Just over one hundred and fifty years ago, the Post Office in the Province of Sindh, (then in British India ), made postal history in Asia ! India became the first country on the continent to issue postage stamps!
The first stamps of India issued just before 1854 came to be known as “Scinde Dawks”, as they were issued in the Province of Sindh . “Scinde” was how the British spelt the province of Sindh and “Dawk” is the anglicized spelling of the Hindustani word “Dak” or Post. And so, to this day, India ’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 Great Britain 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.
Hitherto, in India , 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 Great Britain .
With the help of the Postmaster of Karachi, Sir Bartle issued the first postage stamps in Asia – 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 Province of Sindh 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 world (including India ) 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 India 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 Victoria . 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 United States . 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 United States 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 called Philately!
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 money!
Naturally, 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 existence!
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).
Another First for India
The 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 India – with a skeletal network of 701 post offices across the subcontinent -- and a new sea mail service from India to Great Britain and China .
In the year 1911, another postal “first” was achieved in India . In February that year, a