Notes from the Past

Ceylon's First Stamps

Postal reforms came to Ceylon in 1856.  An ordinance published that year established postal rates effective April 1, 1857, at 1d. for ½ oz. and an additional 1d. for the next ½ oz. with each additional ounce being 2d.  Newspapers and printed matter for domestic destinations was ½d. and for foreign destinations was 1d.  The first pound of a parcel was 8d. with each additional pound at 4d.  Prepayment was to be made by stamps, however, until stamps became available, prepayment could be made in cash.

Eleven values of stamps were ordered from Perkins, Bacon & Co.  The ½d. and a supply of envelopes was ordered from De La Rue & Co.  A watercolor sketch by Edward Henry Corbould was used to guide the engraving of the 1d. and five other values.  The design of the 4d. and four other values was a composite.  The portrait of the Queen had been recently engraved by Charles Henry Jeens for use on the stamps of the Ionian Islands and the framework was that employed for the 6d. stamp of Tasmania.  This practice of reusing engravings was not unusual.

Printing plates contained 240 impressions in twenty rows of twelve.  The paper was white wove with a large star watermark arranged to show on each stamp.  The stamps were printed quite close together and most all have been cut into during separation.  The ½d. by De La Rue & Co. was typographed in sheets of 120 stamps in twelve rows of ten.

It appears that the 6d., the first stamp printed, was the only stamp available in Ceylon on April 1, 1857, when the new postal rates came into force.  The stamp was the only one issued on that date.  The 5d., 10d, and 1s. values were issued on July 2.  The 1d. and 2d. were issued on August 24.  The ½d. was issued sometime in October.  The 4d., 8d., 9d., 1s. 9d., and 2s. did not appear until April 23, 1859.

Similarly to other stamps printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co. during this period, the 6d. stamp has a bluish cast which resulted from the precipitation of prussiate of potash during the moistening of the paper preparatory to printing.  Subsequent to printing the 6d., Perkins, Bacon & Co. found a way to prevent the bluing and printed the remaining stamps, as well as additional printing of the 6d., on white paper.  The ½d. was initially printed on unwatermarked blue-glazed safety paper intended to prevent the removal of the postmark and reuse of the stamp.  Subsequent printings were on white glazed paper.

Some of the ½d., 1d., 4d., and 1s. 9d. have been found with perforations and roulettes.  These are believed to have been done locally.

Posted August 27, 2000

Editor's Note:  I have willingly excerpted (almost plagiarized) this from Stamps Day By Day, L. N. and M Williams. Blandford Press Ltd, 1950.  And, of course, Ceylon is now Sri Lanka.

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