New Collector – Post Office Commemorative Covers and the New York Exhibition

June 27, 2016 by Stanley Gibbons

The below column is taken from the June issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly. Writer, John Holman takes a look this month at Post Office commemorative covers and New York exhibitions.

Commemorative covers

Most collectors are well aware of first day covers, and indeed for some collectors they have greater appeal than mint or used stamps. Less collected, but not necessarily less collectable, are commemorative covers, produced for an event or anniversary rather than for the first day of issue of new stamps. Commemorative covers are produced by postal authorities, also by philatelic and other societies, event organisers, commercial firms, charities and other organisations. The article explores some of the many commemorative covers produced by the British Post Office and, later in the year, at those produced by stamp exhibition organisers and others.

19th century examples 

In 1890 the Post Office produced a cover to mark the 50th anniversary of the Penny Post and the Penny Black stamp. The cover, which included a card on which to write a message, carried an imprinted 1d. stamp but was sold for 1s., the premium going to postal charities. The cover features postmen of 1840 and 1890, a horse-drawn mail coach of 1790 and a mail train of 1890 with captions indicating their respective speeds of eight and 48 miles an hour. This ‘Postal Jubilee’ cover is both a commemorative cover and postal stationery item and remains a popular item today. Large quantities seem to have survived and mint examples are still available at low cost, although used examples with 1890 postmarks will cost more. Four examples of this cover, the correspondence card, and the poster announcing its sale were shown in Part 2 of Derek Connell’s excellent ‘The Philatelic Exhibitions of London’ series of articles (GSM May 2014). Some collectors and dealers took the opportunity of posting the 1890 cover, with current stamps added, in 2015 on the 175th anniversary of the Penny Post.


From the 1960s, when the Post Office realised the potential for philatelic sales, a number of commemorative covers were offered, some could be ordered by collectors in advance (like first day covers) or were sold from the Philatelic Bureau or at main post offices for collectors to ‘service’ themselves. An attractive cover was produced in 1967 to mark the bicentenary of Edinburgh New Town. Depicting Georgian buildings and the emblem of the Edinburgh International Festival, this cover is normally found with the 10s. Edinburgh Castle definitive stamp cancelled with a special ‘BI-CENTENARY AND ANNIVERSARY’ postmark which was in use for one month from 16 August 1967. Later that year a commemorative cover marked the 40th anniversary of the Post Office Underground Railway in London, used with three different special postmarks on 5−7 December 1967. Another cover commemorated the Railway’s 60th anniversary in 1987.

Part of the Underground Railway, now called MailRail, is being restored and will be a main attraction at the new Postal Museum due to open next year. Both the 1967 Edinburgh and Railway covers were inscribed ‘GPO Commemorative Cover’. The GPO (General Post Office) ceased in 1969, replaced by The Post Office, a public corporation rather than a government department. The cover of November 1969 for the 21st birthday of the Prince of Wales thus carried the new Post Office crown logo, the Prince’s coat of arms and a bilingual 21st birthday inscription. It can be found bearing 1969 Investiture stamps and/or the 5s. Caernarvon Castle high value definitive.


A 1969 cover marking the 21st birthday of the Prince of Wales. 

 Commemorative cover marking the 40th anniversary of the Post Office Underground Railway in London. 


The cover of May 1970 marking the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower is found with special cancels of Plymouth and Southampton on the 1s.6d. Mayflower stamp of the 1970 Anniversaries set. Other commemorative covers of the 1970s include: British Commonwealth Games Edinburgh (1970), Scandinavia ‘71 touring exhibition and Sir Walter Scott bicentenary (1971), John Knox quarter centenary (1972), last day of British PO on the Isle of Man (1973), opening of the CANTAT2 transatlantic telephone cable (1974)and The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Tour (1977).

British Commonwealth Games

A commemorative cover produced for the British Commonwealth Games Edinburgh, 1970


A cover featuring the locomotive Rocket commemorated the 150th anniversary of the ‘First Mail by Rail from Liverpool to Manchester’ in November 1980. Others in that decade, (inscribed ‘Souvenir’ rather than ‘Commemorative Cover’) marked the official opening by The Queen of the South West District Office at Nine Elms in London (1983) and the Scottish rugby team’s Triple Crown and Grand Slam success (1984). A cover worded ‘Posted at the NATIONAL EXHIBITION CENTRE Royal Mail’ was available at the Centre and can be found with the 1982 Car stamps cancelled by the Motor Show NEC Birmingham special handstamp of October 1982. The Midlands Postal Board produced a most pleasing cover for the National Garden Festival at Stoke-on-Trent in 1986.


In the 1990s most of the covers were produced as a result of local, rather than national, initiatives. Royal Mail in Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne respectively produced covers for the Royal Mail Fun Day in Birmingham (19 August 1990) and 10th anniversary of the Great North Run on 16 September 1990. Numerous covers were produced in the 1990s to commemorate the opening of new Royal Mail sorting and delivery offices, usually the covers were available only to staff and to dignitaries at the opening ceremonies. Such covers come onto the market from time to time and are normally of greater value than the more plentiful covers advertised in advance for sale to collectors. In some instances these complimentary covers bear cachets applied alongside, but not cancelling, the stamps as they were not announced in advance as special handstamps in Royal Mail’s Postmark Bulletin.

Commemorative Stamp

A commemorative cover presented to staff and dignitaries at the opening ceremony of Royal Mall’s Harlow delivery office 

New York exhibitions

The latest in a series of major international stamp exhibitions in the USA since 1913 took place from 28 May to 4 June at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York. The US Postal Service will issue souvenir sheets featuring intaglio-printed stamps in two colour configurations. The designs are based on two stamps issued in August 2015 and they will be used to promote the exhibition. The US Post Office has issued stamps or sheets for each international exhibition since 1926, although for the first in 1913 there were only Cinderella labels showing George Washington produced by the Hamilton Bank Note Co in sheets of 50. This will be the sixth international in New York (previously 1913, 1926, 1936, 1947 and 1956), others have been held in Washington (1966 and 2006), Philadelpia (1976), Chicago (1986), and San Franciso (1997).

The fifth US international (FIPEX) was held at the then new New York Coliseum in 1956. It is shown on a 3c. stamp issued to commemorate the event (SG 1078), and on two of six FIPEX stamps issued by Liberia (777/782). The Coliseum was designed by architects Leon and Lionel Levy in ‘a modified international style’ which included a low building with exhibition space and a 26-story office block. It took two years to build and an accident in 1955 resulted in the collapse of 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, one death and 50 injured. The Coliseum opened in April 1956 with three exhibitions: New York International Auto Show, National Photographic Show and the international philatelic exhibition.

 The 3c. US stamp Issued in 1956 to commemorate the Fifth International Philatelic Exhibition (FIPEX) 

 A design that depicts the New York Colisuem from the six-stamp Issued by Liberia in 1956 to mark the FIPEX exhibition

Discover more in the June issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly

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