GB Overprints Society

Commercial Security overprints

Private overprints on stamps were added by companies, charities and similar bodies, to prevent petty theft of the stocks (ie performing a familiar function to perfins) which they needed to stock to put on receipts and other items on which there was excise tax to be paid. The practice of overprinting postage stamps started with the introduction of the “unified” postage and revenue 1d lilac, and continued until excise duty on receipts was abolished in early February 1971, as a result of which the GPO permitted companies who had already overprinted 2d stamps to use them for postage in the period in which users were permitted to use up pre-decimal stamps during the early period after decimalisation.

There was also a brief period before the 1d lilac period when companies could overprint their names to stop theft without invalidating them for postage, and these are listed in the Gibbons catalogues (eg the “OUS” overprint by the Oxford Union Society); they were not intended as revenues. Overprints can also be found on the 1d fiscal stamps from the period before the 1d lilac.

Some of the commercial security overprints are very decorative, but many are merely company initials (notably the various utility companies). The main values found with such overprints are 1d and 2d values (a particular good source for King George V 2d watermark sideways stamps from office coil machines), but higher values were used for some legal documents, either with the company name or “Notarial Stamp” overprints (see The Overprinter 1999/3 and 1999/4). Collecting these items on their original document is more challenging, as is finding mint blocks or strips. The normal method of cancellation, required by the original legislation, was a signature or initials written across the stamp.

The illustrations on this page are mostly from auctions, reproduced here with thanks.

Commercial overprints collage

The Revenue Journal of Great Britain Vol VII № 1 June 1996, includes an article “Great Britain - Receipt Duty” by Lawrence Armitage. A summary of the concluding paragraphs is shown below, by kind permission of that society.

The Act of 1853 introduced the flat rate of 1d for receipts to the value of £2 and above, effective 10th October 1853. The decision to introduce adhesive revenue stamps was a follow-on from the experience gained with the introduction of the 1d postage stamp in 1840, and the ease with which it could be acquired by the public. The early trial experiments in perforating stamps was carried out by a firm of engineers, D. Napier & Son. The 1920 Finance Act changed the Stamp Duty chargeable to two pence instead of one penny. The increase in administrative costs for the 2d “Receipt” duty since 1920 made it a candidate for abolition (along with many other duties) with the introduction of decimal currency in 1971. Accordingly the Finance Act 1970 abolished, as from 1 February 1971, the duty of 2d.

(the above narrative is adapted from a longer article in The Overprinter 2014/3)

For further information see the web site of the Commercial Overprints Society of Great Britain and the Revenue Society.

Last edited: 10 September 2014, 6 July 2017