Railway stamps may be divided into three classes, namely, Newspaper, Parcels, and Letter. The newspaper stamps were the first to make their appearance, for as far back as July, 1855, five companies adopted the use of these labels, the introduction of which is mentioned in the Illustrated London News of July 21st, 1855, as follows:–

“Newspaper Parcel Prepaid Stamps.

“Labels like the one engraved below [the stamp illustrated was about the size of the present North Eastern Railway newspaper stamps, and the design consisted of the shields of the five companies in the centre, with the name of the individual company at the top, and the value of the stamp at the bottom] have been adopted by the Midland, Lancashire and Yorkshire, North Eastern, Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire, and East Lancashire Railway Companies for the prepayment of newspaper parcels.

“They are issued in pounds’ worth to newspaper proprietors only; and the parcel, being duly labelled, passes free not over one, but, if a through parcel, over all the lines of the associated companies. The rates are very low., and specially adopted to enable the transmission of papers to all places. It is, in fact, the postage stamp system applied to newspaper parcels.

“Some time since it was proposed to apply this system to all small parcels, but some of the companies did not see their way to the change, as a general one.

“This excellent system is at present confined to the above companies; but surely the London and North Western and Great Northern Companies will follow, and give the Metropolitan Press the advantage of the new system, now confined to the country.

“The system or a cheap prepaid label or stamp avoids booking, weighing at stations, or delay; and enables the transmission of newspapers into localities where, otherwise, from high cost of conveyance, they could never penetrate, except to the houses of the rich.”

The early newspaper stamps were much larger than those at present in use. Some of the companies; the Maryport and Carlisle (illustrated below), Cambrian, and North Eastern, still use the large stamps.

Parcel stamps are not used on all lines; the Great Eastern appears to be the first to bring them into use in 1879. The following companies now use stamps to prepay carriage on parcels:– London and North Western, Lancashire and Yorkshire, North Eastern, and Colne Valley. In the matter of design, these stamps have an advantage over the letter stamps, as the companies were not bound to one particular design, as in the latter case, consequently some very pleasing stamps were produced, as a glance at the illustrations will reveal. The stamps issued by the Manchester, South Junction, and Altrincham Railway and the North Eastern are very effective. The Furness Company had a very quaint design for their early stamps (called 1 pence); there were two values, 1d. for newspapers, and 9d. for milk, both of a salmon colour. The patriotic design of the London and North Western Company on their parcel stamps, showing Britannia seated with the British lion at her feet must not be overlooked, but I do not know why she should turn her head away from the train (London and North Western I presume) proceeding over the viaduct on the left. Special stamps are also issued for the conveyance of news correspondence, those of the London and North Western and Great Northern Companies are of red, and of three values, 2d., 3d., and 4d., the Midland labels being blue and of the values of 2d. and 3d. The Great Eastern, Great Northern and Midland Joint, Midland and Great Eastern, also issue special labels for the prepayment of carriage on corn samples, the Great Eastern label, red and yellow, being one of the largest of railway-stamps. Most of the stamps above described are produced by the process of lithography, but a few of the newspaper labels are simply type set. The prepayment of parcels on the Government railways of Australia is also effected by the means of stamps, those in use on the New South Wales and South Australian lines being here illustrated. At this late date it would be impossible to form anything like a complete collection of the various issues of newspaper stamps, but in the case of the parcel and letter-fee stamps this difficulty does not present itself, as they are, comparatively, both of recent introduction.

Before concluding this article the writer would like to add a few remarks on letter-fee stamps, contained in the following interesting note (by Mr. Ewen) respecting the origin of such stamps:–

“In the early part of 1890 Messrs. De La Rue, at the instance of the Stamp Department at Somerset House, on the instructions of the Post Office, prepared designs for a 3d. Postage and Railway Letter Service stamp, and the same were submitted to the Postmaster-General. The matter, however, never went beyond the designs, for at the close of the year, the idea was abandoned.

“It was also suggested that the ordinary 3d. postage stamp should be over-printed for railway service, and proof impressions were actually made, but this system, too, had to be abandoned, principally on account of the immense amount of book-keeping its adoption would have entailed. Eventually, as we know, each company was left to collect its own share of the postage.”

It would also be interesting to know by whom the original design was prepared. Amongst the issues of the English railways that of the Colne Valley Railway (illustrated on page 142) is the most striking, and with that of the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway form a pleasing departure from the somewhat monotonous design of the other companies. The stamps of the Waterford, Dungarvan, and Lismore Railway are obsolete, that line having been amalgamated with the Great Southern and Western system since 1st July, 1898. It is claimed for the collection of postage stamps that a vast amount of knowledge can be acquired respecting the various countries, historical, geographical, etc. So it is with the collection of railway stamps, much information, historical, geographical, and statistical can be obtained from their study. In these days when so much interest is taken in our railways, the collection of the various kinds of stamps in use should prove an interesting, instructive, and certainly inexpensive hobby.

Originally published in “The Railway Magazine” in 1899, and written by H. Clark.