Pakistan - Local Overprints

The events leading to the separation of India and Pakistan have been extensively dealt with in various publications over the years, not least in philatelic publications. Understanding the urgency in creating Pakistan’s new stamps is essential to understanding the complex results. 

The upheavals of the social and political situation, which were traumatic, are not our concern here, but it is as well to remember that the background to the philatelic happenings we are about to examine was one of great disturbance. The main security printer on the sub-continent, indeed the only one capable of producing the overprints urgently needed in sufficient quantities, was the Indian Security Press at Nasik. The Pakistan authorities received co-operation to the extent that they were able to have stamps overprinted there and these were brought into use on 1st October 1947, following independence on 15th August. However, supplies were rather unreliable and it became necessary to authorize further overprints. These took place at various centers, as we will see, and in addition there were a multitude of hand stamps, typewritten overprints and handwritten overprints, prepared locally by people who wished to use stamps which were Pakistani in character, rather than Indian. No matter that some of the stamps found and used for overprinting and hand stamping were obsolete – anything that could be used was put to use. As is usually the case when political upheaval necessitates provisional issues, study and recording of all the different types started immediately and continues to this day. Col. D. R. Martin’s book on the overprints was published by Robson Lowe Ltd in 1959, and was later reprinted and updated in Pakistan (1972). Much further research was undertaken, both inside and outside Pakistan, culminating in the publication of ‘PAKISTAN; OVERPRINTS ON INDIAN STAMPS AND POSTAL STATIONERY 1947-9’, by Ron Doubleday and Usman Ali Isani, in 1993. This massive work is lavishly illustrated and authoritative, and I am greatly indebted to it.

When I sit down each month to write an article for Stamp Magazine, sometimes my choice of subject is dictated by what I have available; I often don’t have the material to illustrate an article on a given subject, at least not enough to do it justice. So, having just had the opportunity to purchase a major collection of Pakistan local overprints, I am going to use this opportunity to write on the subject before all the illustrated items find new homes! Although I briefly covered the topic last year, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share some of these items with you and I make no apology for returning to the field. This is one of the times when I cannot hope to be comprehensive in surveying the subject under review, but I can outline the different categories of overprint, hand stamp etc., and (I hope) provide some items that may be pleasing to the eye.

The Nasik overprints were exceptionally well carried out. When it became necessary to supplement them, photographic copies were made in Lahore and elsewhere, and distributed to centers such as Peshawar and Karachi. Naturally, such copies lacked the precision of the originals, and this is where specialization begins to become feasible. One of the most important things for the collector to do is to understand the necessity of accurate measurement; to quote Doubleday and Isani – ‘Always measure length in a straight line from the outside of the foot of letter "P" (excluding any serif) to the outside of the right foot of the letter "N" (again excluding any possible serif). The full stop, which may not always be apparent, or any other possible traces of a hand stamp holder should be excluded. Height is taken from the letter ‘I’ unless obviously unrepresentative. In such cases the height of the letter ‘K’ should be taken." Accurate measurement is a vital first step in narrowing down the myriad of possibilities with the hand stamps.

Even before the Nasik overprints became available (1st October 1947), and hand stamps and the local overprints went on sale (January 1948), there were some unauthorized local hand stamps, seemingly done by people who disagreed with the decision to continue using Indian stamps until the Nasik

prints became available. Few of these early hand stamps have been recorded, most having apparently been used on telegrams. We are fortunate to be able to illustrate one of these, from an unrecorded die (it is tiny, at 11 x 1½mm), one of a newly-discovered group. However, these early usages are so rare that they need not concern most of us!The imitations of the Nasik overprints are reasonably easy to separate, which is just as well. Although there were a number of errors, many of the more important ones emanating from Karachi the quality was reasonably high. The major errors on the 1r, which merit footnote status in Gibbons, happened there. Finding an example of the few King George V high values used for hand stamping or overprinting at one of the major centers is an unusual event – as is locating any of the proof overprints in red, or examples of the high values where overprints fell on the gutter margins – in fact the 1r ‘overprint missing in pair with normal’ is an example of just this, no allowance having been made when setting up the printing plate for the existence of gutter margins.Overprinting was also carried out at other centers, notably at Barisal, which has a particularly neat overprint, existing in two types (as is often the case). We can also illustrate an example of the Khulna overprint in blue (an unrecorded color)  on the 3p (an unrecorded value). Overprints on the Service issues are always treated separately, and much the same remarks as above apply; plenty of errors can be found. Among the centers which carried these out was Bahawalpur, but the main centers were Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore.

Hand stamping on ordinary stamps was usually carried out with a die made from rubber, a single impression of the word ‘PAKISTAN’. Occasionally metal dies were used. Some of the dies were used so much that they became very worn, and measuring these becomes extremely difficult. Naturally, with impressions being applied by hand and one-at-a-time, inverted, double and other errors abound, with some centers having almost as many errors as normal – usually there is not much of a premium involved. Cancellations have always been invaluable as an aid to identifying hand stamp origins, but one must take care to disregard casual carriage. The Brooke Bond Tea Travelers had to send in daily reports from some tiny places, and thanks to matching up pieces from their reports with their known itineraries, many hand stamps were identified which might otherwise have proved impossible. This is a huge and fascinating field, and we will just highlight a few items to show the sort of range available to the collector.

Hand stamps can be found on long-obsolete stamps, as mentioned above. The 25r KG V illustrated was hand stamped at Peshawar and postmarked at Sadar Bazar. Seemingly a quantity of the ¼a Inauguration of New Delhi turned up at Peshawar and these were hand stamped; we illustrate one with a neat Jamrud C.D.S.  Even booklet panes can be found, and some of the 1946 Victory issue were still in post office stocks; these make wonderful items for the KG VI collector, especially with the increasing popularity of the Victory issue. Beware, however, of forgeries. As is so often the case with sub-continental philately, if it can be forged or faked, it probably has been. Great care is recommended when purchasing the more expensive items.

The Hyderabad hand stamp is one of those more frequently encountered. Although this was a perfectly genuine hand stamp, it was extensively misused to provide quantities of inverted overprints, as well as unauthorized colors, and large blocks were made available to collectors – there is some suggestion that Jal Cooper, a much-respected Indian dealer of the time, used agents to acquire many of these. While mentioning Jal Cooper, it seems appropriate to say that he and several others often signed pieces which passed through their hands. Mrs. Earl, a British stamp dealer, made herself quite a reputation with her expertise in the field; she did not sign items, as far as I know, but handwrote notes on pieces. Col. Martin signed many items, and Ron Doubleday is certainly the acknowledged expert in this country. For years, in my capacity as a dealer, I have made certain that he has seen every item of any significance which has passed through Murray Payne Ltd’s stock. As a personal aside, I should say that his generosity with his time and expertise has been absolutely amazing, and I will be eternally grateful!

One of the most attractive of the hand stamps is the copper die used at Rawalpindi which was used for hand stamping when the shortage of stamps became imminent. This was used in green, and makes a striking sight. This die was not in use for long, before being replaced by a rubber die, struck in black, blue or purple; this, in turn, was replaced by a third type, struck at the Treasury and the same as on the Service stamps (forgeries of this type are common). Hand stamps on Service stamps were, again, treated separately from those on ordinary stamps; they were not available from post offices. Lahore was one of the main centers for hand stamping Service issues, and no less than 21 dies are recorded by Doubleday and Isani. These were widely disseminated, many different postmarks can be found and with the multitude of dies, it is easy to think that one has found something new from somewhere obscure!

Peshawar used metal dies in black and violet, and rubber dies in both colors as well. There are some nice color combinations possible. As with the ordinary stamps, the rubber die (type 1) was set up by the Treasury as 16 in a row. Sometimes a pair can be found showing a discrepancy between the overprints, when a ‘chopped-off’ pair of dies has been used.  In fact, Doubleday and Isani’s listing of the Peshawar hand stamps on Service stamps runs to 100 items, not counting varieties. If one could find the material, this might be a good area to specialize in, with plenty of visual impact possible. Rawalpindi also produced many collectable items. Other smaller places of origin of these hand stamps include Campbellpore, Montgomery, Lyallpur and Jhang.

We have now taken an overview of the various overprints and hand stamps on stamps. I do not plan to review the postal stationery overprints and hand stamps. However, we have not quite finished – we have not yet considered the typed and manuscript overprints. The typed overprints exist

almost exclusively on Service stamps, those on Postage stamps being ‘curiosities’ only. About one in seven thousand Service stamps has a typed overprint and Doubleday and Isani observe that ‘Nearly all copies were used by military units or have a military flavor’. By observing the characteristics of the various typewriters used, it is possible to be reasonably certain whether such items are genuine. Those typed on unfamiliar machines have to be considered as ‘wrong’ until enough examples have been seen to authenticate a new type. We can illustrate a Nowshera typewritten overprint on a 1r.Manuscript overprints may be found both on ordinary and Service stamps. Bara Fort,  which was a small military establishment near Peshawar, had a post office which was run by the troops themselves. They evidently had a stock of Indian stamps in February 1948, and decided to overprint them in manuscript. A couple of instances of different handwriting are known, explained by a different soldier being on duty. While Bara Fort was the only office to use Urdu lettering, Roman lettering is known from several sources, sometimes in capitals and sometimes in script.


-       Pakistan Overprints on India 1948-9, Col. D . R. Martin

-       Pakistan Overprints on Indian Stamps and Postal Stationery 1947-9, R. Doubleday and Usman Ali Isani

-       Various articles in 'Stamp Collecting' and elsewhere,  by Ron   Doubleday and others

-        Personal correspondence with Ron Doubleday Harold Wasserman

-        Illustrations - Tanzy Brown