The Indian Postal Administration in the 19th. and 20th. centuries (up to India's attainment
of Independence in 1947)
extended far beyond the geographical limits of the sub-continent itself and included such
distant points as East Africa and the Straits Settlements of Malaya.
In a number of British-controlled areas scattered around the Indian Ocean, Indian stamps were used to prepay postage until the establishment of local postal systems (still under the general control of British India) permitted these areas to issue their own stamps (and thereby garner the revenues therefrom).
In the Persian Gulf area also, the I.P.A operated a number of Agencies to serve the British- and Indian-controlled trading houses who controlled all of the Gulf trade at that time.
Indian stamps used in these places can only be identified by their postmarks and while this is relatively easy for the more recent CDS-type cancel,, it is rather more difficult with the older, numbered, postmarks.
Selections of these 'Used Abroads' lend added spice, not only to collections of India itself, but also to those of those countries that used Indian stanps before issuing their own.
So, the next time you're sorting through a dealer's stock of old Indian cheapies (and who has not whiled away many a sunny Saturday afternoon doing just that?), keep an eye out for these; you could do your collection quite a bit of good!
Where Abroad Indian Stamps were used?
The cancellations of India is a moderately huge topic, to which entire books have been
devoted. I'll therefore cover only the essentials.
Up until 1861, the Indian Postal Service was divided into several areas or 'circles', each centered on a major city or state, each having it's own distinctive cancellation types.
Agencies outside India were attached to one or another circle, depending on their geographical location.
In deference to the India Study Circle I'll use the standard numbering for the cancellation types. There are numerous sub-types especially amongst the All-India cancellations.
Diamond of Dots
Type 4 --Bombay
Diamond of Lines
Type 4 Duplex
Type 9 Duplex
Type 17 Duplex
|----------Squared Circle cancels 1884-1922----------|
|----------Various CDS types 1922-47----------|
Great Britain, based in India, was the major force in the opening up the Persian Gulf and the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates to navigation in the Nineteenth Century. As a result, ownership of the main business houses was either British or Indian; Indian Postal Agencies, established to serve trading interests, operated throughout the region.
(1) & (2):Mesopotamia (later, Iraq) Indian Postal Agencies operated in both Baghdad and Basra between 1868 and 1914.
(3) & (4): Persia (Iran): Indian Postal Agencies operated in several ports on the Persian coast. Illustrated are Indian stamps used in Bushire(1864-1923) and Mahommera(1892-1923). The Persians took over postal operations in 1923 and all the foreign agencies were then closed.
(5) & (6): The Persian Gulf: Indian-administered post offices operated in several sheikdoms/ sultanates on the Arabian side of the Gulf but they were turned over to British Administration when India became independent in 1948. Overprinted stamps were eventually issued for all of them, but, prior to this, Indian stamps were used. Illustrated are stamps used in Dubai and Muscat.
(Type 17 partial
The French were early rivals of the Briish for empire in India. For many reasons, probably
centering around British control of the seas, the French lost out and were permitted, by
various treaties, to retain only tiny settlements.
The Indian postal service maintained offices in these possessions independently of the French post offices.
Pondicherry was the capital of the French possessions and occupied an area of 113 square miles. It had been lost by the French during the Napoleonic wars but was handed back to them in 1816 and stayed French until it was returned to India after independence.
Chandernagore was a really tiny (3 sq.miles) enclave some 20 miles north of Calcutta. It was owned by the French between 1816 and 1950 when a referendum returned it to India.
Karikal was a small French settlement on the S.E. coast in the Tanjore district.
Other Settlements included Mahe and Yenam, of which I yet have no examples.
Click to see whole cover
Burma used Indian stamps up until its seperation from India in 1937.
Initially, Burma was part of the Bengal Circle Postal administration, but it formed its own Circle in 1871 and used the R-number coding in the Type 17 cancellations that came into use in 1873.
This table lists the numbers for Burmese town offices for the coded cancellation types: (7(1856-63), 9(1863-73), and 17(1873-81)).
|POST OFFICE||TYPE 7||TYPE 9||TYPE 17|
There was also a full range of later squared-circle and CDS-type cancellations.
As far as it is known, all the Indian stamps issued before 1937 can be found used in Burma. An interesting challenge for the persistent collector - especially if he/she avoids Rangoon!
(1) Zanzibar: A Post Office opened briefly in 1868-9, and
more permanently in 1875, both times under Indian administration. Indian stamps
were used until the P.O. was turned over to British East African administration
in 1895 when overprinted stamps were issued.
(2) British East Africa: A postal service was opened in Mombasa in 1890, administered by the British East Africa Company. The town was owned by the Sultan of Zanzibar and Indian stamps were used until the area became a British Protectorate in 1895.
In 1867 King Theodore of Abyssinia imprisoned the British Consul and his staff at Magdala and refused demands to release them in accordance with international laws concerning diplomatic immunity.
The British launched a punitive expedition which landed at Annesley Bay in November, 1867. By the following April they had stormed and captured Magdala. The City was burnt, the King shot his brains out and the British retired in triumph with the rescued men, having suffered casualties of only 19 wounded.
The Army Postal Corps operated an office between January and June 1868. The illustrated cancellation ("FF" in a barred diamond) is the only type known on mail coming from the expedition (More detailed information is available on request.)
Kuwait had been using Indian stamps overprinted "Kuwait" since 1923, but during WWII, the supplies of overprinted issues ran out and unoverprinted issues of India were provided. There was no announcement made and most passed without anybody taking any notice. Only a few knowledgeable collectors saw them and said "ooooh, gimme!" As a result KGVI stamps of India so cancelled are rare, particularly covers. This piece is dated '2 MAY 43".
This is a very limited and incomplete survey of the topic; my collection is still very
For fuller information try to find a copy of "The Encyclopedia of British Empire Postage
Stamps; Vol. III The
Empire in Asia" Published by Robson Lowe Ltd. in 1951. Individual volumes of this 5-member
set turn up in auctions
occasionally but they usually sell for several hundreds of dollars. Also, "India Used
Abroad" by Late Mr Jal Cooper (1972)
reprinted from India's Stamp Journal 1972 and Col. D.R.Martin's "Numbers in Early Indian
(Robson Lowe Ltd. London. 1970)
These are major sources of information and I am extremely grateful for their existence.
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