150 YEARS OF THE INDIAN POSTAL SERVICES
A STAMP ON TIME
By Manmohan Melville
Just over one hundred and fifty
years ago, the Post Office in the Province of Sindh, (then in
), made postal history in
became the first country on the continent to issue postage stamps!
The first stamps of
issued just before 1854 came to be known as “Scinde Dawks”, as they
were issued in the
. “Scinde” was how the British spelt the
and “Dawk” is the anglicized spelling of the Hindustani word “Dak”
And so, to this day,
’s first stamps are referred to simply as The Scinde Dawks!
The world’s first stamps were
called the Penny Blacks. They were issued in
by Sir Rowland Hill in 1840. The
Scinde Dawk stamps were issued just 14 years after the first postage
stamps were introduced in the world! So, they date back to a time when the
postal system was still in its infancy.
, small copper tokens (called tickets), valued at 2 annas (1/8th
of a rupee) were generally the medium of payment for postage. Single
letters of up to 2-1/2 tolas (29 gm) were charged at the rate of 2
annas for every 100 miles.
In 1842, Sir Bartle Frere, then
Chief Commissioner of Sindh, was asked by the Bombay Presidency Government
to undertake the introduction of a new postal service in the province and
also to popularize it with the public.
Sir Frere was a great admirer of
Sir Rowland Hill and the Penny Postage System he had introduced in
the help of the Postmaster of Karachi, Sir Bartle issued the first postage
– embossed pieces of paper with a circular design in red, white or blue,
of ½ anna denomination. They carried the merchant mark of the East India
Company. They were used in the
and also on the Karachi-Bombay route.
In appearance, the Scinde Dawks
are of simple design. But, collectors are prepared to pay huge sums for
these early stamps, as on international catalogues of philately, they are
rated among the classic stamps of the world.
The Birth of Philately
People have always tried to send
across messages to other people residing in different areas.
African tribesmen used booming
drums. Red Indians resorted to smoke signals. In certain parts of the
) specially trained pigeons were used to carry across messages.
Many of the princely states of
the world had a system of runners or riders to take across messages from
the king to the courtiers or generals. Even the ancient Mauryan Empire in
had a speedy system of riders that carried court messages to the subjects.
However, it was the British, who
first introduced the idea of a paper stamp to be purchased in exchange of
the service rendered by the postal system.
This first postal stamp – the
Penny Black – featured a portrait of Queen
. It got its name from the fact that it cost one penny and was printed in
black ink. The first association of
stamp collectors was founded in 1856 in the
. It was called the “Omnibus club”. Its members, however, were
encouraged to collect not only stamps – but also a wide variety of
objects – including bugs!
The first “stamps-only
society” was founded in 1866 in the
and called itself “The Stamp Association”. As people began to collect
stamps, these little squares of paper began to have another, secondary use
apart from getting the letters across in the post. They began to have an
additional value to collectors. Thus, was born the concept of the hobby
With time, certain old stamps,
or stamps with errors or misprints, and stamps with very limited copies in
print, began to command great prices among collectors. These came to be
known as rare stamps – for which people were ready to pay large sums of
if a lot of people want a stamp that is in short supply, the value of the
stamp will increase! The world’s rarest stamp is the British Guiana One
Cent Black on Magenta issued in 1856. It is the most expensive stamp in
the world – simply because there is supposed to be only one copy in
Ironically, the oldest stamps --
the Penny Blacks -- are not uncommon in the collections of philatelists.
They cost about rupees 20,000 today. By contrast, the Scinde Dawk (the red
stamp in the series) may exchange hands at prices as high as Rupees
2,00,000 (US $ 5,000).
year 2004 marked the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Indian Postal
department. October 1854 saw the
formation of a centralized control of the subcontinent’s post offices
under the first Director General. That year also saw the establishment of
a Railway Mail Service across
– with a skeletal network of 701 post offices across the subcontinent --
and a new sea mail service from
the year 1911, another postal “first” was achieved in
. In February that year, a French pilot, named Henri Pequet, flew with
6,500 pieces of mail in a biplane from
to Naini (a distance of six miles). This flight was the first official Air
Mail in the world!
is the story of how that historic flight actually came about…
That year, Sir Walter Windham
– a great adventurer, sailor and motorcar racer – was touring
with eight aero planes and two European pilots (one of whom was Frenchman
, the Chaplain of the
approached Sir Windham to help him raise funds for a new hostel for Indian
students that were planning to build. Sir Windham hit upon a novel plan to
raise the money – he planned to inaugurate an Aerial Post.
The local public was invited to
deliver stamped and addressed mail to the Chaplain of the Church,
enclosing six annas (1/6th of a Rupee) with every letter to be posted by
air. The extra surcharge was donated towards the fund for the new hostel.
Frenchman Pequet, flying one of
Sir Windham’s biplanes, carried the load of mail for the first time
through the air. He landed his plane just 6 miles from
at the town of
. Here, the mail was handed over to the postal authorities, who sent them
by surface transportation to destinations across the world. Well
technically, the mail had flown a part of its passage through the air! And
so, for historical purposes, this is recognized as the world’s first Air
Mail delivery! The flight – by divine chance – happened to coincide
with the Maha Kumbh festival. And thus, as Pequet’s biplane flew in the
air, it was viewed by at least 1 million Hindu pilgrims bathing below in
A special postmark was used on
flight – which showed a biplane flying over the peaks of the
. In addition, the mailbag also contained a number of picture postcards
showing Pequet’s biplane. These postcards were autographed by Pequet.
They were sold for the (then) princely sum of one rupee! Today, these
postcards are priceless collector’s items and are coveted by
philatelists across the world!
One hundred and fifty years
after the postal services came to the Asian continent, the India postal
system with 1,55,618 post offices and over 5,66,000 employees working in
unison, is considered the largest postal network in the world. India’s
postal system was initially based on the model that the British left
behind. But, the British model was designed essentially to transmit
administrative orders. The Indian system broadened the vision of the
postal system to reach the entire population of the country. This includes
such varied terrain as the arid deserts of Rajasthan and Kutch to the icy
reaches of Ladakh and the North-east.
The Indian postal system also
boasts of postal code area “172114” in Sikkim, which – at 15,500
feet (more than 4700 meters approx.) – is the highest post office in the
Here’s wishing the Indian
Postal System – A Very Happy 150 Years!