Stamp overprints


So, what is an overprint?

In simple words, overprint is a special layer of text or graphics that added to a postage stamp, currency or other philatelic items after they have been printed. This technique became very popular in the world of philately. It is used by Postal Authorities for the variety of purposes. The most popular variants of overprints are recognized to be commemorative overprints that are being produced specially for stamp collectors.


Surcharge is the type of an overprint the purpose of which is to change the price of a postage stamp. Oftener surcharges are produced to raise or lower the value of postage stamps the price of which has been changed after their issuing. The term is used in this meaning when we speak about banknotes and currency.

Stamps and banknotes have been reprinted multiple times during the history of their existence. One of the most famous examples of such an event is a German hyperinflation of 1921-1923. During this time the value of stamps raised dramatically from 5 pfennigs to millions of them.

Commemorative overprints

This kind of overprints is particularly interesting for the philatelists and stamp collectors from around the world. Commemoratives provide a faster and lower-cost alternative to designing and issuing special stamps and other philatelic items. However, the Post Office of the United States rarely used this technique.

Though one bright example can be named – it is the issue of 1928 commemorating Molly Pitcher and the discovery of Hawaii. More frequent the overprints were produced by the British Post Office. All in all, there is no doubt that this variety of philatelic items is being produced by Postal Authorities from around the world and is being acquired by the devoted philatelists.

Change of function overprints

Overprints are produced not only to change the value but also to alter the function of philatelic items as airmail, newspaper, telegraph stamps etc. Sometimes there is a need to change the function of a postage stamp as the history of each country alters every day.

Security measures

It may sound a little bit strange but overprints are also used as an effective security measures, in other words to deter misuse and theft. For example, there was the time in the Mexican history when the postage stamps were stolen during their transportation to the remote post offices. To deter such thefts the stamps were transported from the capital to local post offices where they were overprinted with the district names. It was the necessary procedure without which the postage stamps were not valid for usage and selling.

The similar strategies were used by other countries; one of them is the United States.

Colonial overprints

It was naturally that colonies within the country needed to have their stamps to use for postal services thus the overprints were helpful in this matter. Due to various problems the colonies did not get enough stamps but the demand had to be met. The overprints were the way out of this situation. And, to tell the truth, this solvation for this problem was more than successful. When some difficulties were faced, the controlling nation's regular homeland stamps would be overprinted with a local name, local currency or 'abroad' indication.

Provisional overprints

Provisional is the kind of overprints that are produced for temporary usage until the regular items are reintroduced by a Postal Service.

Transitional government overprints

These overprints are produced when newly found states consider the recirculation of some postage items introduced by previous governments to be important and necessary. As new states are not often to be created, the transitional governments overprints are also quiet rare.

Some overprints blend harmoniously with the previous design while others aim to obscure the older markings totally. For example, stamps produced by Nazi government were lately overprinted so that Hitler’s face was not seen.

Overprints during the wartime

During the wartime a lot of tax stamps were issued. New issues were rarely printed at this time that is why the more convenient way was to overprint the existed stamps with surcharges or a simple inscription such as "War Tax".


What are the pre canceled stamps? In simple ways these are the stamps that are cancelled before being sold and bear the pre cancelation mark that is called an overprint. The stamps are usually pre cancelled when they are sold in large quantities. Such overprints help to insure that the pre cancelled philatelic items won`t be stolen as this mark bears all the necessary information as name of the city, date of sale etc.

However, nowadays such a technique is considered to be outdated. Instead, the bulk mail is franked with barcodes on pre-printed envelops. The USPS introduced a new standard of barcode cancellation in 2011.

Private overprints

An overprint that was not produced by state owned postal services is considered to be private. This kind of overprints is not used to pay postal services but are quiet popular among philatelists and stamp collectors. Private overprints are typically political messages or commercial promotion, but can also be produced with speculative philatelic purposes.

Specimen overprints

Specimen overprints are not valid for postal services. They are produced in promotional displays or as reference material by postal authorities and the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Still others are manufactured by printers for color matching throughout successive printings. In all such cases, the stamps will display the word "specimen" (or "cancelled") on its face. Most often, though, specimen markings are applied as a prominent overprint.