Commercial Overprints (also known as security overprints or protective overprints) are security endorsements printed on postage or revenue stamps with the name of the user prior to being used.
In Great Britain these stamps were used for the payment of excise tax on receipts of various sorts. They were overprinted by companies and organisations to prevent them from being stolen by dishonest employees.
For many years, stamps could be used for the payment of small bills and could be cashed at a post office. This naturally led to the risk of the stamps being stolen. However, the Post Office would not accept stamps that had been overprinted, thus reducing their value if stolen.
The 1853 Stamp Act made receipts to the value of £2 or upwards liable to a stamp duty of 1d. This duty could be denoted by either an embossed stamp applied by the Stamp Office or by an adhesive stamp duly cancelled by the person affixing the stamp.
The first commercial overprints appear on the 1d Inland Revenue stamps introduced in 1860 and in use until 1867. In 1868 a smaller, postage sized 1d Inland Revenue stamp replaced the previous issue and was in use until 1881.
The major impetus for overprinting stamps came with the Customs and Revenue Act of 1881, which led to the issue of the 1d lilac stamp on 12th July 1881. The 1d lilac was the first unified issue, meaning that it could be used for both postal and fiscal purpose.
Companies and organisations began to keep stocks of penny postage stamps rather than revenue stamps for receipt purposes. Overprinted stamps were confined to fiscal use as the authorities were afraid the overprinting would be used to disguise postmarks and thus allow the re-use of stamps fraudulently. Any overprinted stamps found on mail were discounted and postage due was charged. The 1d lilac was the standard letter stamp for the remainder of Queen Victoria’s reign, and was in use until the end of 1901.
Commercial overprints can also be found on the 1d stamps of King Edward VII and King George V. On 1st September 1920 stamp duty was increased from 1d to 2d and overprints are therefore found on the 2d stamps of King George V, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, (no Edward VIII stamps were commercially overprinted as no 2d stamps were issued) until the duty was abolished on 31st January 1971. After this date, firms and organisations were permitted to use their remaining stock of overprinted stamps for postage for a period of six months.
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