At the outset let us understand how the oral and other means of communication led
to the birth of the Postal system, which in the next few decades led to the issue of Postal stamps and Postal stationery and made them an
inseparable part of the Postal system. Every nation have their own Postal Stamps and Stationery as part of the Postal system.
2) In one sense the Postal system is a branch of communication, and sending communication in the form of printed document after stamping i.e. affixing a seal is
meant to regulate or authorize the message thus sent. Communication is not transmission of oral messages alone but also oral submissions send in readable
format, in a regulated manner,meant for some or many for several reasons.
3) Though the Postal stamps and stationery were originally introduced for
authenticating and regulating the process of messaging from one part to the
other, the purpose was also to generate some kind of revenue albeit fee to the
carrier agency (Govt) for services rendered i.e carrying the messages
sent through them.
4) India is in the threshold of communication revolution and the Postal system
being one amongst the communication systems, over decades India
established the highest number of Post offices which today is spread in nooks and corners
of every Village and towns, the outlets to sell not only the Postal stamps and
stationery but also rendering services like banking too. The sale of stamps are
higher in India as recorded communication in all spheres of life is extensively put to
use. During the last few years the use of Stamps have gone down due to the franking process which is also a
kind of Stamping for all purposes.
5) The scope and application of Postal stamps and Postal Stationery did not rest with
the regulation of messages alone, they play an important role in authenticating
several of the documents that have oral version documented for legal sanctity,
say something like affidavits of many types for legal and other purposes which is done on a stamped paper. Of late due to high rate of counterfeiting of stamp paper various valued Stamp papers have been withdrawn and instead Franking the stamp value on the bond paper on which the documents are recorded have been introduced.
Stamp Paper and
Franking on Paper
6) The history of India's Postal system began long before the dawn of printed
Postage stamps and stationery. The evolution and systemic growth of Postal
communication in India can be traced over a span of centuries when a different
kind of communication system albeit ghost Postal system in the form of
messengers carrying the messages existed even during the regime of Mogul emperors
and prior to their rule though many of the areas in India were
inaccessible by land then.
7) It is not surprising to note that in a vast land filled country like India,
for centuries, some format of organized communication system was practiced. The
probable intent of such communication was to ensure that the communication
both oral and in written format is not only exchanged between the individuals
but also gets transmitted from one generation to the other (see next para), right from the
primitive age to the modern age. Though they cannot be construed as Postal
system, yet the fact that only such acts developed into Postal system in later
years cannot be ignored.
8) Several of the primitive drawings and heliographic characters found in the
caves, culverts, ancient temple floors and pillars, or found on the stone
tablets, leaves and several of the relics that have been found during
archaeological discoveries suggest that though not directly related to Postal
system which enables the messages reach from one end to the other in a matter of few
days, they were meant for passing on the messages of events to those who otherwise would have remained unknown to such events, whether in few years or few decades
later. The basic principle of the act of inscription was to pass on the message of events in some form to the subsequent generations.
Indeed only such inscriptions have laid the stone for the emergence of the Postal system i.e. to
carry forward the recorded messages from one to many. The difference between the two are, in the case of the former (Inscriptions) the act was meant for passing on the messages to generation to generations while the latter (Postal system) is an act of exchange of messages between few or more surviving members.
9) Many Hindu scriptures carry references to messengers carrying the
messages called carriers. The Rig Veda cites the use of dogs called ‘Sarama’
that carried the messages, even as the ‘Atharva Veda’ records the use of
couriers going by the name ‘Palagala. The messages were tied on to the animal
necks in scrolls or hand carried by the humans. In the
Nala-Damayanthi love episode a Swan was used for passing on the message. During
Ramayana and Mahabharata era traditional emissaries conveyed the messages in an
Homing birds carried messages
10) If one carefully read the history one would see that even in primitive era, the
messages were transmitted by many ways like bush fire, drum beats and crude sounds
from one group to the other in a manner understandable to the locals when the
idea of Postal system were not even remotely thought of. Later years as need of people became more and more demanding, various methods of communication
were manifested in several ways, and each one designed in their own way to meet the
challenge of the modern times. The regularized Postal systems which manifested
from them were much later discoveries.
11) The period of rule under several Kings and Emperors saw the messages being
conveyed from one part to the other using homing birds especially pigeons as
messengers. The scrolls containing the messages used to be tied to the legs of
the birds that were sent. However such birds were not deployed for carrying regular mail of public and were meant to be messengers for Emperors and
centuries ago the Persian Emperors aided by Cyrus the great,
evolved perfect communication system for Military and Political needs.
Chanakya's Arthashasthra mentions that even during 3rd century BC some
messaging system was in vague for collecting and exchanging
13) Several inscriptions found on stones, pillars, scriptures etc though buried
and remained static in places for centuries and the oral form of messaging
practiced over past centuries, both must have prompted the rulers to think of
transmitting the messages in written format and be sent by a reliable
medium for military adventurism or administrative purposes or for other
reasons. The traditional messenger system practiced during Mahabharata and
Ramayana helped the Mogul and Portuguese to evolve effective and sharper
14) The oral mode of messaging led to the establishment of relay of runners who carried the message scrolls (similar to written letters) tied on a pole and moved both on foot
and by traveling on the back of horses or Camel or other animals. The services
of the relay runners were extensively put to action mostly during war time to
pass on the messages quickly. Such mode of communication exchanged from one end
to the other commenced in a organized manner especially during Maurya and
Emperor Asoka regime. At the same time the services of mail
carriers were also extended to cater to the needs of public, mainly the traders
to some extent.
Relay Runners who carried messages
15) In 712 AD, the Arab influence came into Asia with the conquest of Sind. The
areas under their regime were called Caliphate meaning political religious
state. The state was led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a
Caliph and the invading Mogul rulers in Sind (province) felt that it was
essential to keep the communication remain undisturbed with the Chief of Caliph
then residing in Baghdad in Iraq in order to get their advice or orders. How was it effected ?
16) Many chronicles pertaining to Caliphates mention the existence of relay
of horse messengers. Relay of horse messenger means the written messages tied
on the horses will not be carried by a single horse from one end to the other
and instead at every prescribed points the outgoing message will be passed on
to the next waiting horse messenger and the original horse messenger will come
back carrying the incoming messages. Such a kind of messaging akin to
Postal system was called ‘Barid’ messenger system meaning message sent through
animals and was practiced extensively during Mogul rule in 7th and 8th
17) The messages thus carried were of two types (a) Secret messages meant for
military purposes and information from spies on the ground situation of the
vast territories held by the Emperors or Kings. The other one was (b) non
essential messages meant for trade, revenue records and other purposes.
18) Mohammed Ghazni established well organized human carried communication
system. It is reported that during his regime well established Barid Postal agencies
were maintained in all the provinces under his rule.
19) Till 1200 to 1500 the human messengers regularly carried the messages. During Qutb-ud-din Aybak regime, a messenger cum animal Post system was
established in India which was the combination of a horse and foot
runner for the Postal service.
20) For all practical purposes, in order to clarify the system of exchanging the messages which were in vague during the earlier era, the historians while recording the events
might have referred the services as Post or Postal System. However during the
period of Mogul and Persian rule, the nomenclature of Post or Postal Service did
not exist. The term Post Office and Postal system came up
only in the year 1660 in England when an office was created for receiving the
written messages meant to be delivered elsewhere.
Khilji and Sher Shah Suri
21) Aladdin Khilji who ruled Northern India from 1296 to 1316, and Sher Shah
Suri who ruled from 1541 to 1545 replaced the human runners with horse runners for
speedy conveyance of messages.
who carried messages
22) Qutub ud-din Aibak who ruled during 1206–1210 kept Dak Chowkis for the
Postal system. During the regime of Genghis Khan a messenger
was stationed at every 25 miles for performing the duties of Postal system.
23) In the 13th century the Dak Chowkis system was in place from Delhi to Warangal
in Andhra Pradesh in south India. The successive Mogul Emperors and Kings
continued to operate the Dak Chowkis Postal system in one way or the other however
slightly modifying the mode of communication as suited in their time.
24) As mentioned earlier, the conveyance of messaging system as adapted during the
regime of Sher Shah Suri was the best ever known messaging system existed for the administrative purposes during Mogul period and was extended to the traders as well. The then message
runner system was recast with two horse couriers being stationed at every two mile
distance for speedy conveyance of messages both official and trade related
In desert areas Camel
replaced Horses for
carrying the messages
25) In short the fact cannot be denied that only during Mogul rule that a
stable form of communication system was put to practice in the form of a
runner, messenger and horse courier and sometimes camel couriers in the entire Indian
26) When the communication need continued to grew, it was felt that for better transmission of the messages which thence were carried by human and animal couriers, well laid routes were necessary
for the travel. The Arab and Persian chronicles has recorded that the
principal routes connecting Asia and far east were well laid for easy and
faster travel by the moving nomadic tribes and invaders and that indirectly
helped the communication messengers who could move faster from one area to the
other without difficulties. During Han Chinese, Romans, Kushans, Mauryan and
Greek regimes safe route for traders to travel were made available for speedy
27) Much before the advent of such developments in Postal services during Mogul period, Denmark
had already established its own Postal services in the year 1624. The mails
sent to different parts of their country were hand carried by a fleet of foot soldiers
recruited and when the volume and area of operation got increased in the next
few years, besides the foot soldiers, horse riders were employed. In order to regularize such service, Denmark released the first set of printed Postal stamps only in the year 1850 or
One of the Stamps of
Denmark issued in
the year 1907
28) The next known country that established Postal service called ‘Posten AB’
was Sweden. Postal services known as ‘The Royal Postal Agency’ came into
operation in the year 1636. They had practiced a unique stamping system using
Wax and bird’s Feather. However the country’s first series of printed stamps
were released only in the year 1855.
One of the Stamps of
Sweden issued in
the year 1879
29) In the year 1653 a Frenchman reportedly established a Postal system in
France by setting up post boxes, and any messages on envelopes sold by him if
deposited in the said post box would be safely delivered to the addressee. This
is perhaps the only known history available on the introduction of the first
ever organized Postal service using Post Box. However the said system was in the hand of an individual limited to certain areas for passing on the messages.
30) In South of India, in the year 1672, Raja Chuk Deo of Mysore began an
efficient Postal service which was further improved by Haider Ali. While
various modes of communication were in operation till the mid of 18th century, those
practices were well taken note by the invading foreign rulers viz Portuguese,
Dutch, French, Danish and British to evolve a well organized system in the form
of establishment of official Postal system coupled with the issue of Stamping for efficient military and
governmental communications. When British invaded India they established
organized communication system for both official and commercial purposes.
However historians agree unanimously that Persians were the first to adopt a
Postal system in their own country beyond Asia.
31) Between 1688 and 1793 the East India Company opened several post offices in
Bombay, Calcutta and Madras (erstwhile states of India under the names
mentioned above, while private Postal service was also established by traders
as the maritime trade and Silk trade from Persia flourished high in Indian
continent. Early records of ancient Greek records of the then Deccan India
suggest that the maritime trade was on an all time high and exchange of
communication between traders were part of maritime activity.
32) Since such dual Postal system caused several practical difficulties and
misuse, the British enacted a law titled ‘The Post Office Act XVII of 1837’ to
ensure that the entire Postal system came under the direct control of the Govt in India.
33) The Post Office Act XVII of 1837 provided that the Governor-General of
India in Council had the exclusive right of Postal services hired within the
territories held by East India Company. Thus the situation warranted regulation
acts. It became necessary to authenticate the mails sent, lest there would be
again misuse and chaos in the Postal communication system.
34) Although the Indian Post Office was established in the year 1837, Asia's
first adhesive stamp named the ‘Scinde Dawk, was introduced in 1852 by Sir
Bartle Frere, the British East India Company's administrator for the province
of Sind, however with a small amount of advance fee to be paid for the stamping
or sealing as was called then. It was stated that the stamp or seal was meant
to authenticate the Postal communications sent through Govt agencies.
Seal of Scinde Dawk
35) The first set of Postal stamps with a value of four Anna were released in
the year 1854 in India without perforation or adhesive at the back of the
stamps unlike the present day stamps.
36) During Mogul regime several provinces were ruled by the Princes. Those provinces were
known as Princely states. Some of the Princely states too had their own mode of
Postal service which required affixing printed Stamps on the envelopes sent.
The Imperial Posts of British rulers too co existed with the princely state Postal systems some of which produced stamps for use
within their respective dominions. However the British Indian postage stamps were
required to be affixed for sending mails beyond the boundaries of those states.
37) At the time when British ruled India, 652 States were under the rule of
some prince or the other and while most of them did not issue postage stamps,
some princely states issued their own stamps for affixing on the letters and
envelopes handled by Postal service within their territories.
38) Though some of the princely states issued their own printed stamps for the
postal service rendered within their territories, the adhesive stamps of
British India were overprinted with word 'for use within each princely State'.
39) The Indian Postal system under British developed into an extensive,
dependable and robust network providing connectivity to almost all parts of
India. Based on the model Postal system introduced in England by reformer Rowland Hill, efficient Postal services were provided at a low cost in the
places ruled by British.
40) Though some form of Postal service reportedly existed prior to 1630 elsewhere in the world several countries had already established their own
net work of Postal services and issued printed Stamps and Stationery for use
during 16-18th century. The first public Postal services in India began only in the year 1870
and first series of printed Postal Stamps were released in the year 1871.
Similarly the British rulers issued first set of printed Stamps of England only
in the year 1840 after reformer Rowland Hill introduced postal reforms in
England. However the stamps issued by British rulers in 1840 did not have
perforation for easy tearing of stamps from the sheet.
41) The United States of America issued their first series of printed Stamps in
the year 1847 even though the independent Postal service from Boston to Newyork existed from the year 1639 when America was under British rule.
42) A noble businessman and a German called ‘Franz von Taxis’ established
Postal service in the year 1497 on behalf of Emperor Maximilian I of the Holy
Roman Empire in Germany. He created a horse relay system to shorten the transit
time for delivery of mail. Thereafter, The Princely House of ‘Thurn and Taxis’
another noble family played a key role in the establishment of Postal service
in the 16th century by Horse drawn mail coaches for carrying the mails. But
they were not stamped as Stamps were not invented at that period.
44) When France took control of northern Vietnam following its victory over
China in the Sino-French War fought during 1884–85, French Indochina was formed
with areas like Annam, Tonkin, Cochin china etc. Under French rule Postal
services were established in those areas which needed affixing of Stamps on
envelopes. The same postage stamps as used in the French held colonies
elsewhere were used in Indochina.
43) In the year 1871, prior to unification of Germany, the then individual
German states totaling to sixteen released their own stamps beginning from 1849
till 1867. The Deutsche Reichspost (name of German postal service) started
Postal service officially on May 4, 1871 using North
German Confederation Stamps until it issued its own stamps in the year 1872.
French Colony stamps
45) The Chinese version of regular government Postal service existed during the
regime of Zhou Dynasty in c. 1046–256 BC. According to Marco Polo who was an
Italian merchant traveler, and who was the first European to land in China,
there were 10,000 post stages during 12th century for delivering mails when
China was under Mongolian rule. But the use of Postal Stamps did not exist at
that period. However regular Postal services came into operation only in 1878
with the release of printed stamps in the year 1882.
46) How are the Postal Stamps and Stationery printed? Why were the stamps
necessary when the mails were carried by messengers and sent by wagons drawn by
animals? These were the basic questions that were raised for many years by different people.
47) Besides Military communication exchange of information between
traders prompted the rulers to think of collecting some fee for the
service rendered in the name of messenger tax to meet the expenditure incurred for the messengers who
carried the messages. The act of collecting fee began initially by affixing a seal with
wax over the bag that contained the message scrolls or letters. Since that was
leading to misuse and unaccountability, a piece of paper was pasted on the bag
indicating the no of messages and the place where it was sent.
48) Before the advent of adhesive Postal stamps, the letters were hand stamped
(Ink Impression with fingers or hand print) or marked with ink. They were
called Bishop Marks as such a system was adapted based on the practice of a
Bishop who arranged for the exchange of messages. That led to the invention of franking technique. Slowly the thought of using some
print format for accounting the letters brought in the process of
printing Postal stamps.
49) Prepayment postage began in 1852 in the Scinde/Sindh district with the use
of the Dawk adhesive stamps. Since the introduction of Postal system made it
possible for any person to send a letter, packet, or parcel to any addressee
either in the same country or abroad in the expectation that it will be
delivered with regularity, speed, and security, the idea for the service be
paid in advance by the sender cropped up. That led to the introduction of
prepayment system which led to the
printing and issue of Postal stamps.
50) The initially introduced Postal stamps or seal as they were called did not
contain any security feature, and instead they were printed on special paper
which was not available to others and counter stamped with the rubber seal of
the Govt administrator to ensure that there was no misuse. In one sense the
Postage stamps were similar to the labels attached with the goods. Therefore they needed to be collected in
advance by paying fixed fee and to be tagged with the letter sent from the
point of letter collecting centre. This was subsequently transformed into
production of stamps with adhesive for pasting on the envelopes.
51) Today the Stamp printing process utilizes the finest technology available
in the print world. Since the stamps have monetary value and treated as fee for
a specific cause (Postal Service), the printing of Postal Stamps and Stationery
are also treated as Security printing and only governmental organizations are
permitted to print them in India. The printing of stamps at India Security Press, Nasik
Road in Maharashtra began in the year 1925.
The first stamps produced were the definitive series of George V.
52) In the initial stages when the stamps were printed, engraving process was
deployed for the printing as everyone cannot cost effectively engrave the
designs required (as anti counterfeit measure). To my knowledge Letterpress
printing process have not been deployed for the printing of Stamps though they
were used for printing Postal cards and envelopes, reason being most of the
security features cannot be printed by this process of printing. Though the
engraving process of printing was deployed for printing stamps, slowly the
gravure process of printing was also adapted for printing of multi coloured
stamps. For a very long period Gravure process of printing remained the most
sought after print process for printing Stamps and Postal Stationery.
53) No international standard either for size or shape are prescribed for the
printing of Stamps. Some of the stamps are seen printed on water
marked paper, azure laid or on rib lined paper. Each country had their own
standard in printing and release of the Stamps. Stamps were printed on paper
designed and manufactured specifically for them, and were printed either in
sheet or rolls form. But in order to separate each stamp in the sheets or
rolls, perforations were introduced in between each stamp in all sides. Also
the Stamps were coated with special adhesive on their back so that they can be
slightly moistened and pasted on the envelopes. The Stamps were either in rectangular
shape, square, triangular or pentagonal in shape.
54) During British rule in order to streamline the Postal service in India a
Commission of Inquiry was appointed which studied the
Postal services of some of the European countries where the system worked in a
organized manner and came out with certain suggestions. The earlier practice of
delivering official letters free of postage was abolished and the new system
suggested by the commission was put to practice by the East India Company which
ruled India then.
55) The first sets of Postal Stamps in values of 1/2 Anna, one Anna, Two Anna,
and Four Anna in low and uniform rates were introduced in the year 1854. The
said sets of Stamps did not contain perforation or adhesive on their backs. It
is also stated that the world’s first bi coloured Stamp was printed in India in
the value of Four Anna. The designs were incorporated with captions that read
‘East India Postage.
56) Commemorative stamps are issued by different countries to commemorate important
events, in praise of prominent personalities in various fields, depicting different aspects of nature, commemorating agricultural activities, national/international issues, games etc.
World Agriculture fair
57) Other than on paper base, special postage stamps are also made of materials such as Silver or Gold foils and released for certain important events. Switzerland made a
stamp that contained a bit of lace and one of wood. The United States produced
stamps on plastic. East Germany issued a stamp of synthetic chemicals. South Africa issued 3D effect stamps. In the
Netherlands a stamp was made of silver foil.
3D effect Stamp