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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Pictorials and Specials

The definitive issues, that is the stamps in everyday use for postage purposes, have always portrayed the head of the Monarch, with three exceptions. These were the “Pictorial” issues of 1898, 1935, and 1960, which have had for their purpose the popularising of New Zealand and its attractions. The 1898 designs have deservedly been widely acclaimed. They showed a high standard of engraving, the subjects chosen lent themselves admirably for illustration, and they came at a time when there was little but monotony in the style of world stamps. The 2½d. stamp had an error in that the word “Wakatipu” was mis-spelt “Wakitipu” in the early printings, later corrected. These pictorial stamps marked a reversion in production from surface printing used in the two previous series to recess printing.

From October 1891 when New Zealand joined the Universal Postal Union, it was necessary to conform to certain colours for certain values of stamps. The object was to enable postal officers in various countries to recognise quickly the correct postage for certain classes of mail. This international colour selection on stamps was abolished on 1 July 1953 because, owing to inflation, some European countries were not observing the rules.

Many “special” or “commemorative” series of stamps have been issued from time to time. The first of these was the 1½d. stamp which commemorated the sending of troops to the Boer War and which was placed on sale on 7 December 1900. It is interesting to record that the die for this stamp was cut, and the plate prepared, in New York.

On 17 August 1900 the Colonial Treasurer reported to Parliament that on and after 1 January 1901 a penny postage system would be established within and without the colony. The “without” was rather premature as the Australian States and certain countries refused to reciprocate. But the rebuff did not prevent a “Universal Postage” stamp of 1d. from being issued on the turn of the century. This stamp, with the addition of “Dominion” in 1909 and subjected to numerous changes of paper and perforation, was in use for approximately 30 years although it was originally intended as a commemorative.

The visit of Queen Elizabeth II to New Zealand in 1953–54 was commemorated with a set of stamps as was the occasion of her Coronation and that of her father, King George VI. The Silver Jubilee of the reign of King George V was also marked with a special issue. Local events of national importance such as the centennial of a province, the centennial of New Zealand in 1940, the conclusion of the First and Second World Wars, and the centennial of the introduction of postage stamps into New Zealand, have also been the occasion of a special set of stamps.

From time to time the shortage of a particular stamp has occurred, possibly through a wartime emergency or because a change of postal rates has placed too heavy a demand upon a certain denomination. At such times a provisional issue is made, the normal value of a stamp being obliterated and a new value overprinted on the stamps. Two issues with a surcharge have been made, the best known being that of the Health Stamps which were first issued in 1929 and which have been a yearly feature ever since. On each stamp there is a surcharge, the proceeds of which are used to help maintain Children's Health Camps. These stamps remain on sale only for a short period each year. Although the earlier designs covered a wide range of subjects, New Zealand birds have been featured over the past few years. Since 1960, there has also been a special Christmas stamp, its primary use being postage on greetings cards, but there is no surcharge. They have depicted famous paintings. The other surcharged issue was in 1936 to commemorate the twenty-first anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Both stamps in this issue carried a surcharge, the proceeds of which were handed to the Returned Soldiers' Association, as it was then known, for relief of distress among its members.

Airmail stamps were introduced into New Zealand from 10 November 1931 when three values were issued, but later two overprints in different colours were added. A new issue was placed on sale on 4 May 1935, but when stocks were exhausted they were not replaced.

As a result of differences of opinion between the Post Office and the Government Life Insurance Office over the annual postages, a set of Government Life Insurance Office Stamps was introduced in 1891, and though of different designs they remain in force today. They are valid only for use by the Office concerned for postage within New Zealand.

Stamps used by other Government Departments on official business have been of a special issue since 1891. Originally they were ordinary issues hand-stamped “O.P.S.O.”. From 2 January 1907 the then current issues were overprinted “Official” until the Queen Elizabeth definitives were brought into use, when a separate design was used for the official set, the word “Official” being incorporated therein.

Stamp duty stamps, those primarily issued for stamp duty purposes, were later accepted to prepay postage, but within recent years mechanised accounting has replaced the demand for these stamps and the denominations of definitive issues have been increased to pay the postage required on heavier mail matter.

New Zealand is also responsible for the supply of postage stamps for the Cook Islands, including Niue, and the Ross Dependency. From 1914 until it attained independence in 1962, Western Samoa was also dependent on this country for its stamps.

In the early years of the colony, stamps had to be cut from the sheets by means of scissors or a knife. As this was cumbersome, some postmasters employed a wheel with teeth which resulted in a simple roulette. From 1859 various means of separation were tried by numerous other types of roulettes and serrates. Ultimately a perforating machine was imported from England and brought into use about 1867. Since then many machines have been used in New Zealand and abroad to perforate our stamps. Similarly, our stamps have been printed on a wide variety of papers. For security purposes most papers have contained a watermark, the most popular one being N Z over a star, but in the early days it was the name, trade name, or initials of the firm making the paper.