The £5 Orange Stamp that wasn’t needed

Part of the Iconic Stamp series. Click here to see the full list of Iconic Stamps.

“For any serious GB collector who has passed the stage of having a Penny Black, it is likely to be their next dream or certainly amongst their foremost philatelic desires.” These were the closing words of Dr. John Horsey when he recently gave a presentation to the Royal Philatelic Society London, on a stamp that wasn’t actually needed for postal purposes – the £5 Orange.

There are some remarkable stamps out there; printed on wood, cork, plastic and even stamps made from foil! However, there is one special stamp that many GB collectors aspire to have – the £5 Orange. Along with the Penny Black, £1 Seahorse and £1 PUC, the £5 Orange is a stamp that is a true emblem of Great Britain philately.

To celebrate this iconic stamp we have put together a range of information and items, including some free downloads, making this the most comprehensive hub relating to the £5 Orange:

  • Introductory details and stamps giving an overview of the £5 Orange
  • A fascinating article on the fraud carried out at the time
  • A comprehensive 80 page award-winning exhibit to view
  • An excellent 16 page research article to download
  • Access to a 53 minute video that delves into the details
  • 2 offers on the highly acclaimed book ‘The £5 Orange’.


The first £5 Orange was not a postage stamp at all, but was issued to cover the cost of sending lengthy telegrams. When the Post Office issued its first telegraph stamps in 1876, the highest value was 5 shillings, but large telegrams could cost several pounds to send (one is recorded which was over £32!) and the forms were just not large enough to take all the stamps required. As a result, higher values, including the £5 Orange ‘Telegraphs’, were added to the series in 1877. At the time of issue this was equivalent to over a month’s wages for a farm labourer.

£5 Orange Telegraph Stamp


The telegraph stamp lasted around five years. In October 1881 it was decided that telegraph fees should henceforth be paid using postage stamps and all telegraph stamps were to be withdrawn. As the highest value postage stamp at the time was only £1, a £5 postage stamp was needed for the telegraph service. The printing plate of the £5 Telegraphs was adapted by simply removing the word ‘Telegraphs’ and printing the word ‘Postage’ in the space created in a separate operation, hence the similarity of the stamps.

£5 Orange Postage Stamp


So, the £5 Orange ‘Postage’ stamp was not actually used for postage – it was primarily for telegrams. However, it was also used for other purposes, such as bulk mail payments and internal accounting. The stamp was used extensively in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast, possibly as a method of recording the excise duty paid by distilleries in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The £5 Postage stamp had a life span of over 20 years, the latest recorded usage being 3rd January 1905, but it is believed that at least one London post office still had some in stock up to the 1920s.


Once the stamp design had been agreed, a small block of steel (the Die) was engraved and printings (Die Proofs) taken from it, before final approval was given. The die proofs of the £5 Telegraphs were all in black, on glazed white card and have blank squares in the corners – where the corner letters and plate numbers would be inserted. There are several minor differences between them, as the design was gradually perfected, and it is not clear why quite so many proofs were taken.

Die Prrooofs


Like most stamps of the period, the decision on its eventual colour was taken after a number of trial printings in a variety of colours, ranging from gold to slate-blue, dull claret, dull mauve, and pale ultramarine. Initially, it was felt that it should be printed in gold to reflect the high value of the stamp, but at approximately £1 per sheet the cost was prohibitive. The preferred option was pale ultramarine, but the result was very similar to the current £5 Probate Court stamp, so to avoid any possible confusion orange was chosen.

£5 Orange Die Proofs


For the £5 Orange Telegraphs stamp, the orange colour original selected and used to print the ‘Imprimatur’ (registration) sheet was a mixture of mercuric sulphide and lead chromate – a highly toxic concoction, to say the least! The current whereabouts of the main part of this sheet is unknown, but 19 examples taken from it are recorded. A second imprimatur sheet was produced for the £5 Orange Postage stamp, this survives in the Postal Museum, and from this sheet 28 examples were removed. Several of these are held in various museums or institutional collections, leaving only 14 recorded and available to collectors. Unfortunately due to their large size many of these have become damaged over the years, however, a superb example lettered BF can be seen below.

£5 Orange Postage Stamp


“SPECIMEN” and “CANCELLED” hand stamps were produced for a variety of reasons. Stamps were kept for reference or for trials by the printers, the Post Office and the Inland Revenue. They were distributed to postmasters and overseas authorities to notify them of a new issue, in all cases the purpose of the “Specimen” hand stamp was the same – to invalidate the use of the stamp for postage and fiscally account for the removal of the stamp from stock. The £5 Orange can be found with no less than six different types of hand stamp, and is one of the few British stamps that can be found with two different types on the same stamp.

Two examples can be seen below, the “IR OFFICIAL” trial over a type 9 specimen is a very rare departmental stamp essay, only four were believed to have been produced, only three of which appear to have survived.



One feature of the £5 Orange, which is not widely recognized, is the wide variety of shades produced over its various printings. In 1877 the first £5 Telegraphs were a distinctive bright orange, but it lost its glow four years later and became a dull orange in 1881. Then, when the first ‘Postage’ stamps appeared in 1882 it had transformed into more of a dull orange-buff. From the late 1880’s and early 1890’s a dull orange-red, reddish orange in the mid 1890’s then a very bright orange red for the final 1900 printing.

Seven printings of the postage stamp took place; initial supplies were on a “blued” security paper that was used for various revenue stamps. The blueing was produced by adding prussiate of potash to the paper pulp, the blueing effect was extremely inconsistent varying dramatically across a single sheet. For the 3rd printing in 1889 blued paper was abandoned and white paper was introduced. Stamps from the original printings on blued papers are extremely rare and worth considerably more than their white paper counterparts.

£5 Orange Postage Stamp


Despite a large quantity of £5 Oranges having been printed, the Telegraphs stamp, in particular, is very rare in mint condition, with less than ten examples currently believed to survive in private hands. Mint £5 Orange Postage stamps are far commoner than the Telegraph equivalents, however, damage resulting from their large size and the ravishes of time means truly superb examples are rarely encountered; the original printings on blued paper are justifiably classed as world rarities. As late as the 1960’s as many as five complete sheets from the white paper printings were thought to exist, unfortunately due to commercial forces it is believed these have all now been split. Mint pairs or blocks of four are nowadays very rarely seen.

Mint Oranges


A used £5 Orange is the pride and joy of many a Great Britain collection and a sadly unfilled gap in countless more. It is not especially scarce but its desirability and market forces tend to make it expensive. Again, damage is commonplace and superb examples are keenly sought, the stamp can be found with a wide range of cancels: some common and others only known from single examples.

Used pairs and blocks, again are extremely scarce, the largest known is a colossal block of ten, an item, we at Stanley Gibbons, had the privilege of handling in 2014.

£5 Orange Postage Stamps


With the death of Queen Victoria and the accession of King Edward VII new postage stamps were required for all values including the £5 Orange, unfortunately in 1902 they noticed the consumption of £5 Oranges had declined enormously over the previous few years and the proposed issue was abandoned. Today only a couple of pieces of artwork and a few die proofs survive and are available to collectors.



Given the extraordinary high value of the stamp, it will come as no surprise that attempts were made by Post Office employees to benefit from its fraudulent use or re-use. An article by Dr. John Horsey in the January 2016 issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly shows some examples of such activities. Download the article here. 

John Horsey Article GSM


Dr. John Horsey’s collection was awarded a ‘Large Gold’ medal at Autumn Stampex 2013. It encapsulates everything the stamp collector would like to know about the £5 Orange including major frauds, colour trials, artwork and imprimaturs. This 80-page display is available to view as a PDF:

The £5 Telegraphs – introduction and die proofs (Pages 1-10)
– plate considerations and colour trials (Pages 11-24)
– specimens and issued stamps (Pages 25-32)
The £5 Postage stamp and its specimen overprints (Pages 33-41)
– shades and cancellations (Pages 42-47)
– fraudulent and genuine usage (Pages 48-52)
– the plate varieties (Pages 53-62)
The £5 IR Officials (Pages 63-64)
Unification (Pages 65-71)
Forgeries (Pages 72-78)
The £5 King Edward VII (Pages 79-80)

JHorsey Collection


On Thursday 1st October 2015 Dr. Horsey delivered an insightful and detailed presentation on the £5 Orange to the Royal Philatelic Society London. The presentation homes in on every subject matter of the £5 Orange with particular focus on the application of technology to identify differences in design, the frauds of the stamp and the distinction between blued and white papers. A handout/article was produced for this presentation and is a helpful guide to the £5 Orange – see link below. In addition, the Royal Philatelic Society London have kindly allowed access to the video (it’s normally only for society members). For further details of the society, please visit





An excellent resource area covering post office telegraph stamps has been created by Ian Pinwill and Paul Ramsay. This website includes full information on the £5 Telegraphs ranging from essays, die proofs, sheet layout, paper type, colour trials, imprimaturs, specimens and issued stamps.



This superbly illustrated 312 page book written by Dr. John Horsey covers all aspects of the £5 Orange.  For the first time under one cover this book contains the fruit of a lifetime’s research and presents a detailed analysis of over 3,500 £5 Oranges covering all aspects of this iconic stamp from essays; proofs; papers; trials; imprimaturs and specimens to its uses; cancellations; plate varieties; Officials; forgeries and related Cinderella items. Also included is an important section on the identification of forgeries and ‘enhancements’ and how to detect them including fake bluing, regumming, repairs, forged cancellations and fraudulent use.

It has received much acclaim, including reviews such as “The best philatelic book I have ever read” (Andrew Claridge).

We have two very special offers for you:

Buy a £5 Orange stamp and receive a free signed copy of Dr. John Horsey’s deluxe edition book worth £125.

book offer DELUXE

Get a 20% discount on the standard edition book detailing everything you need to know about the £5 Orange. Now £60.

book offers 20%

Pick your Iconic Stamp and don’t forget to tell us why! You will be in the chance to win an Iconic Stamp to the value of £500/$750. Read full terms and conditions here.

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