Smith Elder & Co Precancel

Precancels of Great Britain

This part of the web site is to consolidate information on GB precancels.

The site has expanded. Click here for a site-map.

Henry S. King & Co Precancel
अनुवाद Übersetzen sie
Traduisez ترجم
перевести Traduca Traduzca 翻译
Back to HOME
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



T.O.1 to T.O.6 series

These are included here for historical reasons.
It has been concluded that they were not precancels.

It was at one time suggested that these were pre-cancels because they were so common on W. H. Smith & Son, wrappers.
Analysis of the evidence now forces me to conclude that they were probably applied by inspectors of mail.

On 30th April 1860 the obliterators T.O.1 to T.O.6 were issued to the Foreign Branch of the Circulation Department at the G.P.O. in London.

I no longer believe that these are precancels, but the page is still here as it represents perhaps the best information about these postmarks on the internet.
When I first came across these postmarks, I saw a suggestion that they might be precancels but the evidence suggests otherwise.
They are nevertheless still very intriguing and often appear on mail/stamps of W. H. Smiths, Dawson And Sons and Smith, Elder. Companies that did use precancels.


T.O.1 obliteration T.O.2 obliteration T.O.3 obliteration
my effort after Fernau after James Mackay
T.O.4 obliteration T.O.5 obliteration T.O.6 obliteration
Seymour & Gardiner-Hill after Parmenter after Westley


The following two scans are from the Post Office impression books,
© Royal Mail Group Ltd 2010, courtesy of The British Postal Museum & Archive.

Red TO series in the impression book
Black TO series in the impression book
It is interesting to compare these with the renditions above and examples below.
'My effort' though clearly very different from the images in the impression books, is a fair to middling rendition of the image below it was modelled on.
Overinking can make a big difference and underinking may require imagination to 'fill in the gaps'.

The width across the top of the 'T' varies from very wide on T.O.5 to very narrow on T.O.6 and may help to distinguish cancels when the numeral is unclear.
Note also that the tops of the 'T's are generally sloping, though not always the same way suggesting more than one copy of each,
or alternatively might be an artefact of over-inking combined with the right/left handedness of the user. The distance between the dots also varies between the cancel types.

Some 'real-life' scans of the relatively common T.O.1 , T.O.2 and T.O.6 shown below:
T.O.1 obliteration T.O.1a obliteration
T.O.2a obliteration T.O.6a obliteration

The scarcer T.O.3 and re-joined pair, T.O.4 and T.O.5:
T.O.3 obliteration on 4d TO-Stamps T.O.3 cancels-1 TO-Stamps T.O.4 cancels-1 TO-Stamps T.O.5 on 1d T.O.5 obliteration on 4d

A (probably unique) strip of six T.O.4 examples (TA-TF plate 84).
TO-Strip of 6 x  T.O.4 on 1d
This image comes courtesy of Andrew Chappell.


John Parmenter in Barred Numeral Cancellations of London gives some figures for relative rarity of these markings on cover which I will tabulate together with the quantities I have seen:

Type Parmenter (on cover) Qty on cover Qty on W.H.S. piece Qty on Smith, ElderQty on loose stampsTotal
T.O.1Scarce 7 27 0 24 58
T.O.2Very Rare 0 9 1 22 32
T.O.3Very few exist 2 00 2 4
T.O.4Known on stamp only 000 7 7
T.O.5Very few exist 000 2 2
T.O.6Very few exist 1 16 2 7 26
T.O.?  0 20 8 10
Totals 10 54 3 72 139


Gavin Littaur has shown me the work of Dubus that contains additional relevant information. According to Dubus:-
On 2nd July 1879 a new LARGE type of T.O.2 in both horizontal and vertical formats was entered in the record books and subsequently cancelled.
New T.O.2 obliteration New T.O.2 obliteration
Dubus is of the opinion that these were never put into use.
I have not seen any examples.

On 22nd July 1879 a new type of T.O.2 was issued. I have not seen any other numbers used.
New T.O.2 obliteration New T.O.2 obliteration New T.O.2 obliteration New T.O.2 obliteration New T.O.2 obliteration on 1s New T.O.2 obliteration on 1s

New T.O.2 obliteration on 1d New T.O.2 obliteration on 1d New T.O.2 obliteration on 1s New T.O.2 obliteration on 1d
after Fernau after Mackay after Westley after Dubus 1s Pl 13, 1879-1880 1s Pl 13, 1879-1880 1d Pl.193, 1879-80 1d Pl.198, 1879-80 1s Pl 13, 1880-1881 1d (die I), 1881
Out of the 11 examples I have seen, only two do not have Dawson & Sons
perfins, the halfpenny and penny examples, though they may still have
been used by Dawson & Sons.

Dawson & Sons received their own precancel in February 1880,
the later stamps should have been cancelled with it.

The previous T.O.2 cancel was used from 1864 to 1872 and was still perfectly serviceable. The new one seems to have deteriorated rapidly by comparison.

The only example I have seen of a perfin on the 1860 series,
is 'D&S' on a T.O.2
New T.O.2 obliteration on ½d New T.O.2 obliteration on 4d plate 18 New T.O.2 obliteration on 1s

New T.O.2 obliteration on 3d New T.O.2 obliteration on 1s New T.O.2 obliteration on 1s
½d, 1880-84 4d plate 18, 1882-84 2d, 3d and 1s,   1884 to 1887

Notice that William Dawson & Sons had 4 different perfins 'D.S.' and 'D & S.' are most common on these.

Look on the Perfins page for more information on perfins and underprints.

I have yet to see this postmark on any of the 1887 Jubilee issues.
This suggests that it ceased to be used before or shortly after the beginning of 1887.



Sometime round about early 1893, a new type appeared.

The last type seems strongly associated with Dawson and Sons. This type is strongly associated with W. H. Smith and Son.

FB-TO2 obliteration FB-TO2 obliteration FB-M obliteration
Foreign Branch type as shown by Parmenter (Rarity H), coincidence ?
As far as I know there are no other numbers. This has date plugs of 2/5/93.
I have a three halfpence yellow on piece with a SS/F precancel dated 3/7/93,
and another three halfpence yellow on a W. H. Smith wrapper to Germany
with FB/M that (amazingly) is also dated 3/7/93.


New TO2-Cover-b
New TO2-Cover-f
New TO/2 on Three Halfpence yellow dated 2/5/93 sent to Switzerland.
Note that there appears to be a similar slightly smudged example on sent to Gibraltar dated 25/5/93

FB-TO2 obliteration   FB-TO2 obliteration   FB-TO2 obliteration   FB-TO2 obliteration   FB-TO2 obliteration   FB-TO2 obliteration
6 more examples (cut-to-shape), the first two dated 17/4/93, then 2/5/93, 21/9/93, 27/10/93 and the last dated 25/11/93
The apparent distortion suggests that these were made of rubber, the last three show signs of deterioration.

FB-TO2 obliteration
Here is one with florets in place of date-plugs. these came into use in 1894 (I think).

New TO2-Cover-h
New TO2-Cover-g
Less clear, but the same cancel on a One Penny to France.
This is the only one I have seen that is not on the three-halfpence yellow.
New TO2-Cover-i
Jan Kosniowski of says "This design for the W H Smith address was in use from about 1884 till about 1902 ".
Comparing the state of wear to those above, I would guess late 1893 or 1894 (Pity they didn't have date-plugs).


The thing about the T.O. series is:

No one really knows what these were for!

These were required, authorized, designed, made and used by people, but now over 120 years later, no one really knows why!

We know that they were first issued on 30th April 1860 to the Foreign Branch of the Circulation Department at the London G.P.O., and according to Alcock & Holland they are known used on newspaper wrappers and normal letters, presumably to foreign countries.

My images show use of the first series from at least 29 July 1860 to 20 February 1875, upright from April 1880 to April 1884, and the round T.O.2 from April 1893 to 1894.

One early theory (as held by John Parmenter, 1999) was that the T.O. stood for 'Travelling Office' as short for T.P.O meaning 'Travelling Post Office' but these obliterators were normally allocated the same way towns in England, Wales and offices abroad were allocated using the standard 1844 type obliterator as shown below. I have examples of WHS embossed with 'C68' dated 21/2/66, 3/8/66 and 15/7/71 which are all in the range of use of the T.O. series.

C68 TPO Cancel
C68 was used by the London & Dover T.P.O. from 1865
I have examples dated 21/2/66, 3/8/66 and 15/7/71.

Brumell wrote (Pg39) when referring to 1857 onwards "When a stamp requires alteration or repair its place is often taken temporarily by a stamp, either of steel or rubber, fitted up with moveable type; such stamps are called Travelling stamps and are kept at Head offices in readiness for use at any sub-office as required." Perhaps T.O. stands for 'Travelling Obliterator',
but could just as easily stand for 'Transit Office'.

In 'The Postage Stamps of Great Britain (part 1, 3rd Edn. 1967,Pg 90) J.B.Seymour and Clive Gardiner-Hill write "Charles Williams was informed officially that these cancellations, which are uncommon, may have been issued for use on ship or naval letters, or both, passing through the Circulation Department. All Royal Navy letters would go to St Martin's le Grand for re-direction." This would be consistent with the T.O. standing for 'Transit Office'. But in that case, it is difficult to understand how the T.O.3 cover shown below made it from the Atlantic to St Martin's le Grand before being cancelled.

Another theory is that it was a precancel, which is why they have a page on this website. The T.O. obliterators shown above were issued in 1860, five years before Smith, Elder & Co received their obliterator. It is quite possible that the requirement of a precancel or something similar was anticipated, and that the T.O. perhaps stood for 'Temporary Obliterator'. If so then at least some of the series would seem to have been used by W. H. Smith & Son prior to receiving their own precancel obliterators, and continued in use afterwards. However there is evidence given below that T.O.1, T.O.2, T.O.3 and T.O.6 at least were not precancels.
Since the whole point of a precancel is to speed up bulk mailings, it seems unlikely that the rare T.O.4 and T.O.5 would be precancels if the others are not!

On the left below is an image kindly provided by Tim Burgess showing an example of  T.O.6 on a two pence embossed W. H. Smith wrapper dated 22/1/64 and on the right, I have an example of  T.O.6 on a Smith, Elder & Co., one penny embossed dated 11/3/63:

T.O.6 on W.H.Smith & Son T.O.6 on Smith Elder

More information on Embossed Stationery

The water is a little muddy though as it appears to have had 'gratis' written on the back, been gummed, stuck down and cancelled with 'T.O.6' then peeled off causing several patches of thinning (see around 'ON' of 'London').
Was Smith, Elder & Co in the habit of doing this sort of thing? It might be a way of currying favour with an important client while still getting the advertising, I do have another Smith, Elder & Co embossed that shows some evidence of gumming although without the 'gratis'. Alternatively it might be the result of an item from Smith, Elder & Co that passed through the post without being cancelled and was then re-used - see the 1906 example below: Unless though, it was sent to W. H. Smith & Son and used by them after dutifully precancelling with the 'T.O.6' cancel, it would seem that 'T.O.6' is not a precancel. A possibility is that an early collector glued it in an album and it was subsequently roughly removed (not sure about the 'gratis' though). The use of a Smith Elder & Co precancel on a Grindlay & Co 'Home News' advertising collar shown earlier (which shows no sign of re-use) also invites explanation as I could just as well argue that the 'S' cancellation was not a precancel!

another T.O.6 on Smith Elder
I do now have another example so it is not a one-off.


WHS Embossed re-use
W. H. Smith & Son embossed and stuck on a 1906 Registered Cover. This one was stated to have an intact red seal with initials 'WH'. (eBay lot 380081612785)
It does have a postmark of East Strand that corresponds with the address on the collar. Image courtesy of Arthur-Ryan-GB-Stamps


If that was a bit unconvincing, I have a better example. Here we have 'T.O.2' on a 4d W. H. Smith embossed dated 30/9/72 and on a 1d Smith, Elder embossed dated 30/9/64.
As mentioned above and illustrated again here, the majority of my examples of the 1879 upright T.O.2 are on stamps with Dawson & Sons perfins.
I now have a couple of the 1860 type T.O.2 with a D&S perfin, so we have T.O.2 associated with three different companies.

More T.O. cancels
W.H.Smith & Son.
More T.O. cancels
Smith, Elder & Co.
TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-12a TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-12b New T.O.2 obliteration
D & S
Dawson & Sons perfins.
TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-10
It certainly looks like T.O.2 was not a precancel.


I have only seen a few T.O. covers:

This is the first T.O.1 cover I obtained, which fortuitously is quite early.

TO1 Cover 3
Horsham to Dieppe, France dated 29 July 1860, only 3 months after issue.

My second cover is nearly 4 years later:
TO1 Cover 4
TO1 Cover 4
London NW9 to Cadiz, Spain dated 2 March 1864 with a 4d plate 4 (hairlines).


This one courtesy of Tim Burgess. Note the manuscript '6' (6d paid cash) and '40'.

TO1 Cover 2
Liverpool to Lisbon on the coast of Portugal, via France 19 August 1862.

TO1 Cover 2
3 years later to the same address, and again from Liverpool (courtesy of Grosvenor Auctions), this time with a stamp and '40'.


TO1 Oporto Cover
TO1 Oporto Cover
This one from Liverpool to Oporto on the coast of Portugal to the north of Lisbon dated August 1862. Front and back courtesy of Denis Mahon.
All three of these are from Liverpool to Portugal with 6d paid and with a T.O.1 cancelling the 'PD' mark (Paid to Destination).
They are without an "insufficiently Prepaid" mark, but have the same charge mark '40'.
The reason for this I am told is that until 31.07.1866 it was only possible to pre-pay the postage to the border of Portugal.
Postage within Portugal had to be paid locally since there was no postal agreements.
Thus the postage was correct, but the 'PD' marks were not


I have recently been shown another cover (see below) from Carlisle to Rome via France dated 1st. September 1864 with a 6d (plate 4) stamp.
It has an 'Insufficiently Prepaid' mark in black and a 'T.O.1' also in black on a red 'PD' mark.
This image comes courtesy of Julian Stray.

TO1 Cover to Rome

T.O. postmarks in red

TO1 Cover 1
Shipston on Stour (706 cancel) to Paris, March 1861.
Red ink used for both 'T.O.1' and 'INSUFFICIENTLY PREPAID'.
 Red TO2 on Plate 72
Red T.O.2 on Plate 72

Notice that none of these marks are on a stamp and the 'Insufficiently Prepaid' marks are in the same colour as the 'T.O.' marks.
The use of T.O.1 on covers rather than stamps would seem to imply that T.O.1 was not a precancel.
There is also a picture of a 'T.O.2' mark in reddish (looks like a bit of a mixture) on a penny red acquired indirectly from Tim Burgess.


The cover below also uses the same combination of Red 'Insufficiently Prepaid' mark, and a Red '50' (Transit ?) mark.
Spinks Cover 1
London to Hayda, Bohemia via France, September 1861.

The next cover of 28th March 1862 has a red '50 in diamond' (on PD) but a black 'Insufficiently Prepaid' mark.
Andrew Chappel Cover   Andrew Chappel Cover - back
Is this because it was 'TOO LATE' ? - Image courtesy of Andrew Chappell of QV Pennies.

50 Cover to Paris
A September 1867 cover from Liverpool to Paris via London (backstamp) marked "INSUFFICIENTLY STAMPED" and '50' in diamond cancelling the 'PD' mark, both in black.

50 Cover to Rome
Part of a front from London to somewhere but with a Calais transit mark dated 30 Jan 69. This is marked "INSUFFICIENTLY STAMPED" and has a '50' in diamond cancelling the 'PD' mark.

All five of these covers have the 'Transit?' mark over the 'PD' (Paid to Destination) mark.
I would imagine that the 'PD' mark is applied in Britain by the postal clerk, believing that the postage was sufficient.
The T.O. or '50' mark is then used to cancel the 'PD' mark when found to be incorrect by someone better informed, or perhaps with more up-to-date information.
It may be that many of these were applied shortly after a change in the postage rates.
It has to be said however that the T.O. marks on stationary cut-outs do not have 'PD' marks on them though such marks could have been on the cover. I have a T.O on 'PD' on stamp though.

TO-Stamps T.O.0-4 cancels-1

Number 50 was first introduced in May 1855 and according to G. Brumell, the number 50 was initially used by the 'Chief office of the London District' but by 1887 was in use by the Victoria Docks.
H. C. Westley says 50 was allocated to 'Chief Letter Carrier' on 20/5/44 and to Victoria Docks 20/4/83.
So at the time of these, the 50 would seem to indicate the London Chief Office.
Why did the last two get '50' in diamond rather than a  T.O.1 cancel? Perhaps it was applied by an inspector if missed by the regular staff.
Were the other T.O. marks issued to other places to fulfil the same function as the '50' in diamond by other inspectors ?


This cover might give us a clue.
Sent from Rotterdam 2nd Sept. 1865, it arrived at London on the 4th receiving a red PAID mark and black '50' in diamond (no 'Insufficiently Prepaid' mark).
It then went on a Packet Boat (mark under the black '50' in diamond, red indicating morning) still on the 4th, arriving New York U.S.A. on the 18th.
Or did it go on the Packet Boat? is the '50' in diamond intended to cancel that mark as the one above cancels the 'PD' mark?

It is worth mentioning that I have seen a comment about a similar cancel with '29' in diamond being "temporarily loaned to P&O Line Mailboat".
I do not know when this was, but possibly the T.O. series represents a more permanent arrangement.

It seems more likely though that the allocation of A80-A90, A99, B03, B12, B16, B56, B57 and C79 to P&O Line Mailboats
and A91-98, B61 and B62 to Cunard Line Mailboats was the more permanent arrangement.

The '16 Cents' in red is interesting, I thought at first it was an American marking, but according to Hendy it is a transit charge on items bound for the U.S.A. passing through the U. K.
(Under article XII of an 1848 convention). He lists it under 'Foreign Branch'.

Incidentally, the Packet Boat mark has 'N' in the centre, Hendy lists 'L' for Liverpool and 'D' for Devonport, was 'N' for New York ?


The cover below, again courtesy of Tim Burgess has an 1866 6d stamp (emblems plate 5) and an August 27th. 1866 London PAID mark.
It also was the first T.O.3 example I knew of. The address includes "England", so must have been from outside England.
However, somewhere with 6d stamps, and they did seem to be available on the ships.

TO3-Cover 1



According to Argyll Etkin when selling the cover below, back in the 1990s, the cover contained a letter written on
August 8th 1866 aboard the Cunard steamship 'Cuba' bound for Halifax, Newfoundland where it would have arrived August 14th to be returned aboard the Cunard steamship 'China' leaving Halifax on August 17th to arrive at Liverpool on August 25th and finally London August 27th.

Their theory was that the T.O.3 was applied aboard the steamship 'Cuba'. I see 2 problems with that:

1) Cunard was issued in June 1859 with 'B61' and 'A91' to 'A98' obliterators that were used until 1868.
        (Ref. Stanley Gibbons Commonwealth & British Empire catalogue.)
2) The T.O. series was issued to the Foreign Branch of the Circulation Department at the G.P.O. in London.

So whilst that theory is possible, I would like some evidence. It is by no means the only theory,

According to the TPO & Seapost Society, since the letter was addressed to London it would not have gone through Liverpool. Instead it would have been off-loaded at Queenstown, travelled to Dublin on the Queenstown & Dublin T.P.O., then across to Holyhead on the packet steamer and to London on the London & Holyhead TPO.

It could be that the cover was not cancelled at all until arrival in London, or the 'T.O.3' could have been applied at Queenstown, or somewhere in between.
This mark is scarce, so it is likely to have been used in unusual circumstances.

I also have a T.O.1 on a Penny 'stars' overprinted 'CYPRUS', which was obviously incoming.

The item below is Cavendish Philatelic Auction number 761. Lot 1564. The accompanying text is:
CORK TO DUBLIN T.P.O. - COVER WITH THE T.P.O.'s VERY RARE "T.O.3" NUMERAL TYING A 1d RED; 20 Sept. 1869 env. (minor toning/wear) to Sheffield franked by a 1d Red tied by a mainly very fine very rare "T.0.3" Numeral with v. fine "QUEENSTOWN" c.d.s. on the front, having the original contents written on board ship "Off Queenstown" about to leave for the U.S. This is one of only 3 recorded examples of this cancel on cover, and it is thought to have been applied on the Cork to Dublin T.P.O. Important Irish Exhibition Item. [With copy of 1989 Martin Willcocks article about this cover and the TO cancels. [Ex Brian Wallas.]'

I will just add to that that the postmark is 1868 not 1869.
TO3-Cover 1
Copyright Notice:
Copyright © 2009 Cavendish Philatelic Auctions Ltd. All rights reserved.
Permission to use, copy and distribute documents and related graphics available from this web-site is granted, provided that:

1.    the above copyright notice appears in all copies and that both the copyright notice and this permission notice appear.
2.    use of documents and related graphics available from this web-site is for informational and non-commercial purposes only.
3.    no documents or related graphics available from this web-site are modified in any way.
4.    no graphics available from this web-site are used, copied or distributed separate from accompanying text.

T.O.3 cover back
The back of the cover above, courtesy of Colin Hanson.


This is the only example of a T.O.6 on cover that I have seen.

T.O.6 on cover from Malta

It was sent from Gibraltar on 1st. October 1868 with manuscript equests to be sent “Per first Steamer / via England” to a company in Arnheim, Holland.
It bears a cachet of Ferdinand Schott, Gibraltar, and a red PD mark cancelled with black T.O.6 on the front.
The back has a red London Ship-Letter mark of 10 October 1868 and what looks like a London mark of 11 October 1868.
Image courtesy of Eric Holmes of The Gibraltar Study Circle.



Inspectors-Mark-Cover 1
This cover from London to Dunkerque, dated 14 April 1874 (near the end of the T.O.1 period) has what looks like an inspectors mark in the rôle of the T.O.1 cancelling a 'PD' mark.

Inspectors-Mark-Cover 2
This cover from London to Paris, dated 9 October 1875 has 2 'PD' marks (one circular, one elliptical), a couple of 'Late' marks and a missing stamp.
It also has what looks like 3 inspectors marks cancelling the 'PD' markss


I am beginning to think that the T.O. series were akin to Inspectors Marks.


The evidence from the covers suggests that the T.O. obliterators were mainly used to cancel the 'PD' mark
at the same time, in the same location and using the same ink that the 'Insufficiently Prepaid' mark was applied.
It only appears to have been used to cancel the stamp if it had not already been cancelled.


The T.O. marks on the covers make it clear that the T.O.1 and T.O.3 marks at least were not precancels.

T.O.1 appears to be associated with mail heading to or via France, usually with a 'Calais' mark.
T.O.3 would seem to relate to the Queenstown/Dublin/Holyhead route.

A note on Queenstown: Queenstown was an Irish port in County Cork, near Cork, and was originally known as Cove until Queen Victoria paid a visit in about 1867. In her honour it was renamed Queenstown. When that part of Ireland became independent in 1922, the name reverted to Cove but adopted the Gaelic spelling of Cobh, which is still pronounced Cove!

T.O.2 and T.O.6  ?  I do not know, but I note that I have both of these used by Smith, Elder and I have no T.O.1 used by Smith, Elder.
Smith, Elder sent a lot of mail to India and Australia, perhaps this is a clue. Grindlay acted as Bankers and Agents in India also.
My understanding is that mail for both these destinations would have been taken from Southampton via Alexandria by P&O.

India-Grindlay-1923   India-Grindlay-1924
In the 1920's advertisements were to be found on the backs of telegrams in India. T.0.1 on 5/- stamps may reflect bulk sendings.

I also note that on Stationery, T.O.6 is about twice as common as T.O.2 but on loose stamps T.O.2 is about 10 times more common than T.O.6 !
This suggests that T.O.6 is associated with more commercial mail (WHS at least), but a lot less personal mail than T.O.2
Because of the levels if English literacy in the general populations, to me this suggests that T.O.6 is more likely to be on mail to India/Australia via Southampton.

The only perfinned example I have seen of the 1860 series is a T.O.2 with Dawson and Sons perfin.
Also the 1879 series of upright T.O.2 is strongly associated with Dawson and Sons.
Dawson and Sons precancels are found on a wide variety of face-value stamps.

One other clue, Tim Burgess' website shows 9 examples of the T.O. postmarks of which at least 6 are T.O.2 and none are T.O.6
His collection was put together in the USA.
To me, that suggests that T.O.2 is associated with mail bound for the Americas via Liverpool.

That leaves T.O.4 and T.O.5

The other main routes for foreign mail at this time (1860-75) were via Hull (to Bergen, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp),
and via Plymouth/Devonport to/from Capetown and from West Indies after October 1867.

You might think of Bristol, Falmouth and Milford Haven also, but as far as I can ascertain they were little involved with foreign packets during this period.
They would however have received ship-letters carried by private vessels.
It should be noted though, that control of the packet stations was in the hands of the Admiralty from 1837 until 1860, the same year that the T.O. series was issued. Coincidence ?

A tentative association might be:

T.O.3Queenstown / Dublin / Holyhead
T.O.4 Devonport / Plymouth     *

* Devonport up until 1870, then Plymouth.

One thing this does not explain is why the 1879 and later types only appear to exist as T.O.2 !   Despite the fact that the 1893 examples are to Switzerland and Gibraltar.
The only possibility I can think of is that All of the 1860 types were replaced with the same mark and T.O.2 was chosen as it was the one that was most used at the time.
So perhaps the table should be revised as :

T.O.2 Dover
T.O.3Queenstown / Dublin / Holyhead
T.O.4Devonport / Plymouth     *

It is worth emphasizing that I have seen no T.O. examples definitely used after 1874 until the new 1879 type, despite 10 examples from 1870 to 1874.
The only candidate I have is a penny red plate 154 (Put to press 30 Jan 72, destroyed 8 Jan 76).

Considering this decline in use, it would be surprising for a new type to be issued unless it was due to some change in its' purpose,
possibly as a result of the formation of the G.P.U. in 1874 and Britain joining in 1875. The G.P.U. was renamed the UPU on 1 January 1879.

Comments invited (please).

As an aside, I would like to show this item:
Cardiff Docks TO
This 'T.O' at Cardiff Docks is for 'Telegraph Office'. Other examples are shown below.

Birmingham TO     Butter-Market-TO on 3d     Butter-Market-TO on 1s


At this point, I will draw a parallel with another series of postmarks issued 20 September 1865 that are little understood:
Note this is about the same time that the first precancels were issued (to Smith, Elder & Co.)

B, F, H and P obliterations

Obliterations like these with the letters 'B', 'F', 'H' and 'P' were issued to the Foreign Office. As usual, we are left guessing as to the intended purpose but they were in use at least up to 1884.

Theory 1. H. C. Westley considers that since J. G. Hendy says the principle ports for Ship-Letter arrivals at this time were Liverpool, Bristol, Falmouth, Plymouth and Hull
then it is reasonable to suppose they were intended to cancel Ship-Letters arriving at Bristol, Falmouth, Plymouth and Hull.
Liverpool was left out because it had a Ship Letter Office, it had pretty much taken over control of Ship Letters from Britain to the Western world, but I would be interested to know what their equivalent obliteration was.

Theory 2. F. H. Vallancey was aware of this theory and says "It seems probable however that the letters were those allotted to individual markers at the Foreign Branch."

If that is the case, then judging by their productivity, 'Barry' deserves the sack! But wait, if they sacked him they would have to place an advert -
"Wanted, postal workers at the Foreign Branch, only those with names beginning with 'B' need apply." or words to that effect !
In addition you would expect the same spread of face values for each letter.   Below is a table of the few that I have:

LetterQuantityFace valuesAverage
F 7 1d, 2½d, 5d, 6d 3.8d
H8 1d, 2d, 3d, 4d, 6d 4.0d
P 8 1d, 6d, 9d, 1s 6.1d

I have now also seen two examples of the 'P' on 5s stamps.
P obliteration on 5s
image courtesy of Cyclamon

Somehow I find the theory of H. C. Westley more convincing, I think that the letters stand for something with more permanence than postal workers.
The theory does have one weakness, according to J. G. Hendy, Bristol handled the most Ship Letters out of these four, but the 'B' obliteration is about the scarcest!
If that can be explained and Theory 1 really is correct, then what about the packet mail, what was their equivalent of the 'B', 'F', 'H' and 'P' obliterators ?   The T.O. series perhaps.

Here are a couple of them on piece.
(The shilling courtesy of Richard Walker)
Hull on piece  Plymouth on piece
Here are a couple courtesy of Chris Potts.
P on 10d and F on 6d plate 15.

P on 10d  F on 6d

It definitely seems that the P tends to be on higher face value stamps and is more common.

These marks are scarce on cover. I have seen few examples so far. This was posted to 'Bath, England'.
Considering that the postmark was issued to the Foreign Office and bears a GB stamp, it is reasonable to suppose that it was posted at sea
and cancelled at Plymouth (or Portsmouth?) before going on to Bath, but there are other possibilities

P obliteration on cover   Backstamp
Images courtesy of Andrew Chappell (QV Pennies on eBay).

I have recently seen two covers, each with a pair of 1/- plate 4 stamps. One leaving Britain and one arriving in Britain, but both cancelled with a barred letter.
One was from Valparaiso to Stourport, Worcestershire, marked "via Panama" which arrived in London with the stamps previously uncancelled and were given Barred F cancels and a red London -E.C paid mark of 12 February 1866 .
The back has a Valparaiso date stamp for January 2 1866 and a partial Stourport cds for February 13th 1866.
The other was to Chile with only Barred P cancels on the stamps, but a red Lombard Street London Paid November 16th 1865 cds below them and a black Panama date stamp for December 10th 1865.

The two covers below are very similar, both addressed to the same person in Ringwood, England., and bearing 4d worth of British stamps.
They are both cancelled with 'F' suggesting that the 'F' was applied at a port of entry rather than randomly selected out of the 4 options at the Foreign Section.
They are dated 10/7/85 and 27/5/85 and one is marked "About Capt. Hutchinson" which may provide a clue regarding the port used.
F on cover   F on cover
Images courtesy Andrew Chappell of QV Pennies.

This one is clearly leaving Britain
H on cover   H on cover   H on cover
This was sent to Amsterdam via the 'Ostende Packet' and has a London Paid mark dated 20 September 1857,
together with an Amsterdam receiving mark of the following day on the back. It has a manuscript '3', with only a single 1d stamp.
An easy interpretation is that it was posted in London, but could it have been posted from outside the UK, receiving the 'H' mark,
Then having the Paid mark added when it got to London ? The back also has an embossed seal that I have enhanced. Anyone recognise the monogram?
Images courtesy of Peter J Markham (pjmgb) on eBay.

As a postscript, I recently saw this. It is almost certainly postal use of the 3/- telegraph stamp, but I am really curious as to what this cancel signifies.
Could this have been Southampton? If so, it should be a lot more common.
S ! on 3/-
Anyone know anything about this ?
Image courtesy of Samwells Ltd. click image for eBay listing.


Note: These should not be confused with the series below using smaller letters A, B, C and D thought to have been used for non-postal purposes and usually found on penny stamps.
Valency says these were "undoubtedly used at London Central Office."

A, B, C and D obliterations

Though not always:
C obliteration on 5s


Note: On the T.O.1 mark, the '1' often merges with the right-hand side if the mark is not clear. See below:

Unclear T.O.1 Cancel


Look for the centre of the '1' about 13.5mm from the centre of the 'T'.

T.O.1 Alignment



I have T.O.1 on the following W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery denominations:
1d (10), 2d (10+1), 3d (2), 4d (1), 6d (3)

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels More T.O. cancels
More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels
More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels 
More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels
More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels More T.O. cancels More T.O. cancels
More T.O. cancels More T.O. cancels More T.O. cancels T.O. cancel 31-05-69
More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels
Interestingly, the last-but-one 2d and the 4d above are both dated 11/7/62, both on thin paper with a clear impression on the reverse and were both obtained from the same source.
The last TO1 cancel on a 2d is dated 31-05-69 and comes courtesy of Stephen Teuma.

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels


I have T.O.2 on the following W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery denominations:
2d(1), 3d(1), 4d(3), 6d(2)

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels More T.O. cancels


I have T.O.6 on the following W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery denominations:
1d (2), 2d (8+1), 6d (1)

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels  31-08-69 T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels

The last TO6 cancel on a 2d is dated 31-08-69 and comes courtesy of Stephen Teuma.


I also have some indeterminate T.O. cancels on the following W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery denominations:
2d (2)

More T.O. cancels  More T.O. cancels


I also have the following Smith, Elder & Co. Stationery denominations:
T.O.2 on 1d (1) and T.O.6 on 1d (2)

More T.O. cancels  T.O.6 on Smith Elder 1d T.O.6 on Smith Elder 1d


I have these T.O. series on loose stamps:

TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-1 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-12 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-13 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-2 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-8
Stars Alph.IIIStars Alph.IIIStars Alph.IIIStars Alph.IVPlate 72
TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-7 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-6  TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-15 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-14
Plate 76Plate 76 Plate 86Plate 118
  TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-9 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-3 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-11  
 Plate 130Plate 142Plate 13 
TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-4 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-17 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-16 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-5 TO-Stamps T.O.1 cancels-10
Plate 2Plate 2Plate 12Plate 15Plate 12
The first plate 2, 3d has a cut-down and re-perforated wing-margin on the left, but also has an inverted watermark.
T.O.1 on 6d plate 8 T.O.1 on 6d plate 11 T.O.1 on 5/-
6d Plate 8 6d Plate 11 Plate 1.     This is the highest
value I have seen a T.O on.


TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-7 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-6 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-1 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-12a TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-2 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-PL156 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-P166
Plate 72Plate 80Plate 83Plate 84Plate 154Plate 156, courtesy
of Colin Hanson.
Plate 166

TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-3 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-9 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-8 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-12b TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-4 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-11
Plate 9 Plate 4 (emblems) Plate 9 HL - D&S perfin. Plate 9 Plate 11
TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-5 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-10 TO-Stamps T.O.2 cancels-10
Plate 11 Pair of 3d plate 11 3d plate 17, perfinned


T.O.3 obliteration on 4d TO-Stamps T.O.3 cancels-1 TO-Stamps T.O.4 cancels-1 TO-Stamps T.O.5 on 1d T.O.5 obliteration on 4d
4d Plate 7 1d Plate 85 1d Plate 91 1d Plate 96 4d Plate 9 (inv)


T.O.6 on starsT.O.6T.O.6T.O.6T.O.6T.O.6 on 2d
TO-Stamps T.O.6 cancels-2 TO-Stamps T.O.6 cancels-4 TO-Stamps T.O.6 cancels-5 TO-Stamps T.O.6 cancels-PL111 TO-Stamps T.O.6 cancels-3 TO-Stamps T.O.6 cancels-1
Courtesy qvpenniesPlate 90Plate 95 Plate 111, courtesy
of Colin Hanson.
Plate 119 Plate 9


Other items of interest:
TO-Stamps Indeterminate T.O. cancels-5 TO-Stamps Indeterminate T.O. cancels-6 TO-Stamps Indeterminate T.O. cancels-2 TO-Stamps Indeterminate T.O. cancels-3 TO-Stamps Indeterminate T.O. cancels-1 TO-Stamps Indeterminate T.O. cancels-4 More T.O. cancels NOT a TO5 cancel
Indeterminate T.O. Indeterminate T.O. Indeterminate T.O. Indeterminate T.O.
Plate 72
Indeterminate T.O.
Plate 13
Indeterminate T.O.
Plate 14
See below
Plate 4
See below

The One Shilling stamp here is the only 1860 T.O. cancel I have seen on a shilling stamp (Courtesy of Tim Burgess)

On a light hearted note, the last one got my heart fluttering (sad I know), but with 4 bars top and bottom it clearly is not a T.O.5




There are many gaps in my collection of these, but it may be helpful to list the examples I have:

T.O. series (1860)

Significant dates in purple.

'T.O.'#   on   W. H. Smith & Son, Stationery
T.O. #IndiciaDate Plugs
T.O.1 1d 2/12/62 (x2), 14/3/63 (x2), 2/4/63, 9/12/63, 22/4/64, 11/5/65, 21/9/65, 15/5/66
T.O. ? 2d 18/2/65, 15/4/65
T.O.1 2d 28/4/62, 11/7/62, 16/3/63, 30/11/63(x2), 22/12/63, 27/5/65, 31/5/69, 10/9/70, 28/2/71, 6/9/73
T.O.1 3d 14/9/62, 19/8/72
T.O.1 4d 11/7/62
T.O.1 6d 11/6/63, 5/9/64, 13/12/69
T.O.2 2d 12/7/67
T.O.2 3d 18/3/72
T.O.2 4d 25/8/68, 13/5/72, 30/9/72
T.O.2 6d 6/6/67, 21/4/68
T.O.6 1d 20/11/63, 29/4/67
T.O.6 2d 18/2/65, 25/1/66, 16/5/66, 11/4/67, 20/12/67, 31/8/69, 23/11/69, 10/1/70, 25/4/70
T.O.6 6d 4/3/65

46 items + 31/5/69 and 31/8/69 supplied by Stephen Teuma.


'T.O.'#   on   Smith Elder & Co., Stationery
T.O. #IndiciaDate Plugs
T.O.2 1d 30/9/64
T.O.6 1d 11/3/63, 24/4/63

3 items.


'T.O.'#   on loose stamps
T.O. #Denom.NotePlateQty.Approx. Date Range
T.O.1 1d stars LC(II) 14, Alph III, (EJ, HB) ? 2 March 1857 to 1/3/64
T.O.1 1d as above, 'CYPRUS', (PA) ? 1 March 1857 to 1/3/64
T.O.? 1d stars LC(II) 14, Alph III, (FI,IJ,TI) ? 3 March 1857 to 1/3/64
T.O.1 1d stars LC(II) 14, Alph IV, (LL) 51 ? 1 28/8/61 to 1/3/64
T.O.1 1d four letters, (OD) 72 1 1/3/64 to 23/3/68
T.O.? 1d four letters, (DC) 72 1 1/3/64 to 23/3/68
T.O.2 1d four letters, Red Pmk, (MA) 72 1 1/3/64 to 23/3/68
T.O.1 1d four letters, (JE, ME) 76 2 1/3/64 to 15/2/69
T.O.2 1d four letters, (QG) 80 1 1/3/64 to 11/4/66
T.O.2 1d four letters, (AI) 83 1 1/3/64 to 11/4/66
T.O.2 1d four letters, (HL), perfinned 'D&S' 84 1 1/3/64 to 31/1/68
T.O.3 1d four letters, pair (KG, KH) 85 1 1/3/64 to 23/3/68
T.O.1 1d four letters, (NG) 86 1 1/3/64 to 29/2/68
T.O.6 1d four letters, (KE) 90 1 30/3/64 to 18/1/69
T.O.4 1d four letters, (DJ) 91 1 25/5/64 to 5/2/68
T.O.6 1d four letters, (IK) 95 1 4/7/64 to 17/12/68
T.O.5 1d four letters, (OF) 96 1 11/10/64 to 18/1/69
T.O.6 1d four letters, (FF) 111 1 23/3/68 to 18/2/72
T.O.1 1d four letters, (MJ) 118 1 9/6/68 to 4/5/72
T.O.6 1d four letters, (CH) 119 1 15/8/68 to 17/8/72
T.O.1 1d four letters, (FF) 130 1 5/6/69 to 29/12/74
T.O.1 1d four letters, (DF) 142 1 13/7/70 to 15/1/73
T.O.2 1d four letters, (RI) 154 1 30/1/72 to 8/1/76
T.O.2 1d four letters, (FD) 156 1 22/4/72 to 25/1/75
T.O.2 1d four letters, (IA) 166 1 31/3/73 to 3/1/76
T.O.2 2d Large Crown Type II, (SL) 9 1March 1861 to Nov 68
T.O.6 2d Large Crown Type II, (GG) 9 1March 1861 to Nov 68
T.O.1 2d Large Crown Type II, (BA) 13 1 7 July 1869 to 1871 ?
T.O.1? 2d Large Crown Type II, (PD) 13 1 7 July 1869 to 1871 ?
T.O.1 3d small letters, (AE, SB) 2 21/5/62 to 1/3/65
T.O.2 3d Wmk Emblems, (IH) 4 1 19/12/64 to 13/6/68
T.O.2 3d (HB, NL) 9 2 31/7/72 to 29/4/73
T.O.2 3d Vertical pair, (QF, RF) 11 2 17/4/73 to 3/9/73
T.O.1 3d (MH) 12 1 4/9/73 to 11/12/73
T.O.? 3d with red 'PD' mark (HD) 14 1 12/1/74 to 8/6/74
T.O.1 3d (SJ) 15 1 9/6/74 to 29/10/74
T.O.2 3d Perfinned 'D&S' (DH) 17 1 20/2/75 to 13/7/75
T.O.3 4d (PJ) 7 1 8/6/65 to 1/12/66
T.O.5 4d (GB) 9 1 16/5/67 to 8/8/68
T.O.1 4d (CB) 12 1 21/3/70 to 11/10/72
T.O.1 6d mauve, (HJ) 8 1 18/12/68 to 12/4/72
T.O.1 6d pale buff, (JH) 11 1 19/10/72 to 24/4/73
T.O.2 6d pale buff, (CA, JF) 11 2 19/10/72 to 24/4/73
T.O.1 5s red, (DA) 1 1 1/7/67 to 28/3/74

55 items.

Cover with T.O.1 dated 29/7/60
Cover with T.O.1 dated 2/3/64


This gives 104+2 items with a minimum observed range of 29/7/60 to 20/2/75

T.O.1 29/07/60 to 09/06/74
T.O.2 30/09/64 to 20/2/75
T.O.3 used in the range 8/6/65 to 1/12/66
T.O.5 used in the range 16/5/67 to 8/8/68
T.O.6 11/03/63 to 25/4/70

This is earlier than the date of 1/8/76 that Hendy says W. H. Smith & Son were granted the use of precancels.
I have not seen any (definitely) used after Britain joined the GPU (General Postal Union) on 1st July 1875. The GPU was renamed UPU in 1879,
the same year that the large "TO2" cancellation was issued, so I presume there was still a usage, though perhaps just for the T.O.2 variety.


Upright T.O. over 2 (22nd July 1879)

1879 'T.O.2'   on loose stamps
Denom.Note Plate Qty. Approx. Date Range
1s Green Perfinned 'D & S' 132 17 Jan. 1876 to 14 Oct. 1880
1s brown (spray) Perfinned 'D & S' 13 1 14/10/80 to 24/5/81
½d green   - 1 14/10/80 to 1/4/84
4d brown Old D&S perfin type 18 1 15/8/82 to 1/4/84
1d lilac, Die I Perfinned 'D & S'   1 July to December 1881
1d red   193 1 2/9/76 to 8/4/80
1d red   198 1 27/1/77 to 8/4/80
2d Lilac Perfin 'D. S.' (large) - 1 1/4/84 to 1/1/87
3d Lilac Perfin 'D. S.' (large) - 1 1/4/84 to 1/1/87
1s green Perfin 'D. S.' (small) - 2 1/4/84 to 1/1/87

Used until at least April 1884.


Round T.O. over 2

Round 'T.O.2'   on stationery.
Denom. Note Qty. Approx. Date Range
1½d yellow Cut to shape 2 17/4/93
1½d yellow Cut to shape 1 2/5/93
1½d yellow WHS to Switzerland 1 2/5/93
1½d yellow Cut to shape 1 21/9/93
1½d yellow Cut to shape 1 27/10/93
1½d yellow Cut to shape 1 25/11/93
1½d yellow Cut square 1 Florets (1894 ?)
1d Brown WHS to France 1 1884 to 1902


Comments, criticisms, information or suggestions are always welcome.


Please include the word 'Precancels' in the subject.


Last updated 9th. December 2023

©Copyright Steve Panting 2010-2023 except where stated.
Permission is hereby granted to copy material for which the copyright is owned by myself, on condition that any data is not altered and this website is given credit.


Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional  Valid CSS!