Queen Victoria ½d Pink Stamped to Order Postcards
IntroductionPostcards were introduced in the UK in 1870, offering halfpenny postage, but until 1894 only postal stationery cards could be used (not plain cards with a ½ adhesive stamp). Post Office cards were available in uncut sheets to make it easier for customers to print what they needed on the reverse. This was a widely used option by businesses, but one that was unpopular with the stationery trade.
A Memorial from the Committee of Wholesale and Retail Stationers to the Postmaster-General in 1871 complained that the Post Office selling any postal stationery constituted unfair competition with the stationery trade, but postcards were "infinitely worse" as the card itself was "given away" (at this time they were sold at face value). The remedies proposed were that the Post Office should cease selling postal stationery (a non-starter), or failing that, at least ask more than cost price, and that ½ dies should be made available for stamping private cards. The latter two points were agreed on.
Stamped to order (STO) postcards were available from 17th June 1872. They had to be the same size as the Post Office cards (4¾"x2⅞"), but could use thicker stock (anywhere between the 1/120" of the official cards and the 1/60" of the 1s "telegraph cards"). Nothing but "POST CARD" and the same addressing instruction as used on the official cards were to be printed on the front, although the typeface, formatting, and colour to be used was at the user's discretion and this varied considerably.
Examples of STO cards are uncommon from before c.1880 — most probably because it was simply more convenient to use the sheets of official cards for many purposes where high quality card stock was not needed. Even this factor became rather less important after the Post Office introduced thicker, better quality "stout" cards in 1875 (these were made available in sheets from March 1877).
The existence of sheets mattered as STO work was handled by the Stamp Office at Somerset House. STO postcards were initially done with a ½ pink die on the usual embossing presses, which meant that only single cards could be stamped — unlike Post Office cards which were printed by letterpress. Unfortunately, the Stamp Office did not have suitable letterpress capability until March 1884, so until that time embossing was the only viable option — the twelve year era of the "Halfpenny Pink".