Britain acquired control of Cyprus following a convention with Turkey in 1878. Stamps were ordered in June 1879 and delivered in September, but for some reason not issued until 1 April 1880, whilst unoverprinted stamps continued in use. This explains why the "plates" stamps were overprinted rather than the revised designs issued in Britain from 1880 (eg 1d "Venetian red") which were in use by the time the Cyprus overprints were finally placed on sale.
British revenue stamps (with "CYPRUS" added to the unappropriated die series) had been in use since 1878.
1878 "unappropriated die" revenue stamp
The first stamps for postage were British stamps overprinted with just "CYPRUS" and sold in sterling. This led to some difficulties since at the prevailing exchange rate of 30 paras = 1d the ½d stamp was 15 paras, but as the available low-value coinage was ¼ piastre (10 paras), ½ piastre (20 paras) and 1 piastre (40 paras) there was no way to sell/buy a single ½d or 2½d stamp for 15 or 75 paras respectively.
All stamps are overprinted "CYPRUS" in the same font and size, except for the ½d stamp on which the overprint is smaller. Numerous forgeries of all issues exist, including on plates not shown below.
Note: this numbering system was drawn up by the Society for the website, and may not be used without permission.
Denominated in Sterling
1 April 1880
1 ½d red brown
plates: 12, 15, 19
2 1d red brown
plates: 174 , 181, 184, 193, 196, 201, 205, 208, 215, 216, 217, 218, 220
note: plates 193 and 196 cannot exist used - see note at the end about remainders.
3 2½d pink
plates: 14, 15; plate 9 has been reported but not verified
4 4d green
5 6d grey
6 1/- green
1 v1 ½d overprint double
2 v1 1d overprint double
plates: 208, 218
note: on the variety on plate 208 the overprinting of the top half of the sheet was applied one row too low, creating the "omitted in pair with normal" in rows A & B, and "overprint double" in row K. In plate 218 the entire bottom half of the sheet (rows K-T) received two overprints.
2 v2 1d overprint omitted in vertical pair with normal
3 v1 2½d thin "C" (stamps KB/BK and KJ/JK, both plates)
note: this is not a very marked variety but has been listed in catalogues and studies for many years
3 wi 2½d watermark inverted
No. 1: plate 12, plate 15 (plate 19 is very scarce)
No 2: plates 181*, 201, 205, 208, 215, 216, 217, 218
(* 181 image courtesy of SG)
No 3: plates 14, 15
There are no plate variations for stamps No 4, 5 and 6.
The supplies of ½d stamps were soon exhausted, and stocks of 1d stamps were additionally overprinted "HALF-PENNY". At least three different sizes were tried before a good fit was found.
7 "HALF PENNY" 18 mm on 1d red brown with CYPRUS overprint
plates: 174, 181, 201, 205, 208, 215, 216, 217, 218, 220
note: many copies have the overprint misplaced as it was too large; that may be why it was replaced by the smaller overprint below. Many letters are defective; for example the "N" can often look as if it is reversed, especially if over-inked or impressed heavily.
7 v1 18 mm overprint, "Y" omitted (stamps GB/BG and GL/LG, all plates). It is also often weak in other stamps in the "G" column (see illustration above and below).
note: not to be confused with misplaced overprints where the "Y" appears at the left and is, of course, missing at the left of the "A" column. The GL/LG stamp is known with the "Y" present, but is very rare thus.
7 v2 reports exist of trial printings or essays measuring 17mm on plates 201 and 216.
No 7: plates 201, 205 (note the weak Y in the "G" column - this is HG), 208, 216
Castle also reports used copies from a single sheet each of plates 201 and 216 from trial handstamp printings 17mm long, prepared in between the 18mm and 16½mm versions sometime between February and April 1881.
The above provisional soon ran out, and a local handstamp was used for an emergency print.
8 "HALF PENNY" 16-16½ mm on 1d red brown with CYPRUS overprint
plates: 201, 216, 218
note: the existence of plate 218 is disputed with this overprint.
8 v1 16 mm "HALF PENNY" surcharge double
plates: 201, 216
1 June 1881
When the above provisional was also exhausted a further sheet overprint was made with a significantly smaller font.
9 "HALF PENNY" 13 mm on 1d red brown with CYPRUS overprint
plates: 205, 215, 217, 218
note: plate 201 with this overprint is deemed a forgery.
9 v1 13mm "HALF PENNY" surcharge double
plates: 205, 215; some catalogues also list plate 201; plate 218 is now deemed not to exist with this overprint.
9 v2 13mm "HALF PENNY" surcharge treble
plates: 205, 215, 218
9 v3 13mm "HALF PENNY" surcharge quadruple
plates: 205, 215
note: the treble/quadruple overprints are suspected of being made to order for collectors.
plates 215, 218
Change to local currency
Later in June 1881 it was decided to reissue the 1d stamp in local currency, overprinted "30 PARAS".
10 "30 PARAS" on 1d red brown with CYPRUS overprint
Note: the letters are somewhat irregular and can vary from one stamp to another, especially the "S" in "PARAS".
plates: 201, 216, 217, 220
10 v1 surcharge double one inverted
- the inverted overprint is at the top
plates: 216, 220
The "80 paras" error listed in some catalogues is merely overinking.
plates 216, 220
With the release of the inscribed set in July 1881 an enormous number of overprinted stamps remained in stock. Messrs Stanley Gibbons made an offer to the GPO to buy up the remaining stocks at a cut price, which was accepted. It is reported that the following were sold for the bargain price of £800 (or in other reports £250), compared to the face value of £3246 8s 7d:
This explains the continued remarkably low price of these stamps even in fine unmounted mint. Amongst the stocks of remaindered 1d stamps there was a complete sheet each of plate 193 and plate 196; no sheets of these plates were ever issued in Cyprus itself, so the occasional used copies in auctions must have forged overprints (or, less likely, forged postmarks on genuine mint stamps from these plates). The sheets of plate 193 and 196 were kept intact and on display for many years before being broken up for collectors. (Figures from Castle W T F, Cyprus Its Postal History and Postage Stamps, Robson Lowe Ltd., London, 1971.)
page last updated: 7 August 2006, 23 Feb 2012
gbos: GB Overprints Society