New book re-opens an old controversy.
Oxford Philatelic Society’s meeting on Monday 19 May 2014 saw the launch of a book* which re-opens an old controversy. In 1885 the Postmaster General required that Oxford and Cambridge Colleges cease issuing stamps which they had introduced to pay for what they considered internal mail. It was a hotly debated issue at the time and the ‘College Messenger Stamps’ have been keenly sought by philatelists down the years.
The text of the book, together with a rare collection of the Cambridge stamps, has lain in an attic ever since 1939 and has only recently been discovered. It strongly refutes the PMG’s decision that the stamps infringed his monopoly, stating that the Colleges’ right to conduct their mail had been entrenched in the Act establishing the post office under Charles II in 1660. The book was written by the grandfather of a retired Oxford Brookes University professor. Together with Chris Harman, a former President of the Royal Philatelic Society of London, who is a world authority on these stamps, Professor Simon Catling launched the book at the meeting and both men displayed outstanding collections of the Messenger stamps of the two universities.
Keble was the first of the Oxford colleges to issue them, in 1871, and over some years Merton College followed suit, then Lincoln, Hertford, Exeter, St John’s and All Souls – as did Selwyn, Queen’s and St John’s in Cambridge. The noted philatelist King George V publicly declined to accept the offer of some for his collection, since ‘he did not consider himself justified in accepting what had been suppressed by one of His Departments of State’. Yet the Queen’s collection today is known to have specimens of them. Further controversy came in the 1930s when Oxford University declined the offer of an entire collection of them offered by an Oxford resident, Mr. F. A. Bellamy.
*The book is: The Story of the Cambridge College Messenger Stamps, 1882-5, by H. D. Catling, published by The Cinderella Stamp Club, ISBN 0-9546087-2-0, £12.