New South Wales - Colonial period: 1856-1900.
The Electric Telegraph stamps.

There were three periods during which stamps could be used in New South Wales to prepay telegraph charges:

The 1871 "Experiment"

In 1871, the Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs E. C. Cracknell noted:

"The Indian Government have lately adopted stamps for telegrams, on the same principle as postage stamps for letters. I would recommend for the consideration of the Government that the same system be tried in this Colony, as I have every reason to believe that it would prove a great public convenience, and simplify the collection of revenue".

Actually a number of countries had issued special stamps for prepayment of telegraph charges including Spain, India, Great Britain, Switzerland, France, etc.

On 20 January 1871, a notice appeared in the NSW Government Gazette:

"It is hereby notified for general information than on and after the 1st February next, stamps for the prepayment of Telegraph Messages may be obtained from Station Masters at all Telegraph Stations in the Colony.

It is desirable that in all cases, where practicable, the prepayment for Telegrams should be made by stamps.

When the system is fairly in operation, it is intended to make provision for the purchase of these stamps at several Post Offices throughout the Colony and to render the prepayment of telegrams by stamps compulsory".

A set of eight specially designed stamps was printed in December 1870. The denominations (1d, 2d, 6d, 1/-, 2/-, 4/- 6/- and 8/-) reflected the rates which had been introduced in August 1870 - apart from the 6d which could be used as a make-up rate. Despite the above notice, the stamps were sold in January.


1d red
1d bright red.
Perf 12.5.
Pair 2d
2d light blue rejoined pair.
Perf: 12.5.
Teleg 6d
6d dull red.
Perf: 12.5.
Teleg 1 bob
1s blue.
Perf: 12.5.
Status Auctions April 2003 Lot 3123 had the 1/- with Plate No. 4 in right selvedge.
Tel 2 bob
2s light brown.
Perf: 12.5.
Teleg 4 bob
4s purple.
Perf: 12.5.
Teleg 6 bob
6s red.
Perf: 12.5.
8 bob
8/- mauve.
Perf 10.
Poor centering and central vignette moved towards top left.
The designs were based on the large vertical format used for the NSW revenue stamps marked Stamp Duty.

All eight stamps had a central vignette of an allegorical figure representing "Time":

  • the figure is seated;
  • the left hand is holding a scythe;
  • the right hand is holding a crown;
  • behind the seat on the platform is an hour-glass while a long zig-zag flash of light passes behind and to the left of the design;
  • underneath the figure is "N. S. Wales";
  • surrounding the design is a band containing ELECTRIC and TELEGRAPHS at the top and base respectively;
  • the frame around the stamp consists of a thick outer line and a thinner inner line.


The Government Printer - Thomas Richards - was asked to print the Electric Telegraph stamps and he engaged Mr. Glover from the Sydney Printing and Lithography company of Messrs. S.T. Leigh & Co. to draw the central design and the frame. Bassett Hull (p. 379) shows an original sketch on a card - whereabouts now unknown. The cost for this sketch was apparently £5.

An essay of a 4d value is also recorded (whereabouts now unknown) but there was no 4d denomination planned or issued.

The basic designs for the stamps were engraved on copper and the N.S.W. Government printer prepared three electroplates to print all values. Each plate had the images arranged in 5 rows of 10 stamps. Printing was effected in two stages:

The value plates used for the 6d design and upwards were those which had been used for the Stamp Duty printings. They had been prepared by De La Rue & Co. in London. Value plates for the 1d and 2d (not required in a Stamp Duty series) were prepared in the Colony.

The stamps were all printed on bluish stamp duty paper watermarked NSW. Almost all were perf 12½ although an unknown number of sheets (very few) received perf 11. The 8/- is also known with perf 10 as well as (overprinted Specimen) with perf 13. The former perforation is unusual as machines for making a 10 perforation did not exist before 1880. It is possible that these are of "a posthumous nature". A complete set of all eight stamps with perf 10 was offered by Stanley Gibbons in September 2013 (at £4,500).

Two issues of the stamps are recorded - on 14 January and 8 February 1871. The stamps were gazetted on 20 January 1871 but discontinued in February at an unknown date and not referenced in the Annual Report, etc. The reason for the withdrawal and the ensuing silence has not been explained clearly. It is suspected that the issue of special telegraph stamps was not in accordance with the 1857 NSW Telegraph Act - and so they could be classified as illegal!!

A summary of the printings and the subsequent issue and destruction of the stamps is given in the following table:

Action and date 1d 2d 6d 1/- 2/- 4/- 6/- 8/-
Printed (Dec. 1870) 10,000 21,500 1,250 5,000 5,000 3,800 2,000 1,450
Printed (Feb. 1871) 15,000 3,500 2,250 15,000 10,000 3,700 500 1,050
Total printed 25,000 24,500 3,500 20,000 15,000 7,500 2,500 2,500
Issued (Jan 1871) 8,750 5,000 1,000 4,500 4,500 3,500 1,000 1,000
Issued (Feb. 1871) 8,000 8,000 2,000 5,000 3,000 1,000 - -
Total issued 16,750 13,000 3,000 9,500 7,500 4,500 1,000 1,000
Balance 8,250 12,000 500 10,500 7,500 3,000 1,500 1,500
Overprinted SPECIMEN 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Destroyed (June 1872) 300 2,000 150 100 350 150 1,350 250
Destroyed (12 Feb. 1878) 7,750 9,800 150 10,200 6,950 2,650 - 1,050
Retained for record 100 100 100 100 100 100 50 100
Source: Records of the NSW Government Printer held in Archives Office (1/83-89) and reprinted in Hancock, p. 117.

The destruction of the stamps was explained in terms of "damaged during printing or after" or "being obsolete".

Specimen overprints.

In June 1871, 100 sets of the eight stamps were overprinted SPECIMEN in black Roman seriffed capital (13 x 1.5mm) letters. This overprinting was in accordance with the UPU agreements that member countries and postal authorities would distribute examples of their stamps to other members.

Spec 1d
1d bright red.
Perf: 12.5.
Spec 2d
2d light blue.
Perf: 12.5.
Spec 6d
6d dull red.
Perf: 12.5.
Spec 1s
1/- blue.
Perf: 12.5.
Spec 2s
2/- light brown.
Perf: 12.5.
Spec 4s
4/- purple.
Perf: 12.5.
Spec 6s pair
6/- red rejoined pair.
Perf 12.5.
Spec 8s
8/- light mauve.
Perf 12.5.


Present stocks

An unknown number of the stamps now exist. Specimen stamps are probably scarcer than mint stamps and both types command high prices - especially the 6d and the 6/-. Unfortunately most stamps coming on the market are damaged with missing perfs, thins and tears or are showing the effects of rust.

There are probably less than 10 complete sets of the mint stamps and less than eight complete sets with the Specimen overprint.


Very few multiples are known and most are rejoined pairs. The known examples are:

2d pair   6s pair


Used examples.

Some genuinely used stamps are known with manuscript cancellations initialled in black pen across the stamps.

No examples of the 1d. black and red have been recorded. One example of the 2d. black and blue has been recorded. One example of the 2d. black and red has been recorded. One example of the 1/- black and blue has been recorded.


Used with a dominant H across the central figure.

Prestige Philately May 2014 Lot 1352.
Phoenix May 2018 Lot 942.

The mss annotation is now very faint due to the ink fading.

Used with the mss extending through the H of SHIL.
The mss annotation may be "OHMS".

Provenance: Dave Elsmore.

One example of the 4/- black and mauve has been recorded. One example of the 6/- black and carmine has been recorded. Two examples of the 8/- black and lilac have been recorded.

Used with a straight line through RIC.

Spink April 2017, Lot 2134.
Status Int. April 2021 Lot 1270.

Used with a curved line with tails through (TE)LEGRAPHS.

Spink April 2017, Lot 2134.
Status Int. April 2021 Lot 1271.

Used with the mss cancellation through the R of ELECTRIC.

Spink April 2017, Lot 2134.
Status Int. April 2021 Lot 1272.

Used with the mss cancellation through the T of ELECTRIC.

Provenance: Dave Elsmore.

Telegraph forms printed early in 1871 (NC-TO-4) contained a column on the left headed "Please affix stamps in this space". Forms printed soon after did not have that space of course.