Introduction to College Stamps

The first Oxford college to issue stamps was the newly founded Keble in 1871. Other Oxford colleges then followed suit: Hertford (1875), Merton (1876), Lincoln (1877), Exeter (1882), St John's (1884) and All Souls (1884). Due to the suppression of the issues by the Post Office, stamps prepared for Balliol in 1885 were never issued and Corpus Christi got no further than the design stage. Keble, Hertford, Merton and Exeter also issued prepaid envelopes or postcards (Keble continuing till the 1890s). The main suppliers were local stationers: Emberlin and Son and Spiers and Son. Early Keble and Merton stamps, the Balliol stamps and all postal stationery were embossed; the remaining stamps were lithographed, except the Lincoln issue (designed by Allan Wyon) which was recess-printed.
The first Cambridge college to issue stamps was Selwyn in 1882, which were supplied individually separated. Only two other colleges issued stamps: Queens' (1883) and St John's (1884). All the stamps were lithographed. They were supplied by a local stationer W P Spalding. Prepaid envelopes were issued by Jesus (1871) and proposed by Clare (1879).
The designs are typically based on the college arms. Only the Lincoln stamp bears a value (one penny); other stamps and stationery were charged from ½d to 1¼d. Some original designs, dies and plates exist. Die proofs survive for most issues, though nearly all are reprints produced in the 1890s. Many of the lithographed issues and the recess-printed stamps of Lincoln have been plated.
Though stamps were often cancelled by a pen mark or left uncancelled, Keble initially used a five dots obliteration and Hertford a cross. Oxford covers are scarce and Cambridge rare. Used postal stationery is also rare.
The best books on the subject are Lister 1974 and Sigee 2012. The stamps only are listed in Gibbons 2011.
Another Oxford issue of this period are the penny stamps overprinted or underprinted O.U.S. (vertically between wavy lines) for the Oxford Union Society from 1858 to c.1885. Post Office postal stationery was also handstamped or embossed for the Society. For all these see West 2012. The stamps only are listed in Gibbons 2011.
Keble issued a stamp for its centenary in 1970. A label of uncertain status was issued for Magdalen College Oxford in the 1950s. Labels with college stamp designs were produced for Philatelic Congresses at Cambridge in 1938, 1967, 1990 and 2016.

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This page is maintained by Vincent West. Last updated 4 Apr 2017