17th November 2015 Postal Orders – John Gledhill

On Tuesday 17th November Banbury Stamp Society members were entertained by John Gledhill who displayed items from his collection of overprinted British Postal Orders.

Many hobbies have a competitive side with rules and regulations, and philately is no exception. John’s first task was to explain that Postal Orders are considered items of postal stationary under the ‘FIP’ rules; the Postal Order Society can also be found on-line.

Postal orders were invented in 1881 and are still available today – a fact that surprised many of us. John talked through the layout of the postal orders that he displayed: the recipient’s name and the post office where it was to be cashed had to be written in ink; the value of the postal order along with the fee or ‘poundage’ was printed, and there was space for up to three stamps to be added which allowed the value to be increased to up to 1d (and subsequently 1p) less than the value of the next printed denomination. This was to prevent users avoiding the poundage which was based on the printed value. One fraud based on postal orders was to obtain stamps that had gone through the post without being postmarked. These were then affixed to a postal order and cashed in.

John’s display was of British Postal Orders overprinted for use abroad to provide a service to those working in the colonies. Initially they were not popular with the colonial post offices, who had to pay the full cost back to the British Post Office. So in 1905 they were allowed to set a local poundage rate and make a small profit on sales. John showed examples from a number of colonies, overprinted with the colony name and the local poundage fee; there was often also an overprint giving the cost of the postal order in local currency. During the transition to decimalisation, values were in both sterling and decimal currency. As some will remember, this was also a period of rapid inflation and exchange rate fluctuation, and this was reflected in examples where the local currency values had been updated by hand.

Although millions of postal orders were printed, very few early examples survive as they were generally cashed. Most early examples survive because they fell down the back of a filing cabinet or were filed in accounts and forgotten.

The next meeting is on Tuesday December 1st at 7:30pm at Hanwell Fields Community Centre. Members will be displaying items on the theme of the letter ‘E’. The Banbury Stamp Society can now be found on-line at ‘www.banburystampsociety.co.uk’.