Lamu Island Post Office

Lamu Island first came under the British sphere of influence in 1890.  The British had not taken a great interest in East Africa until Germany began to establish a colony to the North modern Etheopia. in 1890, the area around Witu was transferred to the British and along with it, Lamu Island.

Witu has been a German protectorate from 1885 but becomes part of the British sphere of influence in 1890, based on the treaty signed in that year with Germany.

The British East Africa Company, from its base in Mombasa, extended its activities along the coast to the border with the Italian sphere of influence in the north and to Lake Victoria in the west and from 1890, across Lake Victoria further inland into Uganda.

However, as the British East Africa Company did not manage to show a profit, it is forced to transfer its rights to the British government: in Uganda in 1893 and in the rest of British East Africa in 1895. The British subsequently form the protectorates of Uganda and British East Africa in 1894 and 1895 respectively.

By 1877 some letters from Coast were being taken north from Lamu to Aden by ships of the British Steam Navigation Company, although the bulk of mail was being transmitted via Zanzibar. A system of mail-runners was developed and expanded by the British East Africa Association, while individual traders and concessionaries organized their own service. That enjoyed the use of distinctive postage stamps in 1889-90.

A regular postal service in British East Africa was introduced in May 1890 and post offices opened in Mombasa and the island of Lamu.

Local Commemorative & Local Publicity Slogans

The British Post Office established in 1917 the precedent for using slogan dies as an alternative to bars for cancelling stamps mechanically. However, all the slogan dies used in the United Kingdom before 1956 were connected with national campaigns, or advertised important national or international events. Some slogans, such as those publicising the Royal National Eisteddfods, were used only at a small number of offices in the region closely connected with the particular event.

However, since 1956 when Rochdale used a slogan to commemorate the centenary of the granting of a charter of incorporation to that town, the Post Office became more receptive to applications for local slogans. At first it restricted such applications to slogans advertising local events and commemorating local anniversaries.

The Rochdale Centenary slogan is listed in Stanley Gibbons ‘Collect British Postmarks’ catalogued at £8.00.  The highest catalogue price of the period is attached to the Stalybridge Centenary Slogan of 1958, priced at £30.00

Then on 1 April 1963 it introduced the first of the Local Publicity Slogans. Since that date local authorities and the sponsors of local events have made extensive use of postmark slogans as a means of advertising the virtues of a town, or a particular feature, as well as for announcing outstanding local events.

For some years the British practice of having the town mark of machine postmarks to the left of the obliterator was strongly criticised. The Post Office had always insisted that this practice ensured that the place and date of posting appeared legibly on the cover, not on the adhesive. However, following continuing pressure first from philatelic circles, but more particularly from the potential sponsors of Local Publicity slogans, the Post Office relented. On 1 July 1963 Bath used the first transposed slogan.

This was a Local Publicity slogan, but before the end of 1963 Paisley became the first office to use a local interest” General slogan transposed, listed in Collect British Postmarks for just 80 pence.

Specially modified die heads could be fitted to Universal and some ALF machines, enabling slogan dies to be impressed to the left of the town die. In this way the slogan falls on the cover while the town die acts as the obliterator.

For the first few years the Post Office limited the use of these special die heads to slogans in fairly restricted use. However, by 1968, an increasing number of offices were using the special die beads for national slogans as well as local ones, and in 1971 slogans in the standard position were the exception where as before they had been the rule. Subsequently the Post Office reversed its 1963 decision and from 1976 transposed slogans became the exception rather than the rule.

Many thanks to The British Postmark Society for the use of this item. 

Origins of Slogan Postmarks in Great Britain

Origins of Slogan Postmarks 

Slogan postmarks can be said to go back to the earliest stages of the postal system.  London Bishop Marks were introduced in 1661 and four Receiving House marks were introduced around the same time. 

With the introduction of automatic stamp cancelling machines at the turn of the 20th century many foreign countries and the Dominions introduced slogan cancellations.  The Post Office appeared reluctant to follow their lead and it was only in 1917 that it agreed to assist the war effort by authorising the ‘Buy National War Bonds Now’ 

Several companies had made attempts to persuade to the Post Office to permit the use of slogans on covers and post cards.  These include H & F Pear (still making the soap) in 1910 and Gordon Selfridge of Selfridges earlier in 1917. 

Whereas British Slogan Cancellations have never carried commercial advertising – companies have used dies to carry announcement’s – negotiations between the Post Office and an advertising agency reached an advanced state in 1926 to the extent that Sir William Mitchell-Thomson (Postmaster General) proposed the scheme.  The Post Office even went so far as to issue an Inter-Departmental Circular advising Postmasters: 

‘It has been decided to use the obliterating dies of letter stamping machines of the Hey-Dolphin and Universal types as a medium for commercial adverts, and a contract has recently been placed with Messrs Frank Mason and Co. Ltd, of 3 Clements Inn, LONDON WC2 giving that firm the exclusive rights to obtain orders for such advertisements’ 

However, due to a concerted campaign from the public and other advertising interests the scheme was dropped on 9 November by the Post Office saying that the estimated revenue ‘in the current circumstances is quite small’ 

Between 1917 and 1956 all slogan dies were connected with national campaigns or the advertisement of national events. The most collectable slogan covers of the period are generally related to the Empire Exhibition of 1924-25.  Torchlight Tattoo slogans are priced between £10 and £50 in the Stanley Gibbons Collect British Postmarks catalogue. 

Other slogan postmarks to look out for relating to the British Empire Exhibition are the Torchlight Tattoo events, listed at catalogue prices between £10 and £75. 

The best of the pre-war slogan postmarks is the ‘Mt. Pleasant Opening’ catalogued at £400. 

Wartime Slogan covers are plentiful, but the Kitchen Front, Cambridge Cancellation is listed at £20. 

A Cover Which Tells its Own Story – Of Some Historical Interest

I was listing items on my webstore yesterday. One item that caught my eye was a Registered cover sent from Grimsby in Lincolnshire to Monroe in Michigan, USA.

It often takes some time and effort to track the route a cover has taken on its journey. In this case it told its own story. The cover carries postage of 4½d, made up of 2½d letter rate and 2d registration fee. The cover is cancelled with a Grimsby Registered Oval and is dated 10 May 1902.

The reverse of the the cover is also stamped with the Grimsby Registered Oval across the flap.

The cover was carried by rail to Manchester and is stamped with a Manchester Registered Oval ‘7 PM 10 MY 02’ and is further stamped with a Liverpool Registered Oval ‘10.30 PM 10 MY 02’

The Cunard Line SS Campania sailed from Liverpool to New York on 16 May which is the ship the cover would have been carried on.

SS Campania

The cover arrived in New York on 21 May as witnessed by the backstamp.

The cover arrived at its final destination – Monroe, Michigan on 23 May at 8:30AM

The story of the cover does not end here however. The original letter is enclosed. Written by V J Bertrand on 10th May 1902 it is addressed to Dr George F Heath ‘Publisher and Editor of The Numismatist.

Originally published by Dr Heath in 1888 as The American Numismatist the name was shortly changed to The Numismatist. The name was eventually purchased by the American Numismatic Association. The magazine is still published today.

Dr George F Heath

The contents of the letter are fascinating. Mr Bertrand tells us that ‘My speciality in collecting is Napoleonic medals and commemorative medals and paper money and English coins’

He goes on to request an advert in the ‘wanted’ column and encloses a money order for 4 shillings and 2 pence to cover this and his subscription to the magazine. rather helpfully has all of the issues of The Numismatist, vol 15, 1902 and Mr Bertrand makes four appearances within its pages:

V J Bertrand, Application For Membership
V J Bertrand, Application for Membership, June 1902 Issue
V J Bertrand, New Member, July 1902 Issue
Advertisment, July 1902 Issue
Advertisment, July 1902 Issue
Except from letter, September 1902 Issue

The cover and contents are currently for sale (30 June 2020) on my Webstore

The Registered Post

In the 1780’s a system was introduced in the United Kingdom to ensure the safe transit of letter to and from abroad while in the UK.  In 1792 the ‘Money Letter’ system was introduced.  This provided safeguards for letter containing money although no compensation could be claimed.  Money letters were charged at double the normal rate and were endorsed “Money Letter”.  The system was ended on 1st January 1840.

The ending of the money letter system corresponded with complaints of theft and so Registered Post began on 6th January 1841.  However, no compensation was offered until 1878, but each letter was endorsed with ‘Registered’ and a number and was sent with a green way-bill giving details along with a receipt form to be completed by the addressee.

It was obviously more convenient for Post Offices to have handstamps for Registered letters.  An early example was in use in Chester in 1842.

Registered Handstamp used in Chester in 1842

The Post Office name was shown in this example from Edinburgh and was used into the 1850’s.

Used in Edinburgh during the 1850’s

In March 1848 the 1 shilling registration fee was reduced to 6d.  The Post Office in Burnley, Lancashire produced  a rectangular with ‘Registered’ and its office name incorporated.  During the 1850’s a number of provincial Post Offices produced varieties of framed stamps with the word ‘Registered’ and unframed stamps also started to come into use.

There were also a small number of special types and Liverpool produced a variant of the Duplex Spoon cancellation which was in use between 1857-58.

Liverpool 446 Spoon Registered Cancellation

Glasgow used a double arc type cancellation from 1858 into the early 1860’s.

Glasgow Double Arc Cancellation

By the late 1850’s time dated stamps for registered letters had begun to appear.  At the London Chief Office an unframed oval dated type came into use during 1856.  This was replaced the following year by a smaller single arc type.

1857 Smaller Size London Cancellation

In 1858 the dated type in an oval frame appeared which became the standard type which was in use until the switch over to printed labels.  The images below show types used at the time in Glasgow and Dublin

Glasgow Oval Frame
Dublin Open Frame

On letter sent from foreign locations the Crown registered mark remained in use at the London Chief Office until the late 1860’s.

From August 1862 it was made compulsory for inland letters containing coins to be registered.

Edinburgh Coin Registered Cancellation

In the late 1870’s Glasgow suffered from a considerable amount of non-delivery of important letters.  The solution was to charge an extra ½d for a report of delivery to the sender.  The stamps below we used during the early 1880’s when the scheme was in operation

During the 1880’s the use of single circle date stamps became far more common and large provincial offices started using them as cancellations.  However a number of the earlier undated types still survived including this example from Cork.

Undated Cork Registered Cancellation

The Dublin Office used an octagonal stamp from the 1870’s until the 1920’s.

Dublin Octagonal Cancellation

The use of double circle dated cancellations were widespread in Scotland which lead to the introduction of the type in the 1890’s.  The type was in use will into the 20th Century.

Scottish Double Circle Type

In the late 19th Century Hooded Circle types were also tried for registered letters.

London Hooded Circle Type

Swaziland – Piggs Peak

Piggs Peak was named after Wiliam Pigg who discovered gold there.

Piggs Peak opened as a postal agency in 1904. The first postal agent was B P A Geldenhuis. It was subsequently upgraded to a sub post office and in 1910 the sub-postmaster received a salary of £120 per annum.

In 1923 the postal service between Piggs Peak and Barberton in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa was operated three times a week. The post was conveyed on foot and took 14 hours to arrive. The cost per annum of operating the service was £168.

Tools of The Trade

My first port of call is generally the internet.  I am a member of a number of philatelic societies and many provide some excellent information regarding post marks and cancellations.

The Great Britain Philatelic Society: have plenty of information including  listings of numeric and duplex numbers allocated to individual post offices throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

For collectors of Rhodesian stamps The Rhodesian Study Circle: have an excellent section listing post offices in the area in alphabetical order.  It is not necessary to be a member to access this information.

The Travelling Post Office and Seapost Society: are an excellent starting point for train and sea travel covers and post marks.

Air Mail enthusiasts should go to The British Air Mail Society website: where many of the society’s earlier journals are freely available for download.

There are clearly many more society websites which provide excellent information for the marcophilist to consult and I will be spotlight some of them in future blogs.

A good publication for Great Britain enthusiasts is the Stanley Gibbons publication Collect British Postmarks.  The book covers everything from the early stages of the postal system to modern postal labels.  I have built up a reference library over the years and a great source for purchasing second hand and out of print publications is HH Sales (Philatelic Publications) who can be found at

What A Difference A Post Mark Makes

One of the great joys of dealing in stamps and covers is buying an auction lot and working through the individual items.  Invariably I will find some very interesting items and a careful look at any stamps with a legible postmark is very high on my agenda.

I recently worked through an ex-dealers stock and came across a couple of items from British Levant.  My first impression was that the stamps were not in great condition and that they would be going into a bulk lot for auction on my Ebay shop  (

However, the post marks on two of the items drew my attention. Referencing my copy of Stanley Gibbons Part 1 prices for the 40 paras on 2½d lilac and 80 paras on 5d dull green are nothing special:

The fact that both values have got easily identifiable cancellations does change things somewhat.  The 40 paras overprint has a Beyrout (Beirut) British Post Office post mark.  The 2½d lilac overprint cancelled with a British Post Office Beyrout post mark is listed as Sg Z43 with a catalogue value of £12.00. 

Sg Z

The 5d dull green 80 para overprint is clearly a rarer beast.  Catalogued as Sg Z138 it is valued at £95 when cancelled with a British Post Office Constantinople post mark.  The image shows a particularly good example and clearly reads ‘British Post Office Constantinople JA 7 90’.

British Levant is a term used for issues used in the former Ottoman Empire.  Arrangements for setting up British Post Offices in the area were included in the Treaty of Balta Liman signed between the Ottoman Empire and Great Britain in 1838.  However, the system dis not start to operate until 1857 when a post office for civilian use was opened in Constantinople in September 1857.  This replaced the Army Post Office which had been open since June 1854.

London Illustrated News 19 January 1856

In total there were five British Post Office’s opening in the Ottoman Empire.  The Beirut Post Office opened in March 1873 and closed on 30 September 1914 with the post office in Constantinople closing on the same day.  It did reopen on 4 February 1918 finally closing on 27 September 1923.