Story: Postage stamps

Page 3. Different types of stamps

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Government Life stamps

The Government Life Insurance Office was the only government department to have had its name on a stamp issue. Initially, the department’s postal correspondence was free. Later, it was assessed at the end of the year. A dispute arose in late 1888 because the department felt the estimates of the Post and Telegraph Department (later the Post Office) were too high, and proposed to prepay postage through its own stamp issue. These stamps had to be of a distinct design so that they couldn’t be used for other purposes. The first of these issues was in 1891. It and all subsequent issues featured lighthouses (a 19th-century symbol for insurance). Government Life stamp issues ceased in 1989 when it privatised to become Tower Corporation.

Safe to lick?

In 1893 the New Zealand Post Office sold advertising on the back of stamps – one of the first countries to do so – but the public became concerned that licking the back containing dye might be unhealthy, so the practice was short-lived.

New Zealand dependencies

The Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau have had stamps issued while under New Zealand control. In the past stamp collectors referred to these Pacific Islands as ‘dependencies’. The number of issues per year grew over the late 20th century as selling stamps is one of the few ways of generating revenue for small islands such as Niue and Tokelau. The Ross Dependency, which includes part of Antarctica and offshore islands, was claimed by the UK in 1923 and then placed under New Zealand’s jurisdiction. The first Ross Dependency stamps were issued in 1957, and in the same year a post office was opened at Scott Base, New Zealand’s Antarctic base. It closed in 1987.


The name ‘Cinderella’ is used by collectors for a range of stamps (usually non-postage), stickers and seals used for collecting revenue, such as tax stamps, unemployment-relief and social-security stamps. Some postage stamps are also categorised as Cinderellas, either because they were not issued by the Post Office or had a restricted usage. For example, the Post Office had a monopoly on the postage of letters but not of newspapers and parcels. In 1890 New Zealand Railways introduced newspaper stamps – a newspaper was delivered for a halfpenny stamp whatever the distance. Railways newspaper stamps were in use until 1925.

Leaf postage

On Stewart Island leaves of the coastal shrub Senecio rotundifolius were written upon and stamps affixed – these were posted and dubbed ‘Stewart Island postcards’.

The stamps of two companies offering a pigeon post service between Great Barrier Island (Aotea) and Auckland are also examples of Cinderella stamps. The first company was established in 1897, and its triangular stamps may well have been the first airmail stamps in the world. Pigeons carried letters on very lightweight paper, which was tied to their legs. Letters cost sixpence from the island to Auckland, but one shilling (12 pence) for the outward postage, as the pigeons had trouble being convinced to leave the city. The pigeongram service ended in 1908, when a telegraph cable was laid between the island and the mainland.

After deregulation of the postal market in the late 1980s a number of other postal services started up in competition with New Zealand Post. Some of them, such as Pete’s Post, issued their own stamps.

The Stamp Duties Act 1866 required new stamps that could be used to pay taxes such as stamp duty (a tax on official documents such as mortgage deeds). Some fiscal stamps were at times authorised for postal use and postage stamps were at times also used for fiscal purposes – this is why some old stamps have ‘postage & revenue’ inscribed. Cinderella stamps are sought after by some collectors, while others have a snobbish attitude towards them as most were not used for postage.

It has also become popular to collect postal ephemera, such as postmarked envelopes.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Postage stamps - Different types of stamps', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 20 Jun 2012