Stamps

Stamps

Trace the lines of history through the British Library’s comprehensive collection of stamps.

The National Philatelic Collection, held at the British Library, contains more than 8 million items, and includes postage stamps, railway letter stamps, telegraph stamps, airmails, metal dies and plates and philatelic literature. It has over 50 important collections, including the original Tapling bequest, the first to be gifted to the British Museum in 1891. Now on display at the British Library, it is believed that the Tapling Collection is the only major 19th-century philatelic collection that remains intact. The selection below includes some of the rarest philatelic examples. They are often unique because of printing errors that make them truly one of a kind.

Switzerland: 1847 Basel Dove 2½ rappen

Switzerland: 1847 ‘Basle Dove’ 2½ rappen, vertical pair unused, from the Tapling Collection

Before the formation of a federal state in 1848, Switzerland was a loose confederation of independent cantons, each having their own postal arrangements. It was during this period that the city of Basel issued its one and only stamp, the famous ‘Basel Dove’. This was the first stamp in the world to be printed in three colours.

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Mauritius: 1847 Post Office 1d orange-red

Mauritius 1847 Post Office 1d. orange-red, used, on cover

The first British Colonial postage stamps were issued in Mauritius in 1847. Only 14 copies of the 1d orange-red and 12 copies of the 2d deep blue are known to exist today. These stamps are some of the most famous and important of all philatelic rarities.

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New South Wales: 1850 Sydney View essays

New South Wales: 1850 1d and 3d essays of the Sydney View issue

The first stamps of New South Wales, known to collectors as 'Sydney Views', were issued in 1850 in one penny, two pence, and three pence values. Shown here are the unique original essays for the 1d and 3d stamps.

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Canada: 1851 12d black

Stamps Canada 1851 12d black - unused

The first issue of stamps for the colony of Canada was made in 1851 and comprised three pence, six pence, and 12 pence values. Out of 51,000 of the 12 pence black that were printed, about 130 copies of this philatelic item are believed to exist today. There are only five unused pairs.

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Jamaica: 1956-58 unissued £1

Jamaica: 1956-58 £1 chocolate and violet, unissued

Shown here is the unissued philatelic item, showing the portrait of the Queen. Only seven examples of this stamp exist.

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St Helena: 1961 Tristan Relief Fund

St Helena: 1961 Tristan Relief Fund 5c.+6d., 7½c.+9d., and 10c.+1/-, used on a postcard

In October 1961 violent volcanic activity on the small island of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic led to an evacuation of the population. The authorities on the neighbouring island of St Helena,established a Relief Fund, and a supply of Tristan da Cunha stamps were surcharged “ST. HELENA Tristan Relief” with an amount for the fund.

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America: 1765 Tax stamps

USA: Revenue 1765 Newspaper and Pamphlet One Penny. A proof sheet of 26, showing the registration certificate.

These tax stamps were issued as a result of the 1765 Stamp Act passed by the British Government to extract taxation from its American Colonies to contribute towards the cost of their defence from enemy forces during the Seven Years War.

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United States of America: 1918 24 cents inverted Jenny

United States of America: 1918 Airmail 24 cents blue and carmine, error 'inverted Jenny', unused

In 1918 the United States issued a philatelic set of six, 16 and 24 cents stamps for use on air mail letters.

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Cape of Good Hope: 1855-63 one shilling bright yellow-green

Cape of Good Hope: 1855-63 1 shilling bright yellow-green unused

Before South Africa was unified in 1910 the colony of Cape of Good Hope issued its own stamps, including the famous triangular philatelic examples that depict an allegorical figure of Hope.

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China: 1897 Red Revenue 3 cents with 2 cents surcharge double inverted

China: 1897 3 cents red revenue with 2 cents surcharge double, both inverted, unused. From the Murray Collection.

The Chinese Postal Service used to be a  part of the responsibility of the Customs Service under the management of Sir Robert Hart. In 1897, Sir Robert put in place a series of reforms which led to the establishment of the Chinese Imperial Post Office.

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