College stamps

Photo of Queens’ stamps

The practice of colleges issuing stamps for college members to pre-pay for an inter-college messenger service started in 1870 at Oxford. At Cambridge, Selwyn started in 1882, Queens’ in November 1883, and St John’s in 1884.

The Queens’ stamps were designed by Ernest Temperley (1849–​89), Fellow and Bursar. The design is based on the boar’s head badge of the college. The purchase price of a sheet of 96 was 4 shillings, equivalent to one halfpenny (approx. 0·2p) per stamp.

Early accounts [1904 p.98] implied that the stamps were printed by W.P. Spalding in Cambridge, but later enquiries [2014 p.11] suggest that, although Spalding supplied the stamps, the actual printing was done by W.S. Cowell Ltd of Ipswich.

In 1885 the Post Office asserted its statutory monopoly of postal collection and delivery: the college messenger services were ordered to close down [2004]. The Queens’ messenger service ceased on the week ending 1885 December 6th [General Ledger p.1663].

Photo of Post Office wall-box at Queens' College CambridgeIn partial recompense, the Post Office offered an improved service of collections and deliveries around the colleges, and one consequence of this was that a red post-box appeared outside the main entrance of most colleges, between 1887 [2004 p.45] and 1893 [1904 p.99]. At Queens’, the post-box is a wall-box embedded in the south-east turret of the main gatehouse of Old Court, in Queens’ Lane. [The streaks of green paint underneath it are the remnants of a student stunt decades ago to paint the box in a Queens’ green colour].

Some Cambridge colleges, including Queens’, requested the Post Office to deliver incoming mail direct to the addressee’s college room (rather than to the porters), to which the Post Office initially agreed, on conditions that (for instance) the envelope was addressed with the full court name and staircase; that the college staircases were clearly identified, that there was a list of occupants at the staircase entrance; and that the name of each occupant was over their door, which had to be provided with a proper letter-box. In July 1886 Emmanuel College [2004 p.57] wrote to the Post Office:

We now propose to have our college staircases clearly and distinctly lettered or numbered. The names also of each occupant of rooms are painted up at the foot of each staircase and also over the doors of each set of rooms.

The implication of this wording is that, hitherto, those arrangements had not been in place. If Queens’ was anything like Emmanuel, we may speculate that, if such things did not already exist, it was the introduction of Post Office delivery to rooms that necessitated the introduction of names over doors and lists of names at the foot of each staircase: a practice which still remains universal throughout Cambridge. Delivery of mail directly to the addressee’s room was still happening in 1912 [Addenda and Corrigenda for 2004 West], but appears to have ceased by or during the First World War.

The Resident Members List

With effect from the Michaelmas Term 1891, the Cambridge Review published a periodical supplement Resident Members of the University. At first this supplement was published termly; in later years it became annual. In this supplement, the name and address of every resident member (both senior and junior) of the University was published, using material provided by each college. For members living out of college, their full postal address was given. For members living within a college, the court name, staircase and room number were given. It will be noted that this level of detail satisfied the Post Office’s requirements for delivery of mail to rooms. We may speculate that this might have been the original justification for starting publication of such a list, so that writers might correctly address letters to their correspondents.

As the university expanded throughout the 20th century, the list of Resident Members of the University became steadily larger and more burdensome to prepare. Although the Cambridge Review itself ceased publication in 1998, the list of resident members lived on as an annual publication. Concerns began to be expressed about data protection and privacy. Preparations had started for the 2004 edition, when one college refused to supply any data, which resulted in the publication being cancelled, and never revived.

Links to other relevant pages

Sources, References, and Further Reading

1889: Cambridge Messenger Stamps, by E. H. W. Rossiter, in The Philatelic Record, vol. 11, no. 124, April 1889, pp. 69–​70. (OCLC 1246530274) [possibly, but not confirmed, Ethelbert Henry William Rossiter (1859–​1910)] 

1904: College Stamps of Oxford and Cambridge, by Alfred James Hayman Cummings (1841–​1927), pp. 96, 98. (OCLC 310136756)

1919: The Cambridge College Stamps, by Charles Theodore Seltman (1886–​1957), in The Dial, No. 34, 1919 Michaelmas, pp. 7–​13. (OCLC 265448755)

1921: Oxford and Cambridge College Messengers postage stamps, cards, and envelopes : a short account of their origin and use, 1871–​1886, by Frank Arthur Bellamy. (OCLC 16305477)

1925: A Concise Register of the College Messenger Postage Stamps, Envelopes & Cards used in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, 1871–​1895 …, by Frank Arthur Bellamy. (OCLC 557900373)

1935: The Stamps of Queens’ College, Cambridge, by Bertram McGowan, in The British Philatelist 28, 1935–​6, pp. 28–​29. (OCLC 10477870)

1938: Cambridge College Messenger Stamps, by Harry Debron Catling (1869–​1947), in The Cambridge Review, vol. LIX, No. 1456, 1938 May 27, pp. 432–​3. (ISSN 0008-2007)

1966: College Stamps of Oxford and Cambridge, by Raymond George Lister (1919–​2001), pp. 60–​1; (OCLC 13926547)
1974: 2nd edition reprint. (OCLC 14160930)

1970: The University Post in A Postal History of Cambridge, by Derrick John Muggleton (1920–​2006), pp. 77–​93. (ISBN 978-0-9501785-0-9)

2004: The Post Office and the Colleges, by Vincent David West (1943–). (ISBN 978-0-907630-19-7) [online Addenda and Corrigenda] 

2012: University mails of Oxford and Cambridge : early letters, college stamps and Victorian security marks, by David Charles Sigee (1943–). (ISBN 978-1-78088-259-8)

2014: The story of the Cambridge college messenger stamps : their adoption, use and suppression, with all matters appertaining thereto: 1882–​5, by Harry Debron Catling (1869–​1947), Simon James Catling (1947–). (ISBN 978-0-9546087-2-9)

2015: The College Stamps of Oxford and Cambridge: 1871 to 1885, by Christopher Gill Harman (1950–), in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, Vol. 46, No. 1, June 2015, pp. 82–​87. (ISSN 0954-8084)