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Ads.....A Bad Idea?

Advertising has been with us for so long it has become a part of our daily life. Many years ago, some firms saw the potential of advertising their wares or firm name on stamps. Besides overprinting, the use of back printing appeared. Later, booklets became popular. The blank labels beside a stamp could be utilized in booklet panes. Even full-sized filler pages were used, as well as the front or back cover. Full sheets of stamps seem to have blank spaces just waiting for an advertiser. This field of collecting can be fun and a challenge. Samples given will have you pondering–are ads on stamps–a good idea!

Perhaps, you have forgotten as early as 1963, Robert Brodie, vice-president of a New York advertising agency suggested to the U.S. Post Office Department that advertising on the back of postage stamps could help erase the postal deficit. Nothing developed and it was forgotten.

Again, in the early 1980’s, Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr. R-Calif. proposed the use of private advertisements on U.S. stamps which would help reduce the postal deficit. His idea was found impracticable.

The most popular and still available for stamp collectors are the stamps of New Zealand on the definitive issues of 1893, where advertisers were allowed to place advertising on the backs. The overprint was applied to stamps prior to gumming. They were produced under contract by a private firm, who also advertised his business. Other stamps advertised pickles, coal, clothing, Beecham’s Pills, Sunlight Soap, coffee, sewing machines, teas, and even a dentist who declared he would spare his patients agony by the use of nitrous oxide gas for painless extractions. Within two years, the advertising campaign was discontinued, due to the objection of the public, who feared they might lick off the ink, which might be harmful or have an unpleasant taste.


In 1887, Pears’ Soap underprinted their name using the British 1/2p and one penny stamps of the Jubilee issues of 1887-92. Their postal use was vetoed by the Postmaster General. The firm dismissed the warning to desist and continued for a time before giving the stamps away as souvenirs.

During the 1960’s, several firms were experiencing pilferage of stamps by their employees. By 1867, the Postal authorities of Great Britain granted the privilege of using imprints of company names to interested firms but only four took advantage. Although, not intended as an advertising medium, they have found their way into the annals of stamp collectors, who some consider such stamps as a type of advertising. These imprints can be found on the 1/2p, one-1/2p, 2p denominations and even to one shilling (Shown: Copestake Moore Grampton & Co. London). This was a mail order company, 4 Bow Churchyard, London. The senior partner was Sampson Copestake. This firm underprinted the backs of Queen Victoria one penny red and also on the 1/2p, the tiny stamp of 1870.

In 1915, New Zealand using the King George V 1/2p yellow green stamps issued in booklets containing six stamps and utilized the selvedge for advertising. Such advertisers were "Parisian" ties, and "Abdulla" Egyptian cigarettes. In 1935, the one-pence scarlet kiwi stamps were used in the form of a booklet pane of six, whereas, the advertising for "Parisian" ties were again used on the selvedge.


A New Zealand stamp booklet appeared in 1954 with the 12 one-penny orange and 12 three-penny vermilion of Queen Elizabeth II (Scott #289 and 292). Inside were six attractive advertisements–large enough to catch the eye of a potential customer. Beside Crompton lamps were Fordson Major, Eveready batteries, BP Petrol, Ford genuine parts and accessories, and General Accident Fire & Life Assnce. Corpn. Ltd.

The Johannesburg South Africa International Philatelic Exhibition opened November 2, 1936. To help defray the cost of the exhibition, two miniature sheets which were made by overprinting booklet panes and overprinted JIPEX 1936. They featured the stamps of the Springbok 1/2 penny (Scott #72) and the one-penny Van Riebeeck’s ship (Scott #73). Besides advertisements for the telephone and telegraph, were ads for tobacco and pipes.

Between 1924-25, Italy used the stamps of 1901-22 with advertising labels attached. Scott #105d features De Montel lamps, Scott #105f Reinach machines. Shown is Victor Emmanuel III on the 50 centesimi stamp (Scott #105).

Denmark (Scott #90 and #95) were issued in a booklet in the 1930’s. The unused space was sold to private concerns, such as Bornenes Kontor and others.

Belgium used the "Arms" type of 1935 (Scott #202) for advertising purposes. Philatelists were urged to buy the Saribo album and again in 1941, they utilized the one-franc stamps featuring Leopold III (Scott #311) to produce a full sheet where ten ads appeared vertically on the left side selvedge. They were printed in the same rose color as used in the likeness of Leopold III. All the ads were philatelically orientated, such as albums, stamp dealers, magazines and accessories. Only if the ads were connected to a stamp and placed on an envelope, did the advertiser really benefit.

From France some advertising labels were left intact and saw postal use. Issued in 1926, the "Sower" issue (Scott #146) produced a booklet with a pane of ten stamps. A sample of three ads was Bledine, Savon, and La Redoute & Roubaix. France again used the issues of the 1926 "Sower" 20 centimes (Scott #167) and the "Peace" 65 centimes (Scott #271) of 1937 with the advertiser Byrrh whose products would give one vitality and serenity.

Although booklets in Great Britain were issued in 1904 using the King Edward VII stamps, the use of advertising applied on booklet covers began in 1911 with the King George V stamps. Taking up at least 1/4 of the front cover, as advertiser, Harmer, Rooke & Co., urged collectors to send their stamp collection to the world’s leading stamp auctioneer. In 1971, the same company created a bolder ad on booklet covers. During the next few years, other advertisers took advantage of this medium, including Punch Magazine, Bourville Cocoa, Turnwright’s Toffee Delight and Stephen’s Pen and Ink Co.

In 1968, Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II Machin stamps were combined in a booklet. There was a total of eight ads for Sun Life Assurance Co.





In 1969, eight ads for the same company appeared using six 4p bright red stamps (MH7). In 1968, for only three stamps, customers would receive a booklet which described the secrets of handwriting (Scott #MN97). A booklet of eight Machin stamps (MH240) issued in 1995, utilized the inside cover where at the branches of W.H. Smith 50p would be given with a purchase of their stationery.

During the same era, the firm of Thorn-tons chocolates would give four chocolates boxed and a greeting card for four first class stamps. Classic Card Co. of Bradford offered one pound off the purchase of greeting cards, and Sainsbury’s "The Magazine" would give one year of free shopping with details in their current issues.

In 1996, the "scratch" card became popular. Using QEII machins (Scott #189), customers were reminded that with a purchase of two pound, fifty stamps, one could receive a scratch card with a chance of winning a free trip to Disney World in Florida. This was sponsored by the Royal Mail. Also, in 1996, three different booklets containing ten first class stamps were issued. One featured the "Hurdles", another "Archery" and another, "Shot Put". Each booklet showed a scratch card on the reverse based on the different Olympic events. The Royal Mail Olympic Promotion Center was the sponsor.

In 1998, the Royal Mail Disney Promotions offered a booklet pane of ten first class stamps and a chance of winning a free trip to Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. The reverse side of the folder featured the scratch and win. Again in 1998, using the first class Machin stamps in a booklet of ten, the Royal Mail JVC Promotions pictured a JVC camcorder on the cover. Inside, details were given on how to enter the prize drawing to win. What could be better to win than candy, stationery or even a camcorder? A booklet of ten, first-class Machin stamps were issued again in 1998 by the Royal Mail Woolworth’s promotions for their patrons to win a Peugeot 106 car.

South West Africa (Scott #146) promoted advertising in two languages. Issued during World War II, the message urges to "Make National Security Your Own...Buy Union Loan Certificates".

In 1964, Sierra Leone began using ads on the back of their unusual shaped stamps. In 1967, the 10-cent airmail stamp (C67) contained six ads on the reverse with familiar names such as Chrysler, Philco and Avon. While celebrating their 5th Anniversary of Independence, several values were back printed with advertisements. Harry Winston on New York City revealed his wares as rare jewels of the world.

In 1920, Germany issued booklets featuring Scott #’s 123 and 124, in which ads can frequently be found. One example shown have ads for the wash table (sink) featuring hair water, toothpowder with peppermint and toilet–bleach powder.

The German Democratic Republic issued Scott #330c and Scott #333 in booklet form in 1957. The woman in the kitchen says, "Remember Jolan the–Kitchen Scraps! The airlines advertise, "Flying–Always an experience"–German "Lufthansa". Others promote the lottery. "Play with"-"win with"-"in the numbers lotto" and "persistence leads to the goal". And VEB sport system–choose 6 out of 49–the huge chance to win.

Issued in 1992, a self-adhesive booklet (Scott #1246b) showing threatened species stamps were issued by Australia. A coupon was provided to enter a drawing to win a trip for two to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona flying Quantas. In 1993, Australia issued self-adhesive booklets picturing Australia’s famous trains. On the cover of the three-folded booklet, customers were invited to win a journey on the famous "Ghan" train, which was pictured on a stamp in the booklet (Scott #1329).

During the United States Civil War, rare metals such as gold, silver and even the baser metals were needed for war munitions. The government tried an invention of Jay Gault that he had patented in 1862. A mint U.S. stamp, using denominations from one to ninety cents, was placed in a round metal disk and covered with mica. Private concerns impressed their names and products on the reverse. They can be found in Scott’s Specialized Catalogue.

From 1862 to 1899, the private die proprietary medicine stamps flourished where advertisers touted their companies and nostrums. Also, during that time, advertisers used proprietary stamps impressing or ink stamping their company, or just initials. W & P stood for Weeks & Potter, famous for their Cutacura ointment and soap. H T H was the firm of Henry T. Hembold shown on RB14b. Another favorite for advertisers was the use of the 1898 "Battleship" proprietary stamps. Dr. Jayne used Dr. D.J. & S; W & R was Wells, Richardson Co. Others included the Antikamnia Chemical Co; and C.H. Fletcher (The Centaur Co.) produced Castoria. In 1898, Dr. Kilmer of Binghamton, N.Y. used the regular issues of 1894, which were overprinted Dr. K. & Co. Charles Osgood used RB18 to overprint his name. This date, March 8, 1883, was the last time he advertised.

With the enactment of the 1906 Food and Drug Act, the demise of the private die stamps and their advertisers ended a colorful era.

Contact's: Kenna Boyd