Fun With Overprints

To many collectors the most common overprinted stamps are GB issues for use in Tangier, Morocco Agencies, Bahrain, etc. Although many collectors specialise in these, they don’t make for a very interesting display at the local stamp club because the stamps are the same from one territory to another, only the overprint is different.

Having collected numerous examples I felt that overprinted stamps could be made much more interesting if they were treated thematically. Almost every country in the world has issued overprints at some time, so there is a wealth of material from the wallpaper variety through to classics such as the Kangaroo ‘specimens’ of Australia. I have deliberately excluded the simplest form of overprint, which is the surcharge, as these are of limited interest unless the surcharge is inverted, double or seriously misplaced.

To give an example of a theme for which many overprints have been issued, consider British Commonwealth royal events, as in the illustration. Such occasions can include royal visits to overseas countries, weddings, birthdays, births and jubilees.

Similarly, for other countries one could add visits by heads of state, either outgoing to foreign countries or to the country issuing the stamp, as well as events like exhibitions, conferences and mourning issues.

With a bit of imagination, it is easy to build up sections on such themes as disaster relief funds (including floods, hurricane and volcanic eruptions), stamp exhibitions, scouts and guides, the Red Cross and foreign occupations. Also there are many stamps issued for one purpose and later overprinted for another, e.g. a normal postage stamp changed to postage due usage.

As a collector of aviation material, I have come across so many overprinted airmail stamps that I have subdivided them into three sections. The first includes those which are simply overprinted “air mail” in the appropriate language. Those in the second section show an aircraft on top of the original design either with or without words., and the third contains stamps which were overprinted for particular events such as aviation meetings and special or record-breaking flights or for anniversaries and commemorations. On the purely aviation side, the group includes some of the sought-after Zeppelin overprints from Germany and other countries.

Many stamps were overprinted for use in a country other than the one for which they were issued. Some of them have very interesting political and historical reasons as to why and how the overprints came about.

One of the most interesting aspects of overprints is establishing what they were issued to commemorate. The Gibbons catalogues don’t always help and any text is likely to be in a foreign language. A little research is need to see if the overprint is suitable for inclusion, and if so, which section it fits into.

A question often asked is why produce overprints? I can think of three answers. Firstly, they can be produced quickly and locally using stocks of existing stamps. Secondly, there are no design costs, and finally, they can be a source of revenue.

How often have sets from some smaller islands been overprinted ‘specimen’ in the hope that collectors will buy them with and without the overprint.

Once you start looking for overprints you will be amazed at how many turn up in club packets, auction lots, etc.. Don’t just stick to stamps – there are overprinted postal stationery items to be found as well. So good hunting.

Extract From The Raflet Philatelic Magazine by Mike Turnbull