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POSTAL HISTORY OF INDIA





India has an interesting postal history and there is enough philatelic material available for a philatelist to make it speciality. The early postal history of India can be divided into two categories-pre-1837 and post-1837, when the Post Office Act was passed. The famous historian, Ziauddin Barani, has described in his records that the horse and the foot runner were in existence for means of communication from way back in the 13th century in India. Horses were used for speedy delivery in certain parts of the country but it was really the foot runner who was the mainstay. The foot runner is called “Harkara” in ancient books but for our purposes he is the postal runner or dak runner. “Dak” is the Hindi word for post or mail. The runner carried a cleft stick; the small bag with the mail was held in this cleft. When traveling at night, he lit resinous twigs to guide him on his way. These postal runners had to face a lot of hardship and danger, traveling through forests with wild animals, crossing swollen rivers during monsoons and trekking across snow-capped regions. The stick and a spear could hardly afford any protection. In spite of all these odds, they kept running and delivered the mail. They were a hardy race of people, honest, with a great sense of duty. Even today the postal department has to use runners in some parts of the country like Badrinath during the pilgrim seasons and also to the Gilgit and Leh snowbound areas. Wheeled traffic can operate only up to a point, thereafter the runners take over and deliver the mail to its destination. The Mughal emperors Babar and Akbar, tried to improve the postal service. Babar helped to organize a horse courier system from Agra to Kabul. Akbar introduced camels for carrying mail to the desert regions. Once the East India Company was formed and received the Royal Charter, in the interest of trade with India, they had to develop a more organized system of communication. They organized postal runners on regular routes, setting stages of handing over. By 1688, the Company asked its Bombay and Madras offices to build a post office each and directed that all mail should be brought to the post office first. Lord Clive introduced the system of sorting mail into different bags according to destination. These bags have to be sealed with Company seal and only the chiefs at different places could open it. When Warren Hastings took over in 1774, he introduced further reforms. Postal rates depended on weight and distance. Hand struck Bishop Marks(explained later) were applied on letters at Calcutta. These are known as the Indian Bishop Marks and they differ from the foreign Bishop Marks in that the months are printed in three letters, such as JAN, FEB, and so, whereas the foreign ones have the months in two letters. The three presidencies of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta used different hand struck stamps. After the East India Company had established itself, they decided on major changes in the postal system. The Post Office Act of 1837 was passed which combined the presidencies and declared all private posts illegal. Even so, they continued to function in many parts of the country some time. A parcel post service called Bhangies, for deliver of bulky parcels was established. Its rates were cheaper than that for ordinary mail. The Company’s letters were carried by merchant ships to England. It used to take almost a year to get a reply to a letter from Calcutta. Mail from India was transported to Marseilles in France and then on horseback to Calais where a steamboat then took it to Dover. It was once again carried on horseback to London. Gradually the time taken was reduced with the formation of the “Overland Route”, in which mail was transported across land and at certain points carried over water, instead of relying exclusively on ships and steamers. The first Indian stamps, known as the Scinde Dawks were issued by the Commissioner of Sind, Sir Bartle Frere, who was an admirer of Sir Rowland Hill, in 1852. He authorized the use of half-anna stamps in his district. Every collector should know something about the Scinde Dawks. These stamps were first introduced as red on vermillion wafers but they were soon discarded. A new issue came out in July 1852, embossed in white on white, which was later changed to a bluish wave, unevenly spaced on sheets of three inches by six inches. Sir Bartle Frere was not satisfied with the local printing, so he sent the design to his friends in England, and asked them to print the stamps in blue. In 1852, the Postmater General of Karachi received 10,000 stamps. These orders were repeated till almost 50,000 of them were in circulation, when Sir Bartle Frere withdrew them on the release of the All India Postage stamps. There is a theory that the Scinde Dawks were not adhesive stamps but simple was seals, used as trial at a post office in Karachi. In the eyes of the stamp collector, the best loved and desirable of early Indian stamps are those issued between 1852 and 1870. These are called ‘Classics’. The Indian Classics comprise the first three series of stamps known respectively as the Scinde Dawks, the East India Company and the Crown Colony stamps. The Court of Directors of the East India Company were keen that stamps should be printed in India. Col. Forbes was put in charge but he was not successful and gave it up. Then Capt. H.L. Thuillier, Deputy Surveyor General of the Survey Office, Calcutta, was asked to undertake it. After some trial and error and experiments, stamps in the denominations of one anna and four annas were released. Capt. Thuillier’s essays are valuable. From 1855 to 1926, stamps were printed in England by M/s. De La Rue and Co., and the inscription on stamps was East India Postage. In 1877, when Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India, the inscription was changed to India Postage. A new printing press established in Nasik and all stamps since 1926 have been printed there. After the Indian empire was consolidated by the British, the centrally issued stamps ere valid throughout the country, but the native Maharajas also issued stamps which were valid only in their territories. Some of them over printed the name of their States on the centrally issued stamps. After Independence and amalgamation of the Indian States into the Republic of India, these stamps were no longer valid; they are now collector’s items. The value of a stamp depends upon scarcity and demand. Between unused copies of a mint stamp and used copies of a stamp, the value depends on the relative availability. A stamp which has been issued a long ago is more valuable if unused. In the case of Scinde Dawks, there is only one unused, uncancelled stamp, which is the British Royal Collection and is not for sale.