Postcard Rates 1875-1981


Overseas postcard rates were introduced at the commencement of the General Postal Union in 1875. As with the inland post, initially it was necessary to use a postal stationery card, possibly uprated with adhesive stamps, and it was not until 1894 that private cards were accepted.

Before 1891 the postcard rate depended on the destination and often the route, and there were some countries to which postcards could not be sent. Rates for territories in the GPU/UPU were usually fairly standard and reasonably inexpensive, but rates for other places could be high and variable. In the tables below the Postal Union rates are given first, together with an indication of which countries they applied to; non-standard rates are given in separate tables.

In 1891 the rate was made uniform, a practice which continued until 1935 when a cheaper "Empire rate" was introduced along the same lines as the Empire letter rate concession. Such reduced rates were available at various periods until 1966. From 1948 the surface rates also applied on an "all-up" basis to postcards to Europe. With the growth in use of airmail a standard postcard rate for surface mail became increasingly irrelevant – tourists might arrive home before their cards did! – and it was finally scrapped in 1981.

GPU/UPU Rates 1875-1891

"Penny-farthing" rate to UPU countries

The postcard rate to UPU countries was initially set at half the basic letter rate, then in 1879 was set at the equivalent of 10 gold centimes (1d), with an additional 5 centimes (½d) allowed where cards had to be "conveyed by Sea for long distances".

There were additional charges for conveyance to places in the East via the quicker Brindisi route.

The 1st April 1879 and 1st July 1879 are the dates of the appropriate British Postal Guide in which the rates first appear – the Post Office Circular contains no previous instruction to postmasters that the rates had changed, so it must be assumed that this in itself constitituted the announcement.

Date Rates Destinations Notes
(1 Jul)
1¼d All GPU countries The postal stationery card has the only British farthing-denominated stamp
(1 Apr)
1d Europe (including Madeira, Azores, Malta, Turkey), Egypt, Canada, USA 1½d rate applied to 2½d destinations when sent via Southampton or Marseilles
1½d Anywhere postcards could be sent, except where 1d or 2½d rates applied
2½d via Brindisi: India, Ceylon, Hong Kong, Straits Settlements, China, Japan, French India, Cochin China, New Caledonia, Goa, Macao, Timor, Mozambique, Angola, Zanzibar, East Indies, Phillippine and Marian Islands, Persia via Persian Gulf
(1 Jul)
1d Europe (including Madeira, Azores, Canary Islands, Malta, Turkey), Egypt, Persia via Vienna or Black Sea, Canada, Newfoundland, St Pierre et Miquelon, USA 1½d rate applied to 2d destinations when sent via Southampton or Marseilles
1½d Anywhere postcards could be sent, except where 1d or 2d rates applied
2d via Brindisi: Aden, Ceylon, French Colonies of New Caledonia and St Mary (Madagascar), Cochin China, French India, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Labuan, Mauritius, Netherlands Indies and Papua New Guinea, Persia via Persian Gulf, Portugese Colonies (Goa, Damao, Diu, Macao, Timor, Mozambique), Phillippine and Marian Islands, Seychelles, Straits Settlements, Zanzibar
(30 Sep)
Last day of these rates

Special Rates 1875-1891

1889 - 3d rate to Australian colonies

In the early days of overseas postcards a variety of country-specific rates (sometimes varying by route) were quoted. These were often short-lived and dropped to the standard rates shortly afterwards.

They fall into three distinct classes – rates consequent on France's delayed entry to the GPU, early high rates to more distant places, and special Australasian rates – so it has seemed best to list them by type and destination with start dates.

End dates were recorded in the Post Office Circular or can be deduced from other lists in which the destination appears, and are given in the text below.

(1) Rates via France, 1875

All these rates were a consequence of French entry to the GPU being delayed for six months until 1st January 1876. During this period, rates on mail sent to UPU countries via France (specific routings shown in table) were higher than via other routes, and that included postcard rates where applicable – an additional 1d or 2d over the standard UPU "penny-farthing" rate.

Date Rate Destination(s)
(1 Jul)
2¼d Italy, Malta (via Italy)
3¼d Egypt (via Marseilles), Gibraltar, Greece, Malta (via Marseilles), Portugal [inc. Madeira, Azores], Spain, Turkey
(31 Dec)
Last day of these rates

(2) Initial Rates, 1876-79

The following rates were included in the announcements in the Post Office Circular, in most cases upon various countries joining the GPU/UPU. They were superseded by the general rates as of 1st April 1879.

Date Rate Destination(s) Via
(1 Jul)
3d Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, Senegal, Gaboon, Réunion, Mayotte, St Mary de Madagascar, French Settlements in India [Pondichéry, Chandermagore, Karikal, Mahé, Yannon] British or French Packet
4d French Settlements in Cochin China, New Caledonia Brindisi
(1 Apr)
3d Ceylon, Straits Settlements, Hong Kong, Labuan, China Southampton or Marseilles
3d Mauritius, Seychelles, Jamaica, British Guiana, Trinidad, Bermuda Any
4d Ceylon, Straits Settlements, Hong Kong, Labuan, China Brindisi
(1 Jun)
3d Japan Any but Brindisi
4d Japan Brindisi
(1 Jul)
3d Brazil, Cape Verde Islands Any
3d Goa, Macao, Timor, Mozambique, Angola Any but Brindisi
4d Goa, Macao, Timor, Mozambique, Angola Brindisi
(1 Sep)
3d Argentina, Greenland, Danish West Indies [St Thomas, St Croix, St John] Any
1¼d Persia Black Sea or Caspian Sea
3d Persia Southampton and Persian Gulf
4d Persia Brindisi and Persian Gulf
(1 Oct)
3d Peru
(Reduced in anticipation of entry which was postponed. Notice saying Post Cards could no longer be sent appeared in the Circular of 25th March 1879. Final announcement that Peru had joined was 17th June 1879, by which time 1½d rate applied.)
(1 Jan)
3d British Honduras, Falkland Islands, Gold Coast, Gambia, Lagos, Sierra Leone Any
(31 Mar)
Last day of these rates

(3) Australasian Rates, 1889-91

Although the Australian colonies and New Zealand did not join the UPU until 1st October 1891, postcards were introduced a couple of years before. The postage varied depending on whether they were sent by the long sea route or via Brindisi (the latter initially cost more).

Date Rate Destination(s) Via
(1 Jan)
2d Australian Colonies, New Zealand, Fiji Long sea route
3d Australian Colonies, New Zealand, Fiji Brindisi
(1 Jan)
2d Australian Colonies, New Zealand, Fiji Any
(30 Sep)
Last day of these rates

Standard Rates 1891-1981

1971 - first decimal surface rate, to USA, paid using current Anniversaries commemorative

Foreign postcard rates were made a uniform 1d on 1st October 1891.

An "Empire rate" concession was introduced in 1935, which applied to the same places as the similar concession for letters – the Empire (later Commonwealth) itself, plus certain associated territories, and from 1st October 1908 to 30th September 1957 also the USA as a Transatlantic rate concession.

Where no Empire/Commonwealth/USA rate is given in the table, the general foreign rate applied worldwide.

Surface postcard rates were abolished from 26th January 1981. From that point letter rates applied to postcards sent by surface mail or all-up to Europe.

Date For. Emp. Date For. Emp. Date For. Emp. Date For. Emp.
(1 Oct)
1d 1921
(13 Jun)
1½d 1935
(15 Jun)
1½d 1d 1940
(1 May)
(1 Oct)
2½d 2d 1957
(1 Oct)
4d 2½d 1965
(17 May)
4d 3d 1966
(3 Oct)
5d 3d
(16 Sep)
5d 1971
(15 Feb)
2p 1971
(1 Jul)
3p 1973
(10 Sep)
(17 Mar)
6p 1975
(29 Sep)
7p 1977
(13 Jun)
8p 1979
(20 Aug)
(4 Feb)
10½p 1981
(25 Jan)
Last day