Telegraph stamps are stamps intended solely for the prepayment of telegraph fees. The customer completed a telegraph form before handing it with payment to the clerk who applied a telegraph stamp and cancelled it to show that payment had been made. If the stamp was an imprinted stamp, it formed part of the message form.
The majority of telegrams were paid for using normal postage stamps. These can often be identified by their distinctive telegraphic cancels or punched holes. Specific telegraph stamps were issued in most countries but in some regular postage stamps were overprinted (e.g. Nicaragua, Ecuador). Private companies issued telegraph stamps in countries where the telegraph network was of private ownership.
The first telegraph stamps issued might be those of the English and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Co., released in 1853. The first government-issued telegraph stamps were produced by Spain and went into use on July 1, 1864.
Occasionally postage stamps ran out and telegraph stamps were used for letter postage as an emergency measure, for example in Spain in 1879.
Telegraph stamps are regarded by many philatelists as desirable and collectable, either as part of the (back of the book) country collection or cinderella collection. They are listed in most country specific catalogues. General stamp catalogues do not list these stamps, except the French Yvert & Tellier and the latest Stanley Gibbons British Commonwealth Catalogue. Telegraph and Telephone Stamps of the World by S.E.R. Hiscocks (1982) and Telegraph Stamps of the World by John Barefoot (2013) are the only catalogues which list worldwide telegraph stamps. American telegraph stamps are also listed and described in detail in United States Telegraph Stamps and Franks by George Jay Kramer. The first American telegraph stamps were issued by the New York City and Suburban Printing Telegraph Co., probably in 1859.
The Royal Philatelic Collection of Queen Elizabeth II has many telegraph stamps as George V was an enthusiastic collector. It includes examples of British and Commonwealth stamps as well as private companies such as Bonelli's Electric Telegraph Co. Ltd., the Electric Telegraph Company and the British and Irish Magnetic Telegraph Company.
The Stock Exchange forgery
One sideline to the story of telegraph stamps is the Stock Exchange Forgery of 1872-73 which was discovered in 1898 by Charles Nissen when examining used stamps from telegraph forms. The stamps were found to be forged due to the absence of a watermark and because they had impossible corner lettering. It is believed that a clerk in the Stock Exchange Post Office, London had been using forged one shilling green stamps on the forms instead of genuine stamps and keeping the fees. The culprit was never identified, but examples of the forgery are now sold for many times the price of the genuine stamps.
The telegraph was superseded by the fax, email, and mobile telephone text messages, and the last telegraph stamps are thought to have been issued in the early 1990s by Honduras or The Dominican Republic. The last telegraph stamps of Honduras currently known are dated 1993.
- The Stamp Collector's Encyclopaedia by R.J.Sutton & K.W. Anthony, Stanley Paul, London, 1966, p.240. ISBN 0-340-17183-9
- Bennett, Russell and Watson, James; Philatelic Terms Illustrated, Stanley Gibbons Publications, London (1978)
- Courtney, Nicholas (2004). The Queen's Stamps. London: Methuen. p. 145. ISBN 0-413-77228-4.
- "The Telegraphic Use of Great Britain Postage Stamps" by Andrew Higson & Steve Hiscocks, Gibbons Stamp Monthly, London, June 2007.
- Melville J., Fred (1926). The Mystery of the Shilling Green. London: Chas Nissan & Co Ltd. pp. 9 & 15.
- "Collecting Telegraph Material" by Steve Hiscocks & Andrew Higson, Gibbons Stamp Monthly, London, January 2007.
- Telegraph Stamps of the World by J. Barefoot Ltd, York, 2013. ISBN 0-906845-70-X.
- Catalogue of the Telegraph Stamps of the World by Walter Morley, London, 1900.
- Catalogue de Timbres-Fiscaux by A. Forbin, Yvert & Tellier, France, 1915.
- Indian Telegraphs, 1851-1914 by Ilyas Patel and Dhananjay Desai, India, 1995.
- Telegraph Seals: A World Catalogue by S.E.R. Hiscocks, Woking, 2007. ISBN 0-9508301-3-5
- Telegraph & Telephone Stamps of the World: A priced and annotated catalogue by S.E.R. Hiscocks, Woking, 1982. ISBN 0-9508301-0-0
- The Telegraph Stamps and Stationery of Great Britain, 1851-1954, by Alan K. Huggins & Peter Langmead, Great Britain Philatelic Society, United Kingdom, 2003. ISBN 0-907630-14-6
- United States Telegraph Issues by Joseph and Stephen Rich, United States, 1947.
- U.S. Telegraph Stamps and Franks by George Jay Kramer, United States, 1992.
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