation over the normal cds cancellation, usually in purple, although black has also been seen, are understood to come from telegraph forms. The same rules for telegraphic use would have operated in Ireland when under the Post Office and are likely to have continued after Independence. Punctured stamps could also exist as clippers were issued in August 1919 to College Green BO in Dublin, with instructions for use on telegraph forms, and again may have continued in use after Independence. I have seen a pair of 5/- wide date stamps used at College Green in 1929 with punch cancels. Although these are not the same shape as the original clippers, it seems likely these came from telegraph forms.

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