Smith Elder & Co Precancel

Precancels of Great Britain

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Smith Elder & Co Precancel Henry S. King & Co Precancel William Dawson & Sons 1st Precancel W. H. Smith & Son 1st Precancel Public-Precancel Frank-Precancel Times-Precancel Railway-Precancel Army-Precancel
Smith Elder & Co H. S. King & Co W.Dawson & Sons W. H. Smith & Son 'Public Precancels' Precancel Franking Newspapers Railway Precancels Army Telegraphs
Private Telegraphs Booklets T.O.6 obliteration ENT.O.1 Cancel Calendar Embossed Perfin Sloper Contributions
Private Telegraphs Booklets T.O.1 to T.O.6 Anomalies Time frame Embossed Perfins Sloper punch Contributions



W. H. Smith & Son Precancels

According to John G.Hendy (Curator of the GPO records room), W. H. Smith & Son were first granted the use of precancels on 1st August 1876 to cancel wrappers
That does not tell us when it first came into use though.
and send mail directly to Euston station. According to Curt N. Fernau, W. H. Smith & Son were issued with five obliterators in total.
The first is shown below together with two of the examples I have seen used on W.H.S. wrappers (new style address) to H.M.S. Neptune, Queenstown
(C. Cork, Southern Ireland) and Bantry Bay redirected to Galway.
The first was dated September 1884, the other 14 August ????. Both wrappers were sold by eBay seller Ray_Cobley who has kindly given his permission
to reproduce the top image. I purchased the other one.

W. H. Smith & Son Precancel-2 by A&H
after Alcock & Holland
Precancel-2 example 1
W. H. Smith & Son Precancel-2 by D&C
after Dagnall & Chandler
Anyone know when the 'Neptune' left Bantry Bay for Galway?
Precancel-2 example 2

The main point in these would seem to be the 'S' in a diamond. The examples I have seen have the outer ring of the Alcock & Holland version with the '71' in diamond
of the Dagnall & Chandler illustration. The '71', though being ostensibly Catford, according to Chandler & Dagnall, was the number
in the P.O. series allocated to the N.P.B. this would then follow '70' used on the precancels of 'The Times' newspapers (1859).

Compare this to the 1886 wrapper (old style address) to H.M.S. Neptune at 'Mediterranean Station' illustrated on StampDomain (3rd cover down) using a 3d embossed and with the usual 'FB' cancellation.
This cancellation appears to be about 1¼" wide by 7/8" high (31.8 x 22.2 mm).
I will refer to it as Type-I, they appear to have been used on newspaper wrappers to Ireland and maybe Scotland.


This is another example of this precancel apparently dated 13 Nov 1875 (which is earlier than the date given by Hendy so I think it must be 1876 ?) with a clear '71' in diamond.
This one is on a wrapper marked W.Mitchell & Co., 39, Charing Cross, London, S.W. (a Publisher) and posted to Londonderry, Ireland (again).
This time the cancellation is complete (perhaps due to the unusual location) of a halfpenny red. This image was found on the GBPS Discussion Board but John does not remember it
and suggests it may have been an auction lot.
The original picture shows it with a newspaper of the time which looks like it is dated 13th Nov. 1875).
was the newspaper a prop or are they both actually dated 13 Nov 1875 (earlier than the date of issue given by Hendy)?

Under the Act of June 30th 1855 which abolished Newspaper Duty, newspapers and periodicals could pass through the post for 1d under certain conditions.
One of the conditions was that the wrapper should have no writing on it apart from the name and address of the recipient, the printed title of the publication
and printed name and address of either the publisher or vendor sending it.
It is usual to see W. H. Smith & Son on the wrapper as the vendor, but below we see the name and address of W.Mitchell & Co., a publisher although with the W. H. Smith & Son precancel.
Mitchell-Wrapper  /Mitchell-Postmark

Certainly an interesting item, if anyone reading this has more information on it or knows its' current whereabouts, I would really like to know.

My attempt at rendering - 1875   My attempt at rendering - 1876
My attempt at rendering this, with two possible interpretations.


Another W. Mitchell example, again to Captain Cochrane, but clearly dated 26/5/79 and with an updated letterhead.
Mitchell-Wrapper  Mitchell-Wrapper
The halfpenny is plate 11. Click images for a larger version. These are courtesy of Andrew Chappell.

I am guessing that perhaps W.Mitchell & Co., had the same sort of arrangement with W. H. Smith & Son as
Grindlay & Co., had with Smith, Elder and then H.S.King & Co.
Perhaps W.Mitchell & Co supplied W. H. Smith & Son with their wrappers to deliver their orders.


Yet another W. Mitchell example, again to Captain Cochrane, but dated the following day on 27/5/79.
Mitchell-Wrapper  Mitchell-Wrapper
Click images for a larger version. These are courtesy of Michael Driver.
It seems strange another would be sent the next day, perhaps another item had been subscribed to.


W. H. Smith & Son Type I with 1870 date plugs Cancel closeup Cancel closeup

This is perhaps more interesting. The date plugs say 1 October 1870, but the date on the cancel is frustratingly hard to read.
It is difficult to believe that W. H. Smith & Son was using six year old wrappers with the turnover they must have had, even if this is
another case of them using wrappers supplied by another company. Is Hendy really correct with his date of 1st August 1876 ?
Images courtesy of David (huggins3215 on eBay).



On 13th February 1880 the firms of William Dawson & Sons  together with W. H. Smith & Son were issued with the obliterators DS over F and SS over F respectively.
They were each done in two sizes, the largest, about an inch (26mm) wide being by far the commonest, with the smaller being only 5/8 inch (16mm) wide. The 'F' is believed to stand for 'Foreign'.

For comparison of sizes, here are two examples of the W. H. Smith & Son precancels on their newspaper wrappers:

W. H. Smith & Son 1st Precancel W. H. Smith & Son 1st Precancel - Large W. H. Smith & Son 1st Precancel - Small

Incidentally the embossed stamps generally have 'date plugs' which are helpful
and those of WHS often have 'advertising collars' which identify pieces of stationery.
The collars were first registered at Somerset House on 29/1/62.
Note the date on the fourpenny, 24/11/79 is nearly 3 months before the precancel was issued.

More information on Embossed Stationery

Two wrappers to H.M.S. Neptune are shown above. Grosvenor sale 16 had two more later ones.
This one with 4d stated to be dated 12/5/84 has a normal 'FB' cancellation (courtesy Grosvenor Auctions).
W. H. Smith & Son with collar dated 12/5/84 to H.M.S. Neptune

This one with 3d stated to be dated 26/1/86 has a 'Foreign' precancel (courtesy Grosvenor Auctions).
W. H. Smith & Son with collar dated 26/1/86 to H.M.S. Neptune

W. H. Smith & Son With and without collar
With and without collar dated 22/3/81 courtesy of Cyclamon who sells a lot of postal stationery.


W. H. Smith & Son With and without collar
My earliest large SSF with collar dated
20/12/79 (again before issue date).

WHS with cracked collar
A 1½d with cracked collar
dated 31/3/83

W. H. Smith & Son With and without collar
A 3d with new collar (see side ornaments)
dated 15/6/87

W. H. Smith & Son 4d with collar   W. H. Smith & Son 6d with collar
Higher values 14/11/85 and 26/5/88 respectively.

W. H. Smith & Son without collar
My earliest totally without collar dated 14/6/89

W. H. Smith & Son without collar
A later one dated 3/5/93. all 3 multiples are to make up 4½d


Other values found:

S S / F on 1½d Yellow S S / F on 1½d Yellow S S / F on 2d blue S S / F on 2d lake
On 1d Brown On 1½d Yellow On 2d Blue On 2d Lake
S S / F on 2½d Grey-Blue   S S / F on 4d Vermilion   S S / F on 6d Violet
On 2½d Grey-BlueOn 4d VermilionOn 6d Violet
S S / F on 1884 2d S S / F on 1884 5d S S / F on 1s plate 13 S S / F on 1884 5d S S / F on 2s6d S S / F on 5s
On 1884 2dOn 1884 5dOn 1s plate 13 On 1887 ½d On 2s6dOn 5s

I will refer to the small one as Type-II, and the large one as Type-III, they were used on 'Foreign' mail.
This is most commonly found on the 2s6d value. I have also seen it on four of the 5s value.


The other two types illustrated by Fernau are shown below, the first with 4-bar sections, the last with 5-bar sections:

4-Bar Type:

W. H. Smith & Son Precancel-3  W. H. Smith & Son Precancel according to Hendy
Fernau 2nd type                  after John G.Hendy

The similarity of the 'Fernau 2nd type', (which is the same as the illustration given by Alcock & Holland), and the Hendy version including the dates,
suggests that they are intended to represent the same precancel. Clearly early illustrations may be lacking in accuracy

Hendy uses this illustration when he says 'In August 1876, an arrangement was made with the firm of W. H. Smith and Son by which the postal authorities
granted them the use of a special obliteration stamp to cancel at their own offices the wrappers of the newspapers which were sent direct to Euston Station
for transmission by the early day mails on the London and North-Western Railway.'

The differences bring out two points; firstly, these illustrations were all hand-drawn and each was one of many such, F. Hugh Vallancey author of
Billig's Handbook on Postmarks Volume 9 'British Postmarks' wrote in the preface "I wish to express my indebtedness to my daughter,
who has drawn every postmark by hand ...".   Secondly, Hendy was writing a book published in 1909 and the illustration may be influenced
by the type he was familiar with. But then, there does also seem to be gaps in the official records.

I have not seen any examples of the 4-bar type, despite the abundance of 5-bar examples shown below.
I suspect it may be just a poor illustration of the 5-bar type below, but I have not seen any of those earlier than 1894, so perhaps they are simply rarer.

I will refer to the 4-bar type as Type-IV. There may be sub-types.

5-Bar Type:
W. H. Smith & Son Precancel-4 W. H. Smith & Son Precancel according to Mackay
Fernau 3rd type             after James A. Mackay

Again similarities and differences.
It would appear that there are lines each side of the date, but that they are sometimes very feint (see examples below).
I will refer to the 5-bar type as Type-V. There may be sub-types.
Compare the dates on the Type-IV and Type-V illustrations.

According to Chandler & Dagnall this type replaced our Type-I in 1891.


I have now seen two wrappers with Type-V precancel. The first looks to be dated 17th August 1896 on a W.H.Smith wrapper to Col. J.S.Young (later knighted try 'googling' him), Nairn, Invernesshire.
The second is on an Eason & Son Ltd., cover from Dublin to Leap Co. Cork dated 8th September 1902. Eason & Son Ltd. had 'acquired the business' from W.H. Smith in 1886 but
were continuing to use their precancel in 1902! These images come courtesy of Jan Kosniowski
Charles Eason had been a manager for WHS, working at Victoria Station, Manchester until he was appointed to run the newsagent (bought as bankrupt from Johnston & Co in 1850).
In 1886, Smith became Chief Secretary for Ireland and to avoid subsequent losses, the whole business in Ireland was sold to Charles Eason (& Son).
There are many parallels here to the situation with Smith, Elder and H.S.King 18 years earlier. Perhaps H.S.King also made use of the Smith, Elder precancel after 1868.
Precancel-3 example 1a Precancel-3 example 2a
Precancel-3 example 1 Precancel-3 example 2

It looks like the Victorian one is the Fernau 3rd type, but the Edwardian one could well be the Mackay version.
This Type-V precancel appears to have been used on newspapers to Ireland and Scotland.

Here is a similar wrapper that I have obtained, addressed to the same person, dated '22 AU 02'.
"Eason & Son, Limited (Late W. H. SMITH & SON)" - Did W.H.Smith & Son originally have a branch in Dublin ?
Eason Precancel-3 example 22/8/1902
That gives two examples, dated 22/8/02 and 8/9/02, then 11 days later (again to the same person) we have the one below:

Interestingly the Eason & Son wrapper below dated 19 September 1902, is 255mm wide, whereas the one above is only 126mm wide.
It also has a Milled-Edge precancel instead (Letaillieur Type C8, Chandler Type 4b code 13). Note the offset showing through.
I find it puzzling that a wrapper sent ostensibly from Dublin to Cork has a London postmark !!!!
Eason example with London cancel.
Either a 'London' postmark was being used in Dublin, or W. H. Smith & Son were in fact still sending out items on behalf of Eason & Son, using Eason wrappers.
If that is the case, the Type-V precancel above may in fact have been applied by W. H. Smith & Son rather than by Eason & Son.,
did the larger wrapper somehow cause a different mailing procedure to be applied?

Below, some examples I have which also appears to be the Fernau version.
The first one is one seen on eBay and shown here courtesy of Eric M.
(the 17th August seems strangely popular !!!)
Precancel-5 halfpenny

Precancel-5 halfpenny
Precancel-5 halfpenny    Precancel-5 halfpenny    Precancel-5 halfpenny
Precancel-5 halfpenny
Precancel-5 twopenny pair
Precancel-5 halfpenny

Precancel-5 halfpenny

Precancel-11 penny
The inner circle measures 20mm diameter. A virtually identical precancel with an inner circle diameter of 19mm
is recorded by the Perfin Society used with an 'R' perfin on a halfpenny vermilion dated 9 JY 9?


Perfin-R-1   Perfin-R-1
My Reference R-1
Perfin Soc. Ref. R0012.03
Perfin User T. Rastall & Son, Booksellers, Stationers,
Printers, Bookbinders
Newspaper and Advertising Agents.
Eccleston Street, London SW.
Precancel Types: Bar code A and WHS Type-V
Date range: 6/1/1892 to 7/3/1911

Given the nature of the Rastall business, it seems likely that W.H.Smith & Son were sending
out pre-stamped wrappers on behalf of Rastall & Son, just as they did for Eason & Son above.

Lastly a 're-associated' pair from scans provided by Jeff Turnbull.
Associated pair



I have a somewhat modest collection of these so far, but it may be helpful to list the examples I have:

W. H. Smith & Son,     Type-I Precancel

'S' in Diamond on W. H. Smith & Son or W Mitchell & Co. Stationery
Indicia Date Plugs / Postmark
½d green Oct. 1870 ?!
½d brown Sept. 1884
½d red Nov. 1876 - May 1879


W. H. Smith & Son,   Type-II  Small SS/F   from February 1880

Small 'SS/F' on W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery
IndiciaDate Plugs
4d 24/11/79- old stock perhaps?


W. H. Smith & Son,   Type-III  Large SS/F   from February 1880

Large 'SS/F' on W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery
IndiciaDate Plugs
1d 2/1/82, 8/12/82, 23/11/83
1½d 26/5/81, 25/2/82, 31/3/83, 20/12/84, 25/1/86, 22/3/86, 5/9/87
2d20/12/79, 3/1/82, 9/8/82, 5/2/83, 20/8/83, 26/1/86
3d 16/12/80, 1/9/84, 16/9/86, 15/6/87
4d 14/2/81, 9/3/82, 19/5/85, 14/11/85
6d16/2/86, 26/5/88

Giving a range of December 1879 to May 1888


Large 'SS/F' on Stationery without collar (from 1888)
IndiciaDate Plugs
1d brown undated, approx 1884 - 1902
1½d brown 14/6/89, 28/3/92
1½d yellow 3/7/93
2d blue 4/12/91
2d lake 2/1/94
2d lake florets
2½d grey 22/3/93
3d 14/6/89 (with 1½d brown above)
3d 25/2/91, 3/11/92
4d 20/6/90, 30/6/94 + undated (1894+)
6d 11/12/89

Giving a range of June 1889 to 1894+


Large 'SS/F' on loose stamps
Denom.NotePlateQty.PerfinnedApprox. Date Range
½d vermilion 1887 issue  1 0 1/1/1887 to 17/4/1900
2d lilac1884 issue 2 0 1/4/84 to 1/1/87
5d green1884 issue 1 0 1/4/84 to 1/1/87
1s green   13 1017/1/76 to 14/10/80
1s green 1887 issue   10 1/1/1887 to 11/7/1900
2s.6d white paper   6 0 1884 to 5/4/1902
5s white paper   2 0 1884 to 5/4/1902

This gives an overall minimum range of (about) 20/12/79 to 1894+ but with some big gaps.



W. H. Smith & Son,     Type-IV



W. H. Smith & Son,     Type-V (1891?)

W. H. Smith & Son Type-V on Stationery
(2 of these are seen but not mine)
½d brown 17 Aug 1896, 25 Feb 1898
½d green 22 Aug 1902, 8 Sept 1902, 4 Feb 190?
1d red6 Aug 1902


W. H. Smith & Son Type-V on loose stamps
Denom. Dated
QV ½d vermilion ?/4/94, 23/10/95, 26/10/95, 29/1/96, ?/1/96
QV ½d green 17th August 1900
KEVII ½d green 10 Apr 1902, 1 Apr 1903, 17 July 1903
KEVII 2d green/carmine 20 Oct 1904

This gives an overall minimum range of (about) April 1894 to October 1904.


By 1905, W. H. Smith & Son were using the Milled-Edge precancels.
Also note the 1902 Eason wrapper above.



Address Logos:

The address that WHS put on their wrappers gradually changed over the years:

A knowledge of the dates of these can help dating cancellations and Vice-Versa. There is overlap.

There is a lot of information about W.H.S. wrappers at StampDomain.


Early W. H. Smith & Son address
The earliest up until at least 1893.
Later W. H. Smith & Son address Later still W. H. Smith & Son address
From 1884 or earlier until at least 1920. From 1922 or earlier until at least 1960.


I would appreciate hearing from anyone with dated wrappers that can help narrow the date-ranges on these.



Comments, criticisms, information or suggestions are always welcome.


Please include the word 'Precancels' in the subject.


Last updated 6th. October 2022

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