GB Overprints Society

Introduction to the overprinted stamps of Great Britain

(with acknowledgement to Derek Jefcoate, 1996; ed John Gledhill, 2005)

Collectors of the stamps of Great Britain eventually find that to collect the whole range of stamps of Great Britain becomes too vast and too expensive.

Eventually the collection will evolve to concentrate on certain reigns, postal history etc, or side lines such as officials, regionals, or postage dues. Many members of the GB Overprints Society discovered a fascinating sideline when they found that, although a significant number of high value British stamps were outside their pocket, the same stamp with an overprint for use in another country often commanded a fraction of the price.

Another reason for some GB collectors to branch out into overprints is that it helps to identify some of the printings of Edward VII and George V stamps - for example where the overprinted stamp only exists on the "chalky paper" it gives a useful comparator for sorting out unoverprinted copies which could be on either chalky or unsurfaced paper. See the section on paradigms.

The collecting of "overprinted" stamps can become very complex, as apart from the varieties and errors in the overprinting, there are also the varieties in printing of the stamps and variations in printers, watermarks and perforations related to the basic stamps of Great Britain. The difficulty is to decide on which areas to collect and many collectors start with a general overprint collection, trying to obtain examples of all areas. Just as with a general collection of Great Britain, the scope can grow out of hand and collectors often concentrate on specific areas or countries, whilst often still retaining examples of the other areas. Inevitably, with this specialisation, cost again becomes a problem, with many rare stamps.

Some of the rarest of Great Britain stamps fall within the scope of "overprints", for example the higher value "IR Official" stamps have list values in excess of £30,000 (2006), in the case of the 6d King Edward IR Official having a notional valuation of £90,000 (2006) in mint condition (there being only a single mint example in public hands). Other areas with extreme rarity are some of the provisional overprints on the stamps of the Oil Rivers Protectorate, for some of which only 2-10 are believed to have been produced with SG cat prices up to £70,000 (2006), with many of the varieties and double surcharges unknown used. The 2005 auction of GB Overprints in the "Rossi collection", auctioned by Warwick & Warwick, realised over £850,000! Not all rarities are in the older stamps however: for the 1½d Queen Elizabeth stamp overprinted "1½ annas" it appears that only one sheet (240) was on "St Edwards Crown" watermark - only a handful of used examples are known, and the only known mint copy didn't turn up until 1992!

At the other extreme the overprinted issues have always been popular with collectors, and many issues sold more stamps to collectors than to postal customers. This was a deciding factor in some cases when the authorities were considering whether to issue a particular set. This means that many overprinted stamps can be cheap and plentiful compared to their unoverprinted versions, making them an attractive source of material for researchers of GB stamps.

Collecting overprinted GB stamps is an enjoyable hobby, rich in opportunities for generalists and specialists alike.


How many overprinted GB stamps are there?

We at GBOS are often asked how many GB overprints there are. It's difficult to give a precise figure, as it depends how you count variant settings, minor variations in overprint or stamp, and so on. But the approximate figures excluding variations and shades are:




 registered envelope




 newspaper wrappers




  Revenues (of which 126 from Ireland in 1922 alone)


 Army Telegraphs




 legitimate items in total

That excludes the postal orders, for which there exists no comprehensive list or count.

It also excludes all the bogus items, private propaganda, Liquidation of Empire etc etc.

go to top

go to home page

page last updated: 18 June 2006, 4 May 2011 

gbos: GB Overprints Society