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Express/Special Delivery Rates 1891-1993 - Introduction

Express delivery originally meant payments for a messenger sent for the express purpose of carrying a particular letter, although the more modern sense is simply speeded-up mail. The modern system was introduced in 1891; there were a large number of services, rates, and options, for many of which payment was made on a separate form rather than on the actual cover.

The main ones were:

  • By special messenger all the way -- Service I
  • Express delivery after transmission by ordinary post
    (at the request of the sender) -- Service II
  • Special delivery in advance of the ordinary mail (at the request of the addressee) -- introduced under Service II, later Service III
  • Express delivery on Sunday -- originally for London addresses only as part of Service II, from 1921 included other cities and renamed Service IV
  • Express delivery of telephoned messages -- originally called Service IV, from 1921 Service V

From 1938 the services were revised, with Service II and IV now becoming Special Delivery and the others various forms of Express Delivery. From 1980 Special Delivery (the old Service II type) was the only service offered.


1923 - Service II, 1½d postage + 6d express fee

Published express rates listings, such as the appendices to the various volumes of the Stanley Gibbons Specialised Catalogue, sometimes do not tally with the archival sources consulted. Under the circumstances I have, for the time being, generally tried to give the best source of each bit of information available to me as a small note next to it, to show whether it derives from primary or secondary sources.

  • "Circular" = Post Office Circular
  • "Guide" = Post Office Guide
  • "Leaflet" or "Compendium" = basic or comprehensive PO leaflet of rates from relevant date
  • "SG Spec" = Stanley Gibbons Specialised Catalogue
  • "Wellsted" = Hilary Wellsted, Express Service 1891-1971
  • "Furfie" = Michael Furfie, British Civilian Postage Rates of the 20th Century

Corrections of any errors/typos and copies/scans of missing rates leaflets welcomed!