An introduction to Indian Philately – part one : Postage Stamps and Fiscal Stamps.
This article is written by me, Paul Jenkins, webmaster of the India Study Circle for Philately. I do not claim to be an expert in anything, and you may well find errors in my article. If you do, please let me know about them. Many members of the India Study Circle are experts in their field, and from them you can learn a great deal as a member of our Circle – so why not join us by filling in the application form on this website. Any opinions mentioned by me are mine only, and do not reflect the opinions of the India Study Circle or any of its members.
Indian Philately is a huge subject. This article is intended to give a brief introduction to this field, so that newcomers to Indian Philately can see for themselves the feast that is in store for them.
One of the great things about this feast is that there are many, many dishes to try. You can, as I do, dabble in many areas of Indian Philately – or you can choose one or two areas and go into real depth. Many members of the India Study Circle are leading experts on their own areas of Indian Philately, and membership of our group will give you plenty of scope for help and material no matter whether you want to dabble or carry out research into individual aspects of Indian Philately. And it is such a huge area that there is still plenty of research to be done.
The basic issues of India – from the days of the British Raj (first stamps issued in 1854) and post-independence India, Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh – do not seem to attract a great deal of interest internationally.
This is a shame because I feel that some of the issues of Queen Victoria and King George V are very attractive stamps. As far as I am aware, no great deal of research has been carried out on the stamps of India, other than on the first issues of 1854.
Perhaps this is because the postage stamps of India, and by this I mean the stamps issued by the various Central Governments of British India and the post-independent states, are just a small drop in the Ocean of Indian Philately. There is so much more.
My own interests are related to the Indian Philately up to 15th August 1947, the last day of the British Raj, and so I shall restrict this article to that period. This is mainly because I know next to nothing about the philately of the post Independent States that formerly made up the Indian Empire.
At the moment, my main interests are in the Court Fee stamps of the Princely States and I am also starting to study the postal history of 19th Century India. This introduces us to two major areas of Indian Philately – the Philately of the Princely States and the study of Postal History.
You are probably aware that British India was made up of areas ruled directly by the (British) Government of India but that about two thirds of the Indian Empire was ruled by Indian Princes (variously titled Maharajahs, Nawabs and so on). These were at least nominally independent states in treaty relations with the British. There were many hundreds of these Princely States and about 35 of them issued their own postage stamps, usually valid for use in only within that State’s borders (these are called the “Feudatory States”). However, in some cases (the “Convention States”), the State’s stamps were valid for use throughout India but not for mail going outside India. The stamps of the Convention States are easy to recognise as they are always stamps of British India overprinted with the name of the State. The stamps of the Feudatory states have their own designs – not resembling the stamps of British India at all. The vast majority of the Princely States did not issue their own postage stamps : the Government of India ran the postal services in these states and as a result Indian stamps were used.
So, already we have another few dozen stamp issuing “countries” to study and collect! Many of these states only issued a small number of different stamps, but three of the Convention States were very large and issued a wide range of stamps over quite a long period of time – these states were Hyderabad, Travancore and Cochin. Hyderabad was by far the largest of the Princely States and its ruler, the Nizam, was reputed to be the richest man in the world. As the inhabitants of larger states were numerous, and used a large number of stamps, there were many printings of the stamps as stocks were used up. As the metal printing plates wore out, they had to be repaired or replaced by new plates. This gave rise to differences between different printings of the same basic stamps – which of course gives the specialist collector a number of different varieties to collect. In the same way, as stocks of ink ran out, new ink was made and the colours often differed slightly (or sometimes not so slightly) – and this also gave rise to even more varieties.
Already in this article we have covered enough areas of Philately to keep an avid collector occupied for a long time. But there is more – a lot more.
Staying with the Princely States --- although only a couple of dozen of them issued their own postage stamps, well over a hundred of them issued their own stamps for fiscal uses. These stamps include stamps used to evidence the payment of Government fees and duties – such as Court Fee stamps, Revenue stamps and Receipt stamps. Legal documents often had to be written on “Stamped Paper” for which of course a fee had to be paid. The Stamped Paper was a sheet of paper on which the “stamp” was printed or embossed. These stamped papers are fascinating items to collect – not only for the “Stamp” but also for the details of the document written on them – a legal agreement, a court action or some fascinating aspect of the lives of the people involved. Most of these court documents are written in Urdu or Hindi script – so there is much interesting reading for you if you can read and understand either of these languages.
The Stamped Papers are large and impressive documents to have in your collection, and the Court Fee stamps are also large : often 10 cm by 5 cm. Much larger than normal postage stamps and impressive items in a collection.
Many of the fiscal stamps of the Princely States are cheap and plentiful – so why not give them a go?
In all my excitement over the Fiscal Stamps of the Princely States, I almost forgot that the Government of India also issued fiscal stamps for use in areas not using their own. In fact the Government of India issued stamps for many more uses than those issued for the Princely States, so I must presume that certain kinds of Revenue had to paid to the Central Government wherever the transaction happened : examples of such “Central Government only” stamps are those used for taxes on Insurance Contracts, Foreign Bills, Share Transfers, Telegraph fees and many more. The Fiscal Stamps of the Government of India are, in my opinion, fairly standardised and much less attractive than those of the Princely States – I suppose that’s why I almost forgot them!.