College stamps

Queens' stampsThe 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 1883, and St John’s in 1884.

The Queens’ stamps were designed by Ernest Temperley (1849–​89), Fellow and Bursar, and printed by W.P. Spalding in Cambridge. The design is based on the boar’s head badge of the college. The purchase price of a stamp was one halfpenny (approx. 0·2p).

Hardly had the system been established when the Post Office asserted its statutory monopoly of postal delivery, and of stamps: the college messenger service was closed down, and the use of these stamps prohibited, at the beginning of the Michaelmas Term 1885.

Photo of Post Office wall-box at Queens' College CambridgeIn partial recompense, the Post Office tried to offer 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. At Queens’, the post-box was a wall-box embedded in the south-east turret of the main gatehouse of Old Court, in Queens’ Lane. It is still there, although little used. 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.

Further reading

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

1919: The Cambridge College Stamps, by Charles Theodore Seltman, in The Dial, No. 34, 1919 Michaelmas, pp. 7–​13.

1966: College Stamps of Oxford and Cambridge, by Raymond Lister, pp. 60–​1. (OCLC 13926547)

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