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Chronology of Stamp Boxes Compiled by Jean Elley and other members of the Stamp Box Study Circle

Introduction: In the pre-stamp era, the letter-writing public would probably have used a desk fitted with a variety of compartments or a writing slope, similarly set up. They would have sealed their letter sheet (this is prior to envelopes) with a wafer seal, a quantity of which would have been supplied in a small box. Wafer seals continued to be used after 1840, but the wafer boxes, or the small compartments provided for them in desks, writing slopes or pen trays/ink stands would initially have provided a safe home for a supply of postage stamps. The growth of popularity for stamp boxes in the UK reflects the growth of literacy in the Victorian era. Church schools had been established from the 1820s, which meant that a growing number of the population were literate by the time that affordable postage rates were introduced. The Education Act of 1870 established Board Schools and compulsory education for all from the ages of 5 to 13 years, ensuring higher levels of literacy. The increase in letter-writing that took place led to the description of the years between 1880 and 1920 as a golden age for every-day correspondence and for a great variety of physical items to support this activity. This chronology is written from a mainly UK point-of-view – Great Britain was the first country to introduce adhesive labels to pre-pay the carriage of letters, and therefore the first to have stamp boxes. The introduction of stamps in countries other than the UK is noted in the table below: this is a selective list showing mainly countries which are known to have produced stamp boxes. A great variety of containers have been made specifically to store stamps safely and to dispense them. There are stamp boxes (which sit on a desk), stamp cases (which can be carried on the person, perhaps in a pocket, or suspended on a watch chain or chatelaine), and holders (dispensers) from which stamps can be withdrawn singly, sometimes with the help of a sprung plate and sometimes by simply pulling a stamp from a coil (roll) through a slot. A very wide range of materials have been used, many different techniques have been employed, and a great variety of styles. These containers have been made in many countries, in Europe, North and South America, the Near and Far East, Australasia, but often their country of origin may not always be immediately apparent. It is also not easy to be certain when some were made. The easiest items to date with certainty are British silver cases and boxes, which carry a hallmark. Items with a British or US Patent Number or a British Registered Design Number will provide a likely date for their manufacture. Some boxes and cases can be approximately dated by their style. As an example, dispensers for coils (rolls) of stamps were more popular in the United States where stamps in this format were available earlier than in the UK which introduced coils in 1913.

Chronology: 1840

On 6 May the first adhesive postage stamps in the world were introduced in Great Britain – the Penny Black and Twopenny Blue (imperforate, needed cutting by counter clerks).


Earliest mention of postage stamps in a UK Registered Design (No 66) by John Sheldon for his “Patent” Pocket Escritoir. This had a specific recess allocated for Postage Stamps, which would have held up to 100 stamps. It is possibly the earliest datable example of a “combination” piece – a multi-use item not specifically for one purpose.


First issue of postage stamps in Brazil and two Swiss cantons. 1


Wooden stamp boxes are known to have been available in the UK. These were made in two areas – Kent/Sussex (Tunbridge Ware) and in Scotland (later known as Mauchline Ware). Some contain a note of a date in the 1840s in manuscript which looks contemporary, 1843 in a Mauchline Ware box and 1844 in a Tunbridge Ware box being the earliest dates seen.


First issue of stamps in the United States. [Subsequently a great variety of stamp boxes, cases and dispensers for coils (rolls) of stamps were produced, with production actively continuing into the late 1930s.]

1847 – 1854

Introduction of higher denominations of stamps (ie embossed, imperforate) in the UK.


First issue of stamps in France and Belgium. [France particularly has produced a great variety of stamp boxes, notably wood and porcelain, including those from Limoges – which continue to be made today. Belgium became noted for wooden boxes with painted lids, made in Spa.]


Earliest UK Registered Design (No 2502) for a stamp box granted to Charles Maschwitz Junior. The box has a sprung dispensing plate to ease the removal of stamps for use.


First issue of stamps in Austria, Spain and Switzerland (as a country). [Stamp boxes are known from all three countries, with Switzerland producing carved wooden Alpine stamp boxes.].


Stamp boxes from at least one of the Scottish box makers (C harles Stiven & Son of Laurencekirk) were known to have been displayed at the Great Exhibition. The makers of Tunbridge Ware were also known to have displayed at the exhibition, with one of them, Henry Hollamby, displaying a desk set which may very well have included a stamp box. The first printed mention of stamp boxes by name was in the exhibition catalogue, with the first advertisements appearing at about the same time.


First issue of stamps in Denmark. [Subsequently Denmark produced silver stamp cases and porcelain boxes.]


First issue of stamps in the Netherlands. [Subsequently, the Netherlands became noted for silver multi-compartment cases with embossed Dutch historical scenes on their lids.]


Earliest date seen on an embroidered Bristol Board stamp case (UK).


Introduction of road-side post boxes in mainland UK, making the posting of letters easier and possibly leading to an increased use of containers for storing stamps.


First issue of stamps in Portugal.


UK Registered Designs for a pocket stamp box and damper (No 3696, Hardy & Jolly), a portable label case and damper (No 3636, Henry Moore Naylor) and a Rotary Stamp Box (No 3648, Thomas Wharton), each made in brass.


Introduction of perforations in the UK to aid separation of individual stamps. [After this, it would have become practical to use a horizontal strip of 12 stamps or a vertical strip of 20 stamps (from a sheet as a coil of stamps) in a dispenser.]


UK Patent No 1113 granted to Thomas Dawson for a combination piece which incorporated a dip pen and an Everpoint pencil, with reservoirs for both ink and leads and a compartment for storing one or more postage stamps (ie coiled within the barrel of the pen/pencil). 2


First issue of stamps in Norway and Sweden. [Both countries subsequently produced silver items for stamp storage, and Sweden al produced many wooden boxes.]

1855 – 1876

A series of further introductions of other denominations of stamps in the UK, which led to the appearance of Stamp Boxes with more than one compartment, both in the UK and elsewhere. At the start of this period the UK boxes were most likely to have been made in wood or brass, and French boxes were most likely to be have been made in wood or porcelain.


First issue of stamps in Russia. [Subsequently Russia became noted for stamp boxes produced by Fabergé as well as for lacquered papier maché stamp boxes with Russian scenes on the lid].


A definitive date for the introduction of slopes (straight or curved/dished) into stamp boxes is not possible. However, it is highly likely that porcelain boxes with slopes were being produced in France in the 1850s, and that wooden boxes with slopes were being made in both Scotland (Mauchline Ware) and France by the 1870s. In the UK, silver boxes with slopes were being produced in the 1890s.


First issue of stamps in Italy. [Subsequently Italy produced micro mosaic stamp boxes and inlaid wood boxes from Sorrento.]


UK Patent No 3388 for a sprung stamp applicator granted to Sir John MacNeill. One was made in silver by Robert Hennell, with a London hallmark for 1869. This was designed to hold stamps and moisten one stamp at a time and apply it to an envelope and is probably the earliest hallmarked container made for stamps.


First issue of stamps in Japan. [The finest Japanese stamp boxes were made in Komai. Japan also produced fine porcelain boxes, usually with lift-off lids, and lacquer boxes.]


First issue of stamps in the German Empire. [Germany subsequently produced carved wooden boxes, fine porcelain boxes (eg Meissen and Dresden) and later still, art nouveau metal boxes.]


Trade with the Far East opened up, leading to imports of stamp boxes and cases made in China, Japan and Burma for the European and American markets.


First of a series of Registered Designs in the UK from Avery & Son and other makers for stamp cases with one or more compartments, usually made in brass. Many bear an 1874 date,


First issue of stamps in China. [China went on to produce a variety of enamelled stamp boxes as well as carved lacquer ones – mainly for export to the West.]


Earliest datable silver stamp case in the UK. Designed by Joseph Hayes Taylor, it is a locket with a swivelling inner sleeve, carrying a registered design mark for 28 January 1880.


UK Registered Design 45818 was granted for "internal fittings for stamp cases". This resulted in gold tooling of frames on the pockets designed for stamps within a leather wallet made by T J Smith & Son and Downes. The tooling on the frames mimicked the frame design of the Victorian stamps.


UK Registered Design 102604 granted to John Ashwin of Birmingham for a pocket case incorporating a scale to weigh a letter. 3


Postcards introduced in the UK. Rate was ½ d, and the first weight step for letters was 1d, hence the use of ½d and 1d stamps (or illustrations or this description) on stamp boxes and cases in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods.


First edition of the (paper and card) Wonderland Postage Stamp Case (with 12 pockets for stamps) invented by Lewis Carroll, published by Emberlin & Son, Oxford

1890 – 1914

The main period for manufacture of Stamp Boxes and Cases in the UK in general, and specifically for silver items as the falling price of silver from 1874 to 1896 made them more affordable.

1903 – 1910

Peak period for the production in the UK of silver (and less frequently gold) envelope-style locket cases.


UK Patent 23503 granted to Lionel Asprey for a dispensing stamp box with either one, two or three sections for coils of stamps.


Introduction of stamp booklets in the UK, and of stamp booklet holders. Increasing use of stamp booklets would lead to less need for containers for individual stamps.


Introduction of stamps in rolls (coils) in the USA.


UK Registered Design 573577 granted for a design to mark the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. This design was used by Goss & Company on one of their then standard range of china stamp boxes.


Introduction of stamps in coils in the UK.


In the US, Abercrombie & Fitch was retailing a silver four-section coil dispensing box. The sections were marked for 2c, 3c and 6c stamps and Airmail labels. This box is datable by the postage rates to between 15 December 1918 and 30 June 1919, and could well be the earliest stamp box to acknowledge an Airmail service, introduced in the US on 15 May 1918.


First UK Registered Design (No 783309) for a hinged booklet holder was granted to GA & H Rogers (trading as E E Rogers) – these were mainly made in chrome.


Formation of the Stamp Box Society (predecessor of the Stamp Box Study Circle).


Individually numbered limited edition of 40 of a two-compartment silver stamp box commissioned by the Stamp Box Society to celebrate the 150 th anniversary of the introduction of the 1d Black. Individually numbered limited edition of 300 of an enamelled stamp box by Halcyon Days to celebrate the same anniversary.


Limited edition of 25 of a Tunbridge Ware stamp box commissioned by the Stamp Box Study Circle to celebrate the Millennium.

Prepared Spring 2013


Stamp Boxes  

Submitted by Jean Elley

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