GB Overprints Society

GB official stamps and postal fiscals

The use of "official" overprints was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1882, largely to help the government accountants work out the postage costs of the various departments, in order to properly recompense the GPO. The stamps were not on sale at post offices (though for a short period members of the public could buy them at Somerset House). For a while possession of mint stamps was even deemed a criminal offence! Some government departments used perfins rather than overprints (eg the Board of Trade).

Collectors are often intrigued by the very high value stamps used by the Inland Revenue ("IR Official"). They were not used (as one might imagine) for very large heavy parcels, but rather to cover the composite postage on a large bundle of individual small items; for example a stack of 240 letters each due to have a 1d "IR" stamp could be tied together and a single £1 stamp stuck on an accompanying label. (The same happened in later periods with high-value postage dues.) It is interesting in this context to note that the unoverprinted high values (£1, £5) were also not used for very large heavy parcels, but rather to cover excise duty on imported valuables (notably tobacco and gold): that is why it was so important that they were inscribed "postage and revenue" (note: a great many "fine used" Queen Victoria and King Edward VII high value stamps should therefore actually be deemed fiscal or telegraph usage, rather than postal usage, but this does not appear to worry collectors).

On 1 June 1881 some revenue stamps were authorised for use for normal postage; this was because with the issue of the combined "postage and revenue" stamps (eg 1d lilac issued 12 July 1881) there was no longer any need for specific revenue stamps and they were used up for postage (not hitherto permitted). One of these bore an "Inland revenue" overprint on a "Receipt" revenue stamp so can be deemed to be an "overprinted GB postage stamp". All revenue stamps were withdrawn during 1883. Other overprints exist on revenue stamps used only for revenue purposes and are therefore not included in this list.

Overprinted stamps were also officially used for "Army Telegraphs".

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

Additional Medicine Duty

(see under Revenues)


King Edward VII

First overprint, the central point of the "M" is blunt and goes right to the bottom of the letter

1 April 1903

1 ½d green

2 1d red

3 1½d purple & green

4 2d green & red

5 2½d blue

6 3d purple on yellow

Second overprint, heavier overprint, pointed centre to "M"


7 ½d green (September 1903)

8 1d red (December 1903)

9 1½d purple & green (February 1904)

10 2d green & red (March 1904)

11 2½d blue (March 1904)

12 3d purple on yellow (December 1903)


Queen Victoria

1 September 1896 (except as noted)

1 ½d orange

2 1d lilac

3 2½d black on blue

4 6d purple on red (20 September 1901)

overprint varieties

1 v1 ½d overprint misplaced

1 v2 ½d overprint transposed

1 v3 ½d broken "L" (appears as "I"), row 13 stamp 7

2 v1 1d broken "L" (appears as "I"), row 13 stamp 7

watermark varieties

1 wi ½d watermark inverted

Changed colour

June 1900

5 ½d green
note on blue copies: According to Wiseman (Jan 1994) the green ½d stamps with Army Official overprint exist with all three types of green ink: lead (poisonous), zinc (fugitive -- can turn blue), organic.

watermark varieties

5 wi watermark inverted

King Edward VII

De La Rue printings

11 February 1902 (except as noted)

6 ½d green

7 1d red

8 6d purple (23 August 1902)

overprint varieties

7 v1 1d "ARMY" omitted

New type of overprint

The point of the "M" does not reach the bottom of the overprint, and the central bars of the "FF" are high rather than central.

December 1903

9 6d purple

Army Telegraphs

see "Army Telegraphs" page.


Composite set of Queen Victoria & King Edward VII (De La Rue printing)

19 February 1902

note: the 5d and 1s King Edward stamps had not yet been issued, so Queen Victoria stamps were used.

1 ½d green (King Edward)

2 1d red (King Edward)

3 2½d blue (King Edward)

4 5d purple & blue (Queen Victoria)

5 1/- green & red (Queen Victoria)

Victoria designs replaced by Edward designs (De La Rue, ordinary paper)


6 5d purple & Blue (6 February 1904)

7 1/- green & red (23 December 1902)


Overprinted "GOVT PARCELS"

The normal overprint has a small full stop under the superscript "T"; most vertical Queen Victoria stamps can be found with the dot missing or displaced to the left or right.

Note: The vast majority of used stamps have horribly disfiguring postmarks - fine used bear a considerable price premium.

Queen Victoria

First set, "lilac and green" set and other contemporary values


1 1½d lilac (1 May 1886)

2 6d green (1 May 1886)

3 9d green (1 August 1883)

4 1/- orange (1 August 1883)

New designs and values ("Jubilee" set)


5 1d lilac (18 June 1897)

6 1½d violet & green (29 October 1887)

7 2d green & red (24 October 1891)

8 4½d green & red (29 September 1892)

9 6d purple on red (19 December 1887)

10 9d purple & blue (21 August 1888)

11 1/- green (25 March 1890)

overprint varieties

5 vi 1d overprint inverted

11 v11/- blue-black overprint

watermark varieties

5 wi 1d watermark inverted

8 wi 4½d watermark inverted

Changed colour

November 1900

12 1/- green & red

overprint varieties

12 vi overprint inverted

King Edward VII

De La Rue, ordinary paper


13 1d red (30 October 1902)

14 2d green & red (29 April 1902)

15 6d purple (19 February 1902)

16 9d purple & blue (28 August 1902)

17 1/- green & red (17 December 1902)

overprint varieties

15 v1 overprint double, one albino


Queen Victoria

Overprinted postal fiscal

1 June 1881

"INLAND REVENUE" overprinted on revenue stamp inscribed "Draft payable on demand or receipt". This was originally issued for revenue use on 3 April 1860 but was authorised for general postal use from 1 June 1881, so it is not an "official stamp" overprint in the same sense as the others in this section.

Inland Revenue postal fiscal 200

1 1 lilac on blued paper, red overprint

The following issues all consist of "I.R. OFFICIAL" overprinted on postage stamps

First set


2 ½d green (1 November 1882)

3 1d lilac (1 October 1882)
Note: thicker letters from 1894

4 6d grey (3 November 1882)

overprint varieties

3 v1 1d blue-black overprint

3 v2 1d "OFFICIAL" omitted

3 v3 1d overprint transposed ("OFFICIAL" at the top)

Note: this was an essay, not an accidental misplacement.

watermark varieties

3 wi 1d watermark inverted

New values and changed colours

12 March 1885 (except as shown)

5 ½d lilac (8 May 1885)

6 2½d lilac

7 1/- green

8 5/- red on blued paper

9 10/- blue on blued paper

10 £1 brown wmk crowns

Note: the £5 (blued paper) exists as an essay overprinted "specimen"

Change to white paper

March 1890

11 5/- red

12 10/- blue

overprint varieties

11 v1 5s, raised dot after "R"

11 v2 5s, blue-black overprint

12 v1 10s, raised dot after "R"

12 v2 10s, blue-black overprint

New designs ("Jubilee" set)

1888- 1901

13 ½d orange (15 May 1888)
Note: thicker letters from 1894

14 2½d purple on blue (February 1892)

15 6d purple on red (1 July 1901)

16 1/- green (Sept 1889)
Note: thicker letters from 1894

17 £1 brown wmk orbs (March 1890)

18 £1 green (June 1892)
Note: thicker letters from 1894

overprint varieties

13 v1 ½d "IR" omitted

13 v2 ½d imperforate

13 v3 ½d imperforate and overprint double

Note: the imperforate varieties have all the appearance of "escaped" printers waste

18 v1 £1 green, missing stop after "R"

Changed colours


19 ½d green (April 1901)
note on blue copies: According to Wiseman (Jan 1994) the green ½d stamps with IR Official overprint exist with all three types of green ink: lead (poisonous), zinc (fugitive -- can turn blue), organic.

20 1/- green & red (December 1901)

King Edward VII

De La Rue, ordinary paper


The 6d in this series was issued on the day all "official" stamps were withdrawn, and is one of the rarest British stamps, with only one mint copy surviving outside museums and official collections.

Edward VII 6d IR official

(image courtesy of Stanley Gibbons ltd)

21 ½d green (4 February 1902)

22 1d red (4 February 1902)

23 2½d blue (19 February 1902)

24 6d purple (14 March 1904)

25 1/- green & red (29 April 1902)

26 5/- red (29 April 1902)

27 10/- blue (29 April 1902)

28 £1 green (29 April 1902)

overprint varieties

26 v1 5s, raised dot after "R"

27 v1 10s, raised dot after "R"


Queen Victoria

24 March 1896

1 ½d orange

2 1d lilac

New values and changed colour


3 ½d green (February 1902)
note: unlike IR Officials and Army Officials this stamp was only printed with the non-fugitive organic ink, so should not come up as a blue stamp.

4 5d purple & blue (29 April 1902)

5 10d purple & red (28 May 1902)

King Edward VII

De La Rue, ordinary paper


Note: the issue dates overlap with the 1902 5d and 10d listed above, because of the sequence in which King Edward stamps became available.

6 ½d green (August 1902)

7 1d red (11 February 1902)

8 2d green & red (29 April 1902)

9 2½d blue (29 April 1902)

10 10d purple & red (28 May 1903)

Railway Letter Stamp

see Railway Letter stamps for these essays.


King Edward VII, De La Rue printings, ordinary paper


1 ½d green (29 April 1902)

2 1d red (19 February 1902)


Because the complexities of the accounting method did not meet the objectives for which the overprints were introduced, the whole system of overprinted stamps was eventually dropped, all issues being withdrawn on 13/14 May 1904.

Other issues

see under "Cachets" and "Commercial Overprints" (the latter being the web site of the Commercial Overprints Society of Great Britain (COSGB).

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page last updated: 7 June 2010, 6 March 2013 

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