The Stamps that Built the Welfare State: United Kingdom Health Insurance Stamps 1912-1948


Contributions toward National Health Insurance (later Health & Pensions Insurance} were paid weekly by affixing a stamp to a card for each employee. This exhibit tells the story of those stamps during the first half of the 20th century.

Britain's modern social insurance system began with far-reaching welfare reforms during the reigns of Kings George V and George VI, most notably the National Insurance Act of 1911, crafted by David Lloyd George.

Stamps played a central role in the scheme: employers were required to keep track of weekly insurance payments for Health (under Part I of the Act) and Unemployment (Part II) by affixing stamps, whose cost was split with the employee, to special cards. Pensions insurance for widows and orphans was added in 1925.

This display chronicles the genesis and use of the Health stamps from their first appearance in 1912 until they were replaced by consolidated National Insurance stamps after World War II. It includes essays, die proofs, cards and items of ephemera which lend context to their use.

Also shown are overprints for the Irish Free State and the Isle of Man and examples of unauthorised postal use.

Once stamped, cards were retained by employers and turned over to the authorities for eventual destruction. Very few cards "escaped" and stamps did not generally wind up in private hands. Therefore many insurance stamps, especially the high-value ones for multiple payments, are rare and survive almost exclusively as Specimens.

Though little studied and seldom collected, these tiny, colourful stamps played a big, important role in the social history of the United Kingdom during the first half of the 20th century. Expressions such as "paying your stamp" and "getting your cards" are a lingering testament to the system's impact.

Rare or significant items are boxed in magenta.


Chinchen, Barry and Paul Ramsay. Archival research.
Barefoot, John. United Kingdom Revenues (5th ed., 2012)
Bending, Mike. "I.B.Redguy's Fine Stamps"
Booth, A.G. Catalogue of the Revenue Stamps of the United Kingdom, Isle of Man, Channel Islands and Eire (3rd ed. 1990)


Frame 1

  1. Introduction and Plan
  2. Design development
  3. Die proofs
  4. First issue, 1912-13: Dawn of the welfare system
  5. First issue used on employee cards
  6. Postcards lampooning the new system
  7. First issue high values for multiple payments
  8. Second issue with more legible numerals, 1920
  9. Third issue inscribed 'Health & Pensions,' 1925
  10. Fourth issue with redesigned frames, 1928-46 die proofs
  11. Fourth issue with redesigned frames, 1928-46
  12. Fourth issue with redesigned frames, 1928-46
  13. Fourth issue used on cards
  14. Unauthorised postal usage
  15. Overprinted for use in Eire and the Isle of Man
  16. National Insurance stamps & computerisation after 1948