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British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive

Post Office: Handstruck Date Stamps: Proof Books


Reference code(s): GB 0813 POST 55 Series

Held at: British Postal Museum and Archive: The Royal Mail Archive

Title: Post Office: Handstruck Date Stamps: Proof Books

Date(s): 1823-1995

Level of description: Series

Extent: 426 files and volumes

Name of creator(s):

No further information available


Administrative/Biographical history:

The first stamp to be introduced for postmarking purposes was the hand-struck stamp introduced in 1660 by Colonel Henry Bishop, Postmaster General, to 'put upon every letter showing the day of the month that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carrier may dare to detain a letter from post to post, which before was usual'. These so-called Bishop marks were the first British postmarks and consisted of a simple circle divided horizontally with the indication of the month in one half and the day of the month in the other.

In 1840 hand-struck cancellation stamps were introduced, to deface the newly introduced adhesive postage labels (stamps) and prevent their fraudulent re-use.

The earliest stamps were made of wood, and later brass: and were probably manufactured locally. By 1825, however, they were being made of steel, and issued centrally. This change is reflected in the fact that the earliest proof book in the collection commences in 1825 (see POST 55/10). With the introduction of the Parcel Post in 1883, where steel stamps would not have been effective, pliable stamps made of cork were introduced. By 1885, however, stamps made of rubber had come into use for the Parcel Post and other uses (see POST 55/115).


Scope and content/abstract:

This series consists primarily of 'proof books', that is bound volumes and files containing specimen impressions of new date, machine cancellation or other handstruck stamps (both steel and rubber) for postal use, authorisations and instructions for use, handstamp destruction records and historical summaries of machine cancellations.

These two main collections of proof books have substantial gaps, notably, for steel stamps, for the period after 1821, and, for rubber stamps, after 1831. It is believed that the proof books for these periods were lost in the major fire which occurred in 1957 at the Supplies Department, Mount Pleasant, where these records were once housed. Regrettably, when the surviving volumes in these two collections were rebound in c1960, the original volume numbers were lost, and new artificial numbering sequences were given to the newly-bound volumes. This destroyed the evidence once offered by the original bindings, making it impossible now to determine exactly what has been lost from the original series.


Language/scripts of material: English

System of arrangement:

The material is arranged in date order within series.

Conditions governing access:

Public Record

Conditions governing reproduction:

Please contact the archive for further information.

Finding aids:

Please contact the archive for further information


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Please contact the archive for further information



Existence and location of copies:

Some of the items in this series are available on microfilm for viewing in the Search Room.


Archivist's note:

Record amended by Barbara Ball

Rules or conventions:

Compiled in compliance with General Internation Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G) second edition 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997

Date(s) of descriptions:

Entry checked June 2001

Legislation | Law
Postal services | Communication industry

Personal names

Corporate names
Post Office