UPU Specimen Stamps 1878-1961, Supplement – 2021, first edition, by James Bendon. 184 pages (xii + 144 + announcements), 8½ x 11 inches. Published by Oxford Book Projects, 2021. ISBN: 978 1 870696 06 7. Price £40 plus p&h (UK £9; Europe £15; rest of the world £27), available from www.jamesbendon.com.
The Universal Postal Union (the UPU) is best known for replacing the endless hodgepodge of bilateral postal agreements with a uniform system of regulations to help worldwide postal authorities manage the movement of international mail. Originating in 1874, the UPU’s “Conventions” are used by postal historians to understand their covers’ rates, markings, and movements.
The UPU itself never issued its own postage stamps. Yet, the UPU is important to stamp collectors as well. The counterfeiting of postage stamps to rob postal authorities of revenues was a problem almost as soon as Great Britain issued the first Penny Black postage stamp in 1840. In the case of international mail, postal clerks had a very difficult time determining whether a letter bore a genuine postage stamp. To assist postal administrations with this challenge, the UPU developed a system of sharing genuine stamps among its members. In 1878, the UPU introduced a requirement that “specimen” stamps be distributed to the POs of member nations.
One of the early documenters of specimen stamps was Marcus Samuel. His seminal work, Specimen stamps of the crown colonies, 1857-1948, published in 1976, was the first thorough documentation of UPU specimen stamps. Samuel defined a specimen stamp as :
“a stamp or stamp proof that has been provided or preserved as a sample, for which no payment had been made to the revenue, and that has been defaced to prevent its postal (or fiscal) use.”
While not a complete definition, it does explain the intent of such stamps.
The successor to Samuel’s work was UPU Specimen Stamps: The Distribution of Specimen Stamps by the International Bureau of the Universal Postal Union by James Bendon, published in 1988. Bendon returned with a complete revision and expansion of his earlier work in 2015, UPU Specimen Stamps 1878–1961. I published a review of this grand work in the Third Quarter 2016 issue of the Philatelic Literature Review (page 217). At that time, I thought that Bendon had just written the ultimate book on UPU specimens.
As is often the case, philatelic authors continue to discover new varieties and to uncover and document new information. Bendon, now in his mid-80s, apparently could not resist writing a supplement to his Crawford Medal-winning book. Philately is that much the better for his efforts. UPU Specimen Stamps 1878–1961 Supplement – 2021 is perfectly designed to work in concert with its predecessor work.
The 2015 tome was organized much like a catalog, with examples of specimen stamps organized alphabetically by stamp issuing entity. It was profusely illustrated and associated each example with an identifier for the type or variety of the word “SPECIMEN” that had been printed on or perfined into the stamp. The numerous appendices resulted in a book that was an explication of the how and the why of UPU specimens.
This supplement’s chapters largely track the organization of the earlier work. Bendon “resumes” page numbering beginning with page 600 to ensure differentiation between the paired publications. Moreover, each element of the supplement identifies the page in the previous book that is being added to or revised. In all, the catalog section of the supplement offers information on sixty of the 220 stamp issuing entities found in the original.
Many of the catalog entries are simply one line corrections, additions, or sometimes deletions. Checklist corrections to the original are handled in a very convenient way: an image of the erroneous text is reproduced, accompanied by the necessary correction. This is very convenient when using both books side-by-side. And that is precisely the way that these two references should be used.
Figure 1. Falkland specimen stamp page from the Swedish archive.
Figure 2. Circular describing distribution of Falkland specimen stamps.
Other entries are more substantial. The entry for the Falkland Islands, for example, consists of three pages. There is a full page of new text to be inserted after the original introductory text. Such entries are fully footnoted, as was the case with the original volume. There is a new half-page illustration of archival examples from the Royal Swedish Post Office’s collection. The appearance of the specimen stamps on this album page (Figure 1) was used to confirm that this piece is from the archive of the Royal Swedish Post Office collection. Frequently, the archival source of specimen stamps can only be determined by the pages on which they are mounted. There is a full-page reproduction of an 1891 International Bureau Circular that describes distribution of certain Falkland stamps (Figure 2). There are many similar two and three page addenda.
Bendon also adds something that more supplements should contain: additions to the “Sources and Selected References” section. Six years have passed since the original 2015 volume. Several dozen specialized new publications have emerged. This supplement brings those all together, expanding the usefulness of the original section.
The first two appendices are helpful. Appendix E is a one line addendum to the prior edition’s “British Printers’ Standard Types.” It identifies additional varieties of the De La Rue “D12” overprint type. But Appendix F contains a reprint of the Andrew Norris 1997 article where these varieties were first introduced. Bendon has made very effective use of reprinting important (and sometimes challenging to obtain) publications in order to bring together a continuation of the compendium that populated his 2015 work.
As readers of The American Philatelist will see in the upcoming January 2022 issue, stamp catalogs are simply a necessity for philatelists. Of additional importance to specialists are auction catalogs of focused materials, in this case UPU specimens. Within auction catalogs we frequently see unique examples that may not have been seen publicly for a generation or more. Auction catalogs, also provide real-world transactional data that collectors can use when buying for their own collections, or when it is time to sell. Such data may age with time, but they provide a baseline for further research.
James Bendon has done a major service to collectors of UPU material by reprinting in their entirety two of the most important auction catalogs for the specimen genre: the 1976 Robson Lowe International auction of British, European, and overseas specimens; and the 1980 Sotheby Parke Bernet South Africa sale of worldwide specimen stamps. Together, these sales comprise a powerful source of pricing and expansive descriptions of both common and quite rare material.
The important new and revised material contained in UPU Specimen Stamps 1878–1961 Supplement – 2021 is reason enough to add this book to your philatelic library. But the intelligent way that James Bendon has constructed and assembled it produces that rare book: an intuitive and easy to use supplement to a comprehensive predecessor volume.