First postal datestamp

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Britain’s then Postmaster General, Colonel Henry Bishop, produced the world’s first postal datestamp in 1661 in response to criticism that letters were often delayed in the post.

An announcement in the April 1661 issues of Mercurius Publicus explained: ‘A stamp is invented that is putt upon every letter shewing the day of the moneth that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carryer may dare detayne a letter from post to post, which before was usual’.

The so-called ‘Bishop mark’ was a small circle divided in two horizontally. The top segment bore letters (to indicate the month) and the bottom a figure to indicate the date. So AP/1 would be April 1st. The stamp was made of wood and resembled two small rods with a semi-circular section, bound tightly together like the old-fashioned wooden clothes peg.

Bishop marks survived in London until 1787 and in Edinburgh until 1806. They also spread to Canada and the USA. Exeter and Bristol were the first English provincial towns to use datestamps in 1697, and they used modified forms of the Bishop mark.