Overprints and surcharges: provisionals have many functions

Feb 25, 2008, 10 AM

By Janet Klug

Do you ever find yourself looking at an overprinted or surcharged stamp and wondering why that extra printing is there?

Recently I found myself staring at a Turkish stamp I had seen thousands of times in mixtures and in my albums. The basic 20-kurush deep blue President Ismet Inonu stamp (Scott 972) is certainly no beauty. The crescent moon and star printed over the face of the president, as shown in Figure 1, just adds insult to injury. What is the story about this?

The unoverprinted stamp was issued in 1948. By that time, Inonu, second president of the Republic of Turkey, had been in office for a decade. In 1950, Inonu was voted out of office.

This explains why, in 1951, existing stocks of stamps with Inonu's portrait were not just overprinted, but were nearly obscured beyond recognition for use as Official stamps.

The indignity of the overprint aside, Inonu returned to power in 1961 and served as prime minister of a coalition until 1965.

This overprint turned a regular postage stamp into an Official stamp (Scott O15) — a stamp used to pay postage on government correspondence. Seven different varieties of the overprint were used on various denomination of Inonu stamps.

The first, according to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, is 15½-millimeters wide and the points of the crescent moon do not touch the star. This is Scott type a. Type b is 14mm wide, and the lettering is thin with sharp, clean corners. Type c has heavy lettering with rounded corners. Both type b and type c have the points of the crescent moon touching the star.

From 1955 to 1957, a different style of overprint was used. It has wavy lines above and below the word "RESMI." The Scott standard catalog lists four types of this overprint. A 1k olive-black Official stamp with overprint type g (Scott O39) is shown in Figure 2.

If you can find examples of these varieties, you are well on your way to forming an interesting minispecialized collection. Best of all, it can be done on a shoestring budget — the most expensive stamp in the group has a $1 Scott catalog value in used condition. It might not be the most attractive collection in the world, but you will have fun hunting.

Turkey used an overprint to change the purpose of the stamp, but overprints have also been used to change the country that the stamp was issued by or for.

The first stamps of the French colony of Wallis and Futuna Islands were provisional overprints of stamps of New Caledonia, such as the 1930 10-centime magenta and Prussian blue Malayan Sambar postage due stamp (Scott J14) shown in Figure 3.

Overprints can also be commemorative in nature. The 1935 Samoan 1-penny lake stamp (Scott 163) shown in Figure 4 bears an overprint that commemorates the silver jubilee of the reign of King George V.

Some countries have allowed corporations or government agencies to use security overprints on stamp stocks to prevent pilferage by employees.

The 1953 British 2-penny red-brown Queen Elizabeth II stamp shown in Figure 5 bears a Southern Gas Board security overprint. The 2d stamp was used to pay the receipt tax and bears a typical revenue pen cancel.

King George II of Greece died in April 1947. Shortly after his death, the

Greek post office produced mourning stamps by overprinting a black border on stamps picturing the deceased king's portrait.

The Greek mourning stamps were also surcharged to new values. The 1947 Greek King George II mourning stamp (Scott 499) shown in Figure 6 was surcharged from 3 drachmas to 250d.

A surcharge refers to an overprint that changes the denomination of a stamp.

I had a lot of German inflation surcharges in my collection as a youth in the 1950s. Not knowing anything about stamp values or catalogs, I wrongly assumed that those humongous numbers meant that the stamps were valuable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many decades after they were issued, nearly all German inflation-era stamps are common and cheap to collect in mint condition.

Even so, they are enormously interesting, especially when put into the context of the human suffering they represent. Stories about the rigors of life in Germany in 1923 are plentiful. Economic disaster ensued when the Allied Reparation Commission required Germany to pay a whopping 132 billion gold marks in reparations for World War I.

Attempts to service the reparations payments precipitated hyperinflation. German currency was truly not worth the paper it was printed on. Shoppers carried money in shopping bags and wheelbarrows, but goods were scarce at any price. People burned money in their fireplaces to keep warm because it was cheaper than buying wood or coal.

Germany's hyperinflation is hauntingly documented by these stamps. A 1923 2-million-mark-on-300m deep green Numeral stamp (Scott 270) and a 1923 2-million-mark-on-200m rose red Numeral stamp (269) are shown in Figure 7.

At the beginning of 1921, the cost of mailing a domestic letter in Germany was 2m. On Nov. 1, 1923, after a period of high inflation, that same letter cost 100 million marks to mail.

Overprints and surcharges rarely add beauty to the underlying stamp, but they can definitely add interest to a collection: especially when you take the time to find out the reason why the overprints were applied.