GB Overprints Society

GB protective overprints

There are two types of overprints applied by private firms in the United Kingdom, and it is very important not to confuse them. In the 19th century the post office would give cash refunds on any returned postage stamps, so it was very tempting for office staff to steal the firm's stamps and sell them back to the post office. To make this harder the GPO permitted the use of perforated initials, names and logos (ie "perfins"), and undertook not to give cash refunds for any such stamps. At first the GPO also permitted a few licensed firms to have their name on the back of the stamp for the same purpose (applied by the GPO under the gum), and in a few cases these overprints were permitted to appear on the front of the stamp.

Normally applying any private overprint to a stamp, whilst not illegal, will render the stamp invalid for postage, but in the case of these licensed users this was not the case. Only 10 such overprints are recorded as being officially accepted in this way, the most famous of which is the "OUS" (Oxford Union Society, whose members had their postage costs paid by the society) overprint which was in use for several years. Apart from the OUS overprints on the face of the stamp, the majority of these protective overprints were on the rear of the stamp and therefore outside the scope of this listing. These so-called "underprints" are different from the underprinting done on some revenue stamps, which look like overprints but aren't.

Unlike the "3d on 3d" and "6d and 6d" overprints, these overprints and the similar underprints were (at first at least) deliberately made in a colour which was close to that of the stamp so as not to disturb the visual image.

Note: commercial overprints for fiscal use:

Commercial & notarial stamps 200

A typical range of fiscal protective overprints for: Islington Borough, Lewis's, and John Venn and Sons.

Company E "chops" 200

An example of an unauthorised company private overprint ("E") to secure against petty theft.

The other sorts of private overprints are those applied by companies to stamps which were to be used for receipt duty. Until 1970 receipt duty on an enormous number of legal transactions (including cheques) had to be collected by the affixing of a "postage and revenue" stamp. In order to stop stocks being stolen (see preceding section) firms were permitted to overprint their name/initials/logo on the front of the stamp; since the stamps were not intended to be used for postage there was no constraint on the overprint being on the front of the stamp. These stamps (unlike the "protective overprints" mentioned above) are to be found in very large quantities and from an enormous number of issuers (though mint copies are elusive as they would, by definition, have been stolen from the firm identified).

The values used were: 1d (receipt duty to Sept 1920), 2d (receipt duty thereafter till 1971), 6d (hire purchase and insurance policies).

Because of the way they were issued/used, some stamps (eg the 2d George V watermark sideways) are actually easier to find with commercial overprint (or scribbled signature) than with a genuine postmark. Some of these commercial overprints are extremely attractive and form a fully viable collecting specialisation in their own right. For a brief period in 1971 (when receipt duty was abolished on decimalisation) stocks of commercial security overprints were valid for postage, and genuine usage on cover is much sought after. Similarly law firms often needed stocks of stamps for paying duty on legal documents, which were therefore overprinted "Notarial stamp" (or similar) plus the company name to stop pilfering; these are much scarcer than the stamps mentioned above. These sorts of issues are not covered further on this site (though of interest to many members of the Society): for further information see COSGB Commercial Overprint Society of Great Britain.

Note: this numbering system was drawn up by the Society for the website, and may not be used without permission.

Queen Victoria

Overprinted with company security overprints, but retaining postal validity

1d "stars"


1 1d stars overprinted

1a "Holloway 244", 1860s (precise date not recorded)

1b "OUS", reading upwards or - more scarcely - downwards, 1858

1d "plates"


2 1d "plates" overprinted

2a "Wm Dawbarn & Co, Liverpool" (various plates), 1868

2b "C.T.Hook & Co" (plate 117), 1868

2c "Messhirrefi" (plate 218), 1878

2d "OUS" (various plates), reading upwards or - more scarcely - downwards, 1864

2e "PPSO" (plate 176), 1874

2f "J.T. and S." (plate 90), ie Joseph Travers and Sons, 1864

2g "Charles Thomas" (plate 111), 1868

2h "W & Co." (various plates), 1875

3d large white corner letters

3 3d overprinted "Cohen" (plate 9), 1872

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page last updated: 2 September 2006

gbos: GB Overprints Society