The Penny Lilac – Usage and Interesting Items


The penny lilac was in use for the last 20 years of Queen Victoria's life. From just a Universal Postal Union point of view this was remarkable as lilac was not the colour for basic mail. Britain's empire was huge at that time, and the stamp was used in many parts of the world. It had of course both a postage and revenue usage. The authorities, the printers and the public made inputs into the history of the stamp. The savings bank for schoolchildren was an interesting feature for example.

The stamp was used for trials such as automated cancellation trials and trials on inks and papers. The printers were themselves changing methods and for example, adding control letters and using different inks. There were many different cancellation types and postal information stamps.

The public got on board with hand painted pictures, bisects, revenue overprints in the post and so on. The publication of several Harry Furniss satirical covers and inserts added to the fun. Altogether the usage and general involvement of the penny lilac is a large and it is believed an inadequately studied area of philately. This exhibit aims to give an insight into that potential.

The Exhibit

The exhibit attempts to illustrate some of these trials and usages but also some other interesting involvements.

There are examples of the use of the stamp for cancellation trials such as Bickerdike of Canada, Boston of the USA and Hoster.

There is 'Book Post' used for photographs. A general post and Railway combination to an address to 2 Poet's Corner Westminster Abbey. This was a house at the time. Poets Corner today is only inside the Abbey.

An interesting cancellation is 'posted on the high seas'. There are examples of accepted and refused bisects. Revenue usage of the stamp was a major function. Occasionally commercial overprints got into the post.

Britain had a number of overseas Protectorates and Dependencies. Overprints of these territories were made. A good selection of these overprints on the penny lilac are shown.

A lot of hand painted envelopes were in vogue at this time. Many are humorous some almost works of art. Numerous Harry Furniss satirical covers and inserts were produced in volume and many were used with a penny lilac.

Covers of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Prince of Wales hospital fund are very pretty. The postal notice showing the stamps in use in 1884 is in excellent condition.

The Post Office Savings Book sheet is interesting. One area was badly damaged (the dog perhaps?) at a guess the schoolgirl was too embarrassed to complete it herself. The final item shows a disallowed very late usage.


Frame 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Scarce Trial Cancellations
  3. Unusual/Interesting Usage
  4. Posted On The High Seas
  5. One penny lilac bisected on cover
  6. Commercial Overprints Used In Post
  7. Board Of Trade. Telegraph And Revenue Usage
  8. Overseas Territories
  9. Penny Lilac On Hand Painted Envelopes
  10. Interesting Covers
  11. Interesting Covers
  12. Unusual/interesting usage - The Prince of Wales Hospital Fund
  13. Notice sent to postmasters in 1884 showing a penny lilac
  14. Unusual/Interesting Usage - Post Office Savings Bank
  15. Somerset House Inland Revenue
  16. Penny Lilac Demonetised