Click here to skip to content

Philatelic: background research materials

The British Library has a unique and wide-ranging collection to support your philatelic research.

Manuscript Collections

Collections include: papers relating to British Postal Reform, with some referring to Rowland Hill, James Chalmers, Sir Henry Cole, Francis Freeling, Colonel Maberly, George Moffatt.

Early Printed Collections

The British Library holds one of the world's finest collections of books, periodicals and ephemera printed in Britain, Ireland, and the western half of Continental Europe during the 15th to 19th centuries, and which includes some materials relating to European dependencies overseas, especially during the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Particular items of interest for students of Great Britain Stamps and Postal History are British Proclamations relating to the post (from 1583); two 1680 original Dockwra post advertisements or notices; the Papers issued by the Mercantile Committee on Postage 1837 to 1840; and such items as A true account of the life, trial, and execution, with the dying confession of Huffey White and Robert Kendall, who were executed at Northampton, on Friday the 27th of August, 1813 for robbing the Leeds mail coach.

Modern Printed Collections

Includes timetables (mainly railway with some air); shipping information and records, place and trade directories, etc. There are also some books and sound recordings with copyright royalty stamps.

Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections

Burma:- Paper Money: 1939 King George VI 100 rupees note overprinted 'SPECIMEN'.

Burma:- Paper Money: 1939 King George VI 100 rupees note overprinted 'SPECIMEN'.

The Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections cover material in mainly 350 oriental languages, with 65,000 manuscripts, 900,000 printed books, 120,000 volumes of periodicals and newspapers, and the India Office Records (the Public Records relating to the British administration of India). This last group are the largest holding of Public Records outside of the National Archives [formally the Public Record Office] and include files relating to postal services, stamps, tax and revenue stamps adhesive and unadhesive, military records, Ecclesiastical records (including those of baptisms, marriages and burials for which certified copies of entries are issued). Banknotes of India and Burma, oriental maps, and official publications are also to be found here.

Social Sciences & Official Publications

This is a vast area, again a world collection, with much to offer, and includes publications of official international, national, or local organisations. The kinds of material that may be found would include Parliamentary or legislative Bills, Acts, debate reports (Hansard, etc), papers, regulations, treaties, conventions, postal guides, reports, Government Gazettes, etc and some of these will relate to postal and revenue stamp taxes.

Material from the Universal Postal Union will cover Postal Congresses and the resulting conventions and agreements with the detailed regulations and specimen forms for the operation or administration of a postal service or type of postal service. As an indication of the importance of UPU material to the postal historian listed below a range of the headings taken from Universal Postal Union. Convention of Rome (26th May 1906) Together with the detailed regulations for its execution: -

Rates of Postage and General Conditions, Registered Articles Advices of Delivery Requests for Information, Express Delivery, Mails exchanged with warships, Counterfeit postage stamps, Fixing the Rates of Postage, Reply-Coupons, Insufficient Prepayment, etc.

Map Collections

The Map Library is one of the most extensive in existence, with postal maps for Argentina 1863, Bombay 1878 to 1925, Cape Colony seven maps 1903 to 1933, China eight maps 1903 to 1936, England 1812 to 1905, French West Africa 1922, Hawaii and Guam 1905, Hungary four maps 1837 to 1847, London 23 maps 1837 to 1973, New York State 1868, New Brunswick 1784, Nova Scotia 1876, Pembroke, Milford to Carmarthen 1827, Peru 1794, Russia in Europe 1812, Scotland map of Scottish Post Towns showing routes for letters through Carlisle, Transvaal 1890, Yugoslavia, 1949, 1955 and 1970.

As an example of what might be held for an individual country, China has 880 maps from 1556 to date and clearly many of these may be of research value to postal historians.


The British Library holds a world collection which includes shipping information, details of changes in postal officials, postal rates, postal routes, information about post offices, etc. This source will include contemporary reports and commentary of events of postal or revenue interest, such as the opening of a railway, or a crash on a railway, etc.

Patents, Trade Marks and Designs

Include 53 million world Patent specifications which include details of inks, printing, embossing, perforating, etc together with inventions for postal mechanisation. These collections include the Patent for the Perkins D. Cylinder printing press of 1819 (the “Penny Black” printing press which is on public exhibition at the Library); British Patent 1819 number 4400 Specification of Jacob Perkins. Engine Lathe for Engraving surfaces, Printing and Coining Presses, etc.

Music Collections

Some interesting postal titles with The Post Band, a march of 1899, Here and There, Post Office Rag 1917, The Old General Post Office or Royal Mail Polka 1854.

Sound Archive

Includes recordings with copyright royalty stamps - and the Singing Postman recordings!