1894 Reply-Paid Essays

Figure 1. Thought to be the rough design submitted to De La Rue by the Postmaster General

Little seems to be known about the “Double Stamp” or “Reply Paid” essays, and what little information there is comes from documents in De La Rue’s archive. The first of which was a copy of a letter that was sent by the Postmaster General to the Board of Inland Revenue in a letter dated 7th November 1894:

“…the question is being considered of establishing a system of prepaying the reply to a letter sent abroad by means of a double stamp, and that it is desired to ascertain what would be the cost of manufacturing such a stamp in the usual way and supplying all the Offices in the United Kingdom with a small stock…

“…only such a supply would be needed, say 10,000 specimens, as would enable the Department to ascertain the opinion of Postal Administrations in all parts of the world on the merits of the system, and to make experiments.”

“The accompanying drawing shows roughly what it is that is required”.

I’m presuming that figure 1 was the item mentioned in the letter that was mocked up by the Postmaster General.

The next item of correspondence in the archive is a letter sent by De La Rue 13 days later on November 20th, in response to the previous letter:

“On appendix hereto in duplicate we submit the best specimen of a temporary 2½d. Double Reply Stamps which we can produce.”

Figure 2. Handpainted essay, ex “Severin” collection (Corinphila, April 2012)

Figure 2 shows a De La Rue handpainted essay, dated that same day as this letter but shows a different design to those that were submitted on the appendix page in figure 3. Presumably producing a completely new design for the proposed double stamp was thought by De La Rue to be unsuitable, as the Postmaster General had requested that the “sample stamps good enough for preliminary purposes ought…to be made at a comparatively trifling cost.”

De La Rue’s letter continued:

“For their production we shall require to be allowed to make a 20-set printing plate from the 1½d die, cutting away all the engraving except the head. In addition to this we shall have to make two more plates, one for the lettering and one for the engraved underprint.”

The appendix page in figure 3 shows two different suggestions for the wording of the overprint with three choices of colours for each, along with the “underprint” (background) and a cut-out of the Queen’s ahead affixed. This page illustrated comes from De La Rue archives. The appendix page that was submitted by De La Rue now resides in the R. M. Phillips collection in the Postal Museum. The Phillips collection also has the same six variations of the design as the appendix sheet but without the cut-out of the Queen’s head affixed.


Figure 3. Appendix page from the De La Rue archives


The rest of what little information is available can be gleaned only from the items available in the market place. Imperforate examples of the 1½d head die (with no value tablet and leaves) are reasonably plentiful. Less common are perforated or partially perforated examples showing the die and the background.

Figure 4 (above) and figure 5 (right), showing paste-up essays for the design and wording of the proposed stamp

Figure 6. Showing the overprint in black at top and blue on bottom


There are also some rare if not unique paste-up essays. Figure 4 shows a different shape for the frame surrounding the Queen’s portrait. Figure 5 shows a paste-up of the overprint which differs to the design of the overprint on the appendix page in figure 3, but appears to be the next step before what looks to be De La Rue’s chosen design in figure 6.

A block of eight, comprising four perforated double stamps imperf. in between, exists in the Phillips collection and shows the top two pairs without background and the lower two pairs with background, and the overprints in green, black, brown and blue.

The project obviously did not garner any support, and the third letter in the correspondence, dated 15th March 1895, concluded the matter with the return of all the items printed by De La Rue.

Sources and Further Reading
– Double Reply Postage Stamps by R. A. G. Lee RPD FRPSL, GB Journal Jan 1968, vol.6., no.6, p.73
– Reply Stamp Essays by F. J. Melville, The British Philatelist, Sep 1935
– The De La Rue History of British and Foreign Postage Stamps by John Easton
Phillips collection on the Postal Museum website