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1857 Centenary Stamps

Occasionally, a query on “1857 Centenary stamps” is raised by Shri H C Mehta of Nadiad, why 15 np. stamp was issued when inland letter rate was 13 np., and why special Postmark was provided for 2 days?

While going through old issues of India’s Stamp Journals (ISJ) and the Philatelic Journal of India (PJI). I found the following information:

The July 1957 issue of PJI reports that Press information Bureau, Government of India informs that two special postage stamps will be issued to commemorate the Centenary of India’s First Struggle for Freedom which will have value of inland letter postage rate and the other will have value of foreign airmail rate to Europe.

The release of Commemorative stamps on the centenary of India’s First War of Independence was a rare example of confusion and chaos. The confusion was so great that no one till 12th August 1957 knew, whether stamps would be issued or not. Press Information Bureau of the Government of India issued in newspaper of 13th August 1957 a press release stating:

“The first in the series of postage stamps to commemorate the centenary of India’s First Struggle for Freedom will be issued on August 15 will be in the value of 90 naye paise which is the airmail rate to Europe.”

“This stamp will shortly be followed by another in the series bearing a portrait of the Rani of Jhansi. In connection with the issue of this stamp, the Posts and Telegraphs Department proposes to provide a First Day Cover, special cancellation at Philatelic Bureaux and a miniature sheet.“

This means that 90 np. stamp only will be issued on 15th August 1957. Even newspapers of 15th August 1957 illustrated the 90 np. stamp, but were silent on the issue of 15 np. stamp. But, the Postal Department issued both stamps on 15th August with official FDC and special cancellation. The miniature sheet was never issued to the public. Even the sale of 15 np. stamp was restricted to only 5 philatelic Bureaux at Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Nagpur and New Delhi, out of 13 such offices in whole of India. Left over philatelic Bureaux were Cuttack Hyderabad, Jaipur, Karnool, Lucknow, Patna, Shillong and Shimla.

Now the question arises:
1. Why sale of 15 np. stamp was restricted in first instance?
2. Why the special cancellation was given for 2 days i.e. 15th & 16th August. ?
3. Whether the special Post Mark was provided in Head offices other then philatelic bureaux?

In absence of official explanation and direct evidence, we have to bank upon circumstantial evidence and available materials.

In my opinion, the restriction on sale of 15 np. stamp was only because it was not in conformity to the inland letter postage rate. The inland letter postage rate was 13 np. at that time which was going to increase to 15 np. on 18th September 1957. Actually the hesitation to issue 15 np. stamp when letter rate was 13 np., created all confusion. It must be the last minute decision to issue the 15 np. stamp, so that celebration of Centenary was not dampened. And I think 15 np. stamp was made available at other Centre’s immediately afterwards.

It appears that the special postmark was provided on 16th August also, because 16th August was officially celebrated to mark the completion of Centennial anniversary of India’s first struggle for Freedom.

Here, I want to mention that the Tri Colour Flag of Independent India was first hoisted on Red Fort on 16th August 1947. One should remember that Red Fort/Delhi is the Symbol of India. The occupier of Red Fort is the ruler of India. Thus 16th August has a symbolic importance. The Postal Notice no. 13 dated 26th July 1957 confirms that 16th August was observed as Postal Holiday for celebration.

Regarding third query, it appears that the special postmark (Rubber Stamp) was issued from other Post offices other than Philatelic Bureau. I have in my collection, the special cancellations from Bombay GPO, Calcutta GPO, Delhi GPO, Jaipur, Madras GPO, New Delhi GPO, Simla, Nagpur GPO, Allahabad, Cuttack for 15th August 1957 and Bombay GPO, Jaipur, Kanpur, Lucknow GPO, Madras GPO, Simla Allahabad, Nagpur GPO for 16th August 1957.

1857 Centenary Cuttack Cancellation
1857 Centenary Cuttack Date Cancellation and Special Cancellation dated 15th August 1957
1857 Centenary Cuttack Cancellation
1857 Centenary Allahabad Special Cancellations dated 15th August 1957 and 16th August 1957

Besides Official First Day Cover (FDC) many (more than ten) private FDCs are found. It appears that brochure or VIP folder not issued for this issue.

In my opinion the above information will eliminate all doubts in the minds of Philatelist regarding 1857 Centenary postage stamps.


Contributed by Ashok Kumar Bayanwala, Ahmedabad

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