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19th Century Postal Advertising Rings


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It is unusual to see offered for sale a group or set of unused GB Queen Victoria embossed cut-out postal advertising rings. Each one has generous square margins and bears the name William Lincoln & Co with an address, 239 High Holborn, London. The nine examples are printed on thick cream surface paper, are different in design and colour with values from 1d to 1/-.

Philatelic advertising was not a new concept as concurrent with the 1840 1d Black, the Mulready Envelopes and Letter Sheets carried advertising in various forms from both private firms and government departments.

By the mid 1850s Embossed postal stationery, including pre-paid, pre-gummed envelopes, letter-sheets and cards offered an alternative to using traditional adhesive postage stamps. Here was an “all in one package” where evidence of payment of the appropriate postal charges was provided by an impressed image of a postage stamp which depicted a silhouette and profile of Queen Victoria’s head taken from an 1837 portrait by the artist William Wyon. Proof of pre- payment was provided by the Inland Revenue who die-stamped the postal stationery using different colours to identify values. The officially authorised stationery was either collected or returned to customers from Somerset House in London for preparation and folding after which, once received by a post office, items were cancelled, date-stamped and sent in the normal way.

One of the many private firms to see the advantages of “appearing” with the postage label was legendary stamp dealer, appraiser and author, Mr William Simpson Lincoln, the founder and Managing Director of William Lincoln & Co. Mr Lincoln claimed to be “the oldest established stamp dealer in the world” and is reputed to have started dealing whilst still a teenager in the 1850s. He died in 1922 aged 78. Nearly ten years later the remaining stock and other assets were acquired by Stanley Gibbons Ltd. The firm was based in London and was famous for the quality of its stock and the high quality stamp albums and other philatelic material it produced. It was not too long before other entrepreneurs saw the potential of what to-day might be compared to “e-mail web-banner advertising”. Incorporating and including a company’s name and address became an option. The advertising ring was launched!

The first advertising rings appeared in 1855 and became increasingly popular over the next forty or so years. Many firms including Smith Elder & Co, Stevens and Norton, W&T Avery & Co and the well known high street stationers W.H Smith & Co used the collars to good advantage including being an obvious deterrent to theft. Advertising in this way was not restricted to the collars. Sometimes a firm would include additional material on the inside gummed covers of envelopes or add a printed illustration of the company’s factory or other identifiable reference on the outside of the envelope.

Whilst the Inland Revenue initially had control and responsibility for stamping both the official embossed stationery and the embossed advertising ring, due to the volume and other pressures on time, the task became more onerous and during the latter years between, 1888 and 1894, private firms were permitted to carry out the operation using their own die-stamps. Variations and examples of “off centre” rings which partly obliterated the stamp are known to exist, together with inconsistent colour shading. There are still many intact cancelled and unused covers available but a large number were destroyed after the embossed stamp had been cut-out by collectors. Sometimes an unused cut-out stamp was applied to make up values on other mail.

Their use was abolished in 1894 as advertising became more sophisticated and were gradually replaced by franked mail that also incorporated commercial adverts which developed together with other methods intended to prevent pilferage.



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