Great Britain : Railway Letter Stamps :
Metropolitan Railway : 1895 ->
Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee : 1906 ->
Metropolitan & LNER Railways : 1927 ->
London Passenger Transport Board : 1938 Issue

Introduction:
British Railway Letter Stamps (RLS) exist from two periods, 1891-1940s, sometimes described as Old RLS, and the preservation / heritage era issues from 1956 onwards, which are usually described as Modern RLS. This article looks at old RLS connected to the Metropolitan Railway, their stamps being quite widely used from 1895 up until the 1920s. The service remained in place until the 1940s but improved roads and road transport allowed for later regular mail collections outside the cities and the usefulness, and therefore use, of the Railway Letter service naturally declined. For an overview of the postal practices and regulations during the (old) RLS period, the Railway Philatelic Group's website has an excellent basic introduction to them which can be accessed here (opens in a new tab)

Joint commercial operating arrangements between companies agreed in 1906 and 1927, wholesale Government reorganization of the railways of Britain in 1923 and the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933 led to a quite a complex range of stamp issues relating to the Metropolitan Railway Company. We have therefore provided a more extensive railway background than usual to accompany the philately.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
The Coat-of-Arms of the Metropolitan Railway Company. Wikipedia's heraldry page for the Metropolitan reads : 'The arms show the arms of London, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. The motto is VIS VINCTA SERVIT : Strength subdued serves.'

The Metropolitan Railway was the world's first underground railway, its initial section opening in Central London in 1863. Over time, it spread out to the north-west of the capital, acquiring extra land beside the tracks to be sold for housing development as a deliberate policy to increase passenger numbers in the areas into which the company's tracks were expanding. The BBC's 1973 film 'Metro-land', narrated by John Betjeman, is a cinematographic chef d'oeuvre depicting such a railway in suburbia, as he narrates the course of the construction of the line and the housing that grew up around it.

Eventually, the Metropolitan Railway reached out well beyond the potential limits of an expanding capital, with trains at one time serving both the quaint, rural idyll of the Brill branch and the isolated Verney Junction on the Oxford-Cambridge line to the west of Bletchley. The construction of the London Extension of the Great Central Railway (GCR) at the end of the 19th century led to the Metropolitan Railway sharing its tracks with the GCR from Verney Junction southwards to Harrow-on-the-Hill, this section being known as the 'Joint Line'. (Note: Doubling of the Rickmansworth-Harrow section came later, 1962). A few miles south of Harrow, the GCR's now-separate tracks ceased to parallel the Metropolitan Line and diverged to reach its own terminus at London Marylebone, just two minutes' walk from Baker Street Station on the Underground, an important hub of the Metropolitan Railway. An excellent Wikipedia page with maps can be accessed here (opens in a new tab)

Underground trains now terminate at Amersham with only Chiltern Railways trains out of Marylebone continuing northwards, but even these now terminate at Aylesbury. Passenger services north from there to Verney Junction were withdrawn in 1965, although the line remains open for freight, passing through Quainton Road Station, whose buildings and platforms remain in situ and serve to host a railway heritage centre. A hypothetical map of how the Metropolitan Line might look today if it had retained both the line to Verney Junction and the Brill branch (closed in 1935) is shown on this external page (opens in a new tab)

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & LNER Joint Railway Railway Letter Stamps London Passenger Transport Board

There was an arrangement for the distribution of revenue from the carriage of railway letters on the joint line which led to separate stamp issues being authorised by the 'Metropolitan and Great Central Joint Committee' from 1906 onwards. Althought the GCR disappeared with the 1923 Grouping, absorbed into the London & North-Eastern Railway (LNER), the Joint Committee's stamps continued in use for many years afterwards. The Joint Committee's remit started at Harrow-on-the-Hill (in North-West London) and extended north to Verney Junction encompassing the Chesham and Brill branches

New stamps appeared from 1927 under the name of the Metropolitan and London & North-Eastern Railway. As the LNER had absorbed the Great Central Railway at the 'Grouping', this might at first sight seem to be a simple renaming of the Metropolitan and Great Central Joint Committee, but this is not the case, as the M&GCJC continued to issue stamps into the 1930s, concurrently with the Metropolitan and London & North-Eastern Railway's issues.

We have struggled to find clear documentation on this but our interpretation is that the Metropolitan and Great Central Joint Committee was only for joint operations that were already extant at the 'Grouping' in 1923 whilst the Metropolitan and London & North-Eastern Railway stamps were for joint lines agreed after 1923, which would have had a separate legal status. The most obvious post-1923 contender for inclusion in the new entity is the short Watford branch from Moor Park opened in 1925 and jointly owned by the Metropolitan Railway and the LNER. Short shared stubs into minor London termini such as Moorgate may have been included as well, but information is sparse.

Through all of this, purely Metropolian Railway mails continued to be franked with purely Metropolitan Railway stamps.
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
Watford Station, Metropolitan Line, opened in 1925 on a branch line that appears to be the principal reason for the issue of Metropolitan and London & North-Eastern Railway stamps.
British Rail steam had ended in 1968 but London Underground retained some former GWR pannier tank engines at Neasden Depot for a few freight duties, engineering trains and other housekeeping work on the surface lines until June 1971. They also performed shunting operations at Lillie Road Depot near Earl's Court. Photo, author, October 15th 1969.

We list the stamp issues in the order:

1. Metropolitan Railway
2. Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
3. Metropolitan & LNER Railways
4. London Passenger Transport Board :
One stamp issue (in 1938)

The quality control surrounding all these stamps varied from good to quite poor, the poorest being the Metropolitan Railway's last few issues of the 2d. We have listed as varieties some of the more striking examples of poor workmanship, but we recognize that we will certainly not have provided an exhaustive listing of all varieties worthy of special note. The choice is naturally subjective and, if you find flaws interesting, you will no doubt be able to find several more worthwhile examples of which we are unaware.

The presence of Control Numbers makes it possible to identify the sheet position of every variety, which adds to the interest. The sheet numbering is somewhat unusual, being in vertical columns starting at the TOP RIGHT of the sheet (whether comprising 60 or 12 stamps) and working across towards the left, vertical column by vertical column. We are not aware of any printings which deviate from this numbering format on any of the four railway companies / joint committee issues covered in this article, although we should add that we have no verification that the same control numbering was applied to the sole issue of the London Passenger Transport Board.

We should like to record here our gratitude for the contributions made by John Powell to this article, both in the form of detailed information and for a fascinating selection of scans of quite elusive material.

Further, we wish to acknowledge the help provided by Grosvenor Auctions in assisting with our enquiries and for their permission to use a number of scans from their sales.

Navigation : There are quick links in the left panel to each Railway Company.

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1 . . . . . . . . . . . M E T R O P O L I T A N . . R A I L W A Y . . . . . . . . . . . .

The 2d Values :
All Metropolitan Railway 2d stamps were printed in sheets/60 (6 x 10) in various shades of Red, a non-standard colour for RLS. On every issue of the 2d values, all the margins are perforated. The initial six issues were printed in quantities of 600 (10 sheets), with print-runs thereafter raised to 20 sheets (1200 stamps). Two print runs were often required in the same year to meet demand.

Study has shown that all the 2d printings were made from the same stone and that the sheet positions of 51 of the 60 stamps can be identified from small variations of the transfer. The stamps were lithographed by Waterlow with 10 impressions of each of 6 types making up the sheet/60. We have listed a few flaws below, usually against a particular printing. Some of these flaws may be common to all the 2d printings, perhaps varying in intensity due to wear, whilst others may be particular to one printing. We would need huge numbers of stamps for study purposes to be more precise.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
Above : The first 25 Issues, in order, of the Metropolitan Railway. Note that the final stamp in the scan (25th Issue) is a 23rd Issue stamp surcharged quite faintly, as is often the case, with the figure '3' in Violet.

Below : We repeat the same scan but in smaller format, so that the stamps can be compared more easily for shade on the same screen on a laptop. Fortunately, no attempt at identification by shade is necessary since these stamp issues can be distinguished with ease by their control numbers alone. A glance at the scan, though, will show that, whilst 'red to rosy-red' covers the shades of most of the stamps, the first three or four issues display rather more of a 'purple-red' hue.
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway

Right: A 1904 cover to Upper Holloway franked Royal Mail EdVII 1d and 18th Issue Metropolitan Railway 2d. Most Metropolitan Railway stamps are cancelled with a simple ink cross, which usually makes the departure station impossible to identify. On most covers, any Royal Mail postmark will usually give an indication only of where the letter was transferred from the railway company to Royal Mail. On the cover above, though, the station handstamp has been used, identifying the departure station as Chalfont Road, which was renamed Chalfont & Latimer in 1915.
The clerk has also cancelled the Royal Mail stamp with his straight-line station handstamp. Some form of cancellation on the Royal Mail stamps needed to be applied by the railway because there was no requirement for a railway letter to be entered into the general post; it could be collected at the arrival station, if the sender so instructed. As with the RLS cancellation, the cancellation usually took the form of a simple cross in ink in manuscript.
The official position for the RLS was on the front at bottom left, not on the flap at the back, but misplacement of RLS stamps is very common on many railways and does not seem to have concerned the G.P.O. When the RLS was placed at top right alongside the Royal Mail stamp, it often received a (for philatelists) serendipitous Royal Mail cancel as well.

Issues o1895-1920 : All in shades of Red :
1st Issue : 2d : Controls 1-600 [ . ] [ . ]
2nd Issue : 2d : Controls 601-1200 [ . ] [ . ]
3rd Issue : 2d : Controls 1201-1800 [ . ] [ . ]
4th Issue : 2d : Controls 1801-2400 [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway

5th Issue : 2d : Controls 2401-3000 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - R'AILWAY flaw in bottom panel (R1,2; Posn.2) [ . ] [ . ]
6th Issue : 2d : Controls 3001-3600 [ . ] [ . ]
7th Issue : 2d : Controls 3601-4800 [ . ] [ . ]
8th Issue : 2d : Controls 4801-6000 [ . ] [ . ]
9th Issue : 2d : Controls 6001-7200 [ . ] [ . ]

10th Issue : 2d : Controls 7201-8400 [ . ] [ . ]
11th Issue : 2d : Controls 8401-9600 [ . ] [ . ]
12th Issue : 2d : Controls 9601-10800 [ . ] [ . ]
13th Issue : 2d : Controls 10801-12000 [ . ] [ . ]
14th Issue : 2d : Controls 12001-13200 [ . ] [ . ]

15th Issue : 2d : Controls 13201-14400** [ . ] [ . ]
16th Issue : 2d : Controls 14401-15600 [ . ] [ . ]
17th Issue : 2d : Controls 15601-16800 [ . ] [ . ]
18th Issue : 2d : Controls 16801-18000 [ . ] [ . ]

** John Powell reports the 2d with Control #14400 with manuscript 'Specimen' written across the stamp. It came from the Captain Jackson collection with a note: "Matrix type 'A' last stamp of printing, returned to printers as a 'Specimen' for the 16th issue".

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 19th Issue Plate Flaw - Scratched Plate Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 19th Issue Plate Flaw - Scratched Plate Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 19th Issue Plate Flaw - Scratched Plate
From left-to-right, 19th Issue scans showing Positions 17, 20 & 29/30.

General Note on Flaws :
We have had access to an extensive array of 19th Issue stamps, on which one encounters numerous major flaws and we have chosen some dominant examples of these, all significant scratches, which are illustrated above. As mentioned higher up, all 2d stamps originate from the same stone and many flaws are therefore likely to be found on several issues (of the 2d values). A collector may well decide to collect a single example of each flaw that he/she discovers, rather than attempting to collect all the flaws on all the issues on which they occur, probably an impossible task.

Issues of 1895-1920 (continued) :
19th Issue : 2d : Controls 18001-19200 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Plate Scratch (R.2,7 = Position 17) see scan [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Major Plate Scratches (R.2,10 = Position 20) see scan [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Major Plate Scratches (R.3, 9 & 10 = Position 29 & 30) see scan [ . ] [ . ]

The stamp is Position 30 (R3,10) also has a flaw at the top of the south-east shaded triangle. This flaw is shown under the 21st Issue below.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 19th Issue Plate Flaw - Scratched Plate
A 19th Issue on a 1906 philatelic cover. The RLS has received a Royal Mail cancellation after being put in the mails at Baker Street, if we assume that the sender's instructions were carried out. Many Ewen covers are designed so as to show the station of origin which is otherwise rarely identifiable. Kingsbury & Neasden Station became Neasden & Kingsbury in 1910 and Neasden in 1932.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 19th Issue Plate Flaw - Scratched Plate
20th Issue : 2d : Controls 19201-20400 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - flaw similar to an Arabic figure '3' in bottom left triangle (R3,1; Posn. 31) [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps 21st Issue variety Metropolitan Railway - Scratched Plate Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 21st Issue Plate Flaw Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway 21st Issue Plate Flaw
21st Issue : 2d : Controls 20401-21600 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Plate scratches though 'RA' of large 'RAILWAY' and south-east shaded triangle (R2,10; Posn. 20) ** [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Flaw at top of south-east triangle (frame-break) (R3,10; Posn. 30) [ . ] [ . ] **
- ditto - white diagonal flaw above value tablet (R,6,8; Posn.58) [ . ] [ . ]
22nd Issue : 2d : Controls 21601-22800 [ . ] [ . ]
23rd Issue : 2d : Controls 22801-24000 [ . ] [ . ]
24th Issue : 2d : Controls 24001-25200 [ . ] [ . ]
Unconfirmed to exist by us.

** The first two varieties, above, for the 21st Issue are also found on the 19th issue, although the 'triangle' flaw in Position 30 (R3,10) has become a little more pronounced by the 21st Issue. Other issues from the same period may display similar flaws.

Proof of the 2d value :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
Stamps without control numbers are proofs, as in the blocks/4 above. The perforated block/4 has the remains of some manuscript sheet inscriptions that may have been instructions to be passed to the printer as part of the approval process. The imperforate block/4 was not produced on the same scanner and we have not seen it in person. If there is a colour difference between these Perf and Imperf proofs at all, it is most unlikely to be as pronounced as in the scans. So far as we are aware, proofs were only produced for the 2d value.

IMPERFORATE:
2d : Red : IMPERF Proof, without control number. [ . ]

PERFORATED:
2d : Red : PERF. Proof, without control number. [ . ]
- ditto - Major Plate Scratch (R.2,7 = Position 17) see scan [ . ]
- ditto - Major Plate Scratch (R.2,10 = Position 20) see scan [ . ]
- ditto - Major Plate Scratch (R.3, 9 & 10 = Position 29 & 30) see scan [ . ]

These flaws are all illustrated by scans preceding the regular 19th Issue higher up.
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3d / 2d :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
One example of this issue was shown at bottom right of the large scan showing 24 issues. These are two further examples of the 3d/2d but with the image modified in order to show the surcharge more clearly. Not true colours.

25th Issue : 3(d) / 2d : Violet h/stamp on 23rd Issue [ . ] [ . ]

25th Issue : 3(d) / 2d : Violet h/stamp on 24th Issue [ . ] [ . ] Confirmation Required

The 24th Issue WITHOUT surcharge:
We have not seen a copy of the 24th Issue, which was assigned the control numbers 24001-25200 and, unsurcharged, these are unpriced both in Jackson and the Roger de Lacy-Spencer catalogue. According to Jackson, controls 24001-24840 were handstamped '3' (for 3d) which would leave 24841-25200 (360 stamps) unsurcharged, but we are unclear what happened to all these unsurcharged stamps. If they had been sold as remainders, they would surely be easy to find on the philatelic market. If all of them were used on mail, one would expect to run into a few examples from time to time from a total of 360 stamps. Were all stamps with controls 24841-25200 destroyed? Perhaps a reader can tell us?

The 24th Issue WITH surcharge:
All the 3(d) / 2d handstamps that we have seen have been on the 23rd Issue. This brings a spotlight once again on the 24th Issue stamps, of which 840 are reported to have been surcharged by handstamp with the figure '3' in Violet, but we have seen none. By comparison, only 240 stamps of the 23rd Issue (23641-23760; 23821-23880 & 23941-24000) are reported to have been surcharged but we have seen several of these. So, where are all surcharges on the 24th Issue? Were they all destroyed, all used on mail or something in between? Both Jackson and de Lacy-Spencer's listings necessarily will have had to rely, in varying degrees, on much older reporting for these issues.

The 24th Issue Mystery :
1200 stamps (360 un-surcharged and 840 surcharged) may be a small printing for most stamp issues but it is quite a high number for Railway Letter Stamps. Like us, our correspondent and contributor, John Powell, has yet to see any example of a 24th Issue stamp. Writing this 101 years after these 1200 stamps are reported to have been produced, this seems very odd. If any reader has any light they can shed on this mysterious 24th issue (with or without surcharge), even just a sighting of one, do please pass on the information to us.
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The 'legendary' Mr. A. Wilson :
As this is a name much associated with RLS - and seen frequently in scans in this article - we are devoting a few paragraphs here to Mr. A. Wilson who, in the 1920s principally, cycled around much of Britain sending himself letters bearing RLS stamps from many railways. One suspects he took his bicycle on the train to reach many of his hunting grounds. He was not alone in sending himself such covers in this decade; RLS catalogue producer l'Estrange Ewen, for example, was still active in this field and had already been so for perhaps 20 years by this time.

Cavan & Leitrim Railway Letter Stamp cover from Ballinamore 1905
Although Mr. Wilson is most associated with the 1920s, he too was not a newcomer to RLS at this time as this 1905 cover from the Cavan & Leitrim Railway shows. The envelope is in his handwriting but he may not have been there in person. He could have posted it to Ballinamore Station, requesting it be returned to him, either fully franked or with a postal order to pay for the RLS.
Note: Ballinamore today is in the Republic of Ireland, quite close to the Northern Ireland border, but in 1905 all of Ireland was part of Great Britain and British stamps were used on all mail.

Collector-inspired covers are usually cleaner and neater than most commercial survivors. Whilst the latter are typically more 'appreciated' by collectors, for some issues (or even entire railways) one's choice can be extremely limited. Unlike many modern fdc, for example, the philatelically-inspired old RLS letters did travel through the railway and postal systems as per regulations. You may often wait in vain seeking out a genuine commercial cover from some of the smaller railway companies or bearing certain short-lived stamp issues.

Wilson Handstamps:
Wilson is known in later years to have carried his own handstamp with him. He disliked manuscript surcharges, which abounded in the year 1920 due to two price rises within that year, from 2d to 3d and then from 3d to 4d. We have not seen any stamps handstamped in 1920 in a manner that could be attributable to Wilson but, when more surcharges were introduced around 1928/29 when the rate reverted to 3d for a time, Wilson set out on his bicycle - armed with his own handstamp.

On balance, we think it unlikely that he personally applied his handstamp other than in the presence and with the approval of pliant station staff, although to do so would not have defrauded the company since he would have needed to buy a 4d stamp to convert it into a 3d stamp for postage. It seems likely that, more often than not, he lent his handstamp and ink-pad to a railway official.

Since we perceive Wilson handstamps to have been made either with the approval and/or with the active participation of railway company staff, we have included in this article examples of all Wilson's handstamp combinations for the Metropolitan Railway known to us. We recognize that it cannot be established whether any such listing is complete but that is also true of the many styles of manuscript surcharges that are found on various issues in 1920 and 1928/29, even where no Mancunian cyclist was involved.

Post-Grouping, the number of railway companies shrank dramatically. Consequently, when the new RLS rates were introduced in 1928-1930, philatelists such as Wilson had the time to record more thoroughly for posterity the postal practices of the few remaining operators of a letter stamp service. This is reflected in the fact that a high proportion of covers from this period were produced by philatelists, including Mr. Wilson. Indeed, without them, the philatelic landscape would be pretty barren not just for covers but even simply for used stamps of the more obscure railway companies such as the Metropolitan & L.N.E.R. joint.

Returning now to our listing, a new sheet format was adopted from 1920, with sheet size reduced from 60 stamps to 12 stamps, various arranged (4 x 3) or (3 x 4). All margins are now imperforate. Control numbers re-start from '1' for each of three new values, the 1920 3d, the c.1922 4d and the 1933 3d.

The 3d Value of 1920 :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
Shown above are the 1920 3d (left), printed in Rose-Red and Perforated 10½ and the 1933 3d (right), printed in Pale Scarlet-Vermilion and Perforated 14. Although both issues include stamps numbered 1-500, the perforation change conveniently makes what could be a slightly difficult identification by colour unnecessary.

26th Issue : 3d Rose-Red : Perf 10½ : Controls 1-1500 [ . ] [ . ]
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4d / 3d
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway

27th Issue : 4d / 3d Rose-Red : Perf 10½ : Handstamped in Violet : Controls 241-468 [ . ] [ . ]
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4d value :
Railway Letter Stamps 4d Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps 4d variety Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps 4d frame break Metropolitan Railway
The image above of the pair is from an outside source and, consequently, the colour reproduction will be unsuited for the purposes of comparison to many of the other scans on this page.

4d Red : Sheets/12 (3 x 4) :
28th Issue : 4d Red : Controls 1-1500 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Frame-break at the south-east corner of the bottom left pillar (R1,2; Posn. 2) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Broken outer frame-line at right between 2nd and 3rd pillars (R4,1; Posn. 10) [ . ] [ . ]

Both the varieties shown were found on stamps of this issue with manuscript surcharge '3' (listed lower down). We have not established that they are present on unsurcharged examples but consider it likely that they are.
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From here, viz. new releases after the 28th Issue, we discontinue the identification of issues by number, choosing instead simply to list what we have encountered, grouped according to face value and, where present, style of surcharge, following chronology so far as this can be ascertained.

In 1928, the rate was reduced from 4d to 3d, a change which led to a number of surcharges, applied either in manuscript or by various handstamps, some of them attributable to the itinerant Mr. A. Wilson.

3d / 4d :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
Above : Two manuscript surcharges to meet the rate reduction. We have seen several manuscript surcharges in black ink, all of them with controls between 1190 and 1319 - and all of them appear to be in the same hand.

Jackson's comments on these issues reads : Surcharged '3' in manuscript in black and green inks and with various Wilson handstamps. In slight contrast, de Lacy-Spencer lists manuscript surcharges in various colour inks but provides a fully separate listing where the value is altered by handstamp. In addition to the above, both catalogues list stamps surcharged 3d in Blue Crayon, Jackson reporting this only for stamp with Control 30, whilst de Lacy-Spencer states Controls between 20 and 30 (on the original 4d stamp). We have illustrated the stamp with Control 20, clearly known to de Lacy-Spencer and probaby the basis on which he reports Controls 20-30 known.

Excluding crayon surcharges, we have not seen any manuscript surcharges other than in black ink. De Lacy-Spencer's non-committal 'in various colour inks' would suggest that he has not seen a manuscript surcharge in green ink. Green seems to us to be an unusual colour of ink to be at the disposal of a booking office clerk and we conjecture that Jackson may have received reports of a green manuscript surcharge that was in fact Wilson's blue-green handstamp. We list this manuscript surcharge, nonetheless, but would welcome confirmation of its existence or indeed the existence of any other colour of manuscript surcharge.

3(d) / 4d Red : Manuscript surcharge '3' in Black Ink [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Frame-break at the south-east corner of the bottom left pillar (R1,2; Posn. 2) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Broken outer frame-line at right between 2nd and 3rd pillars (R4,1; Posn. 10) [ . ] [ . ]

Images of these varieties are shown with the 4d value higher up, although only seen by us with this manuscript surcharge. We are not listing the varieties for all the types of surcharge with a figure '3' but they are likely to occur on some of the other stamps listed.

3(d) / 4d Red : Manuscript surcharge '3' in Green Ink (unconfirmed) [ . ] [ . ]
Manuscript surcharges in other colours may well exist.
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
(Wilson) Handstamp Double, only seen by us on this one cover.
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
The single stamps show (left) the larger and (right) the slightly smaller version of the handstamp. The larger version of the handstamp seems to be encountered more often, the smaller version only so far reported on Controls 63, 64, 65 and 66.

3(d) / 4d Red : Handstamped '3' in Blue-Green Ink [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Handstamp Double [ ? ] [ . ]

3(d) / 4d Red : Slightly smaller handstamp '3' in Blue-Green [ . ] [ . ]


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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
The scan with Control 20 shows the blue crayon surcharge, of which very few were apparently produced.

3(d) / 4d Red : Manuscript surcharge '3d' in Blue Crayon [ . ] [ . ] (Example with Control #20 shown)

3(d) / 3(d) / 4d Red : Manuscript surch. '3d' in Black Ink + negative-seal handstamped '3' in Violet [ . ] [ . ]

3(d) / 4d Red : Handstamped '3' in Blue-Green but also with old value barred out with pen strokes [ ? ] [ . ]
Only seen on the one (Wilson) cover by us, illustrated below (poor quality scan).

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway

It would appear that after the Railway had run out of 4d stamps to surcharge '3' in manuscript, they unearthed a small number of surviving stamps from a decade earlier, some 3d stamps which had been handstamped '4' in Violet at the time (the 27th Issue). The Railway proceeded to re-surcharge these stamps with the figure '3' in manuscript, providing an example of a very rare occurrence in philately, re-surcharging a stamp to bring it back to its original printed value, the penultimate entry in the timeline listing below.

Timeline :
From the company's first issue in 1895 to 1933. ( The prevailing cost of the railway stamp shown in blue ) :

2d : From July 1895 to January 1920
3d : 1920 (Jan) : 25th Issue : 2d values handstamped '3' in Violet
3d : 1920 : 26th Issue : New Stamp : 3d (Perf 10½)
4d : Late 1920 : 27th Issue : The above stamp (26th issue) handstamped '4' in Violet
4d : c.1922 : 28th Issue : New Stamp : 4d
3d : 1928 : The above stamp (28th Issue) variously revalued '3' in manuscript or by handstamp.
3d : 1930 : The 27th Issue (4d surch.) further surcharged '3' in manuscript to return it to its original 3d value.
3d : 1933 : New Stamp : 3d (Perf 14)
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3(d) / 4(d) / 3d :
We show below some examples of these doubly-surcharged stamps returning the stamp to its original value. The 4d violet handstamp is often partially obscured by the second surcharge. If one encounters an apparent 3(d) / 3d stamp, it is worth checking carefully that a faint violet '4' surcharge is not largely concealed, as is the one in the supersized scan below:
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
Note that these surcharges will always be on the 1920 3d, Perf 10½, not the 1933 3d (Perf 14).

We have shown four examples above of the 1930 surcharge-on-surcharge types. In two examples, the surcharged figure '3' is of the negative-seal style, a white '3' on a blue-green background. Catalogues list the surcharge only as 'manuscript', but in these examples, this is only true on the cover, where there is a manuscript AND a handstamped '3'. On the other examples, they are all handstamps. Although we have not seen an example that is solely manuscript, we have added this to the listing below, as it may well exist and has been listed before. Although we have provided two check-boxes for each listing, we have not established that all styles of surcharge exist in both mint and used states. Indeed, we think this is quite unlikely.

3(d) / (4)d / 3d Red : Manuscript surcharge '3d' in Black Ink [ . ] [ . ] (not seen by us)

3(d) / (4)d / 3d Red : Handstamped '3' in blue-green, in the style of a negative seal [ . ] [ . ]

3(d) / (4)d / 3d Red : Manuscript surcharge '3d' in black ink and handstamp '3' in black [ ? ] [ . ] (probably only on Wilson cover)

Other styles of manuscript and handstamped surcharge may well exist.

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3d Red : Perf 14
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan Railway
This scan is repeated from higher up and shows (Left) the 26th Issue (Perf 10½) and the new printing issued in 1933 (Perf 14).

3d Red (1933) : Pale Scarlet-Vermilion (Perf 14.) [ . ] [ . ]

The 1933 stamp was from a new plate, still in sheets/12 as with the earlier 3d, but now arranged 4x3 in the sheet, rather than the 1920 issue's 3x4 setting.
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1940 Issue :
de Lacy-Spencer describes one more stamp in his catalogue, but we are unsure that we have correctly interpreted the listing, which is for a '4d' on 3d on the 27th Issue, which we think may indicate that it is a 4d / 3(d) / 4(d) / 3d. The description is said to refer to four stamps cancelled by pen stroke, with Controls 377/378/381/382. Such surcharging, if we have understood it correctly, could well be unique in all of philately!

4d / 3(d) / 4(d) / 3d as described immediately above [ . ] (used)

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2 . . . . . . . . METROPOLITAN & GREAT CENTRAL JOINT COMMITTEE . . . . . . . .

The first issues of this railway (1906-1914) were in Blue, perhaps to distinguish them clearly from the Red of the Metropolitan Railway. From 1914, the inscription on the Met & GC Joint stamps is revised and this coincides with a change in stamp colour to the more conventional Green, as employed by most companies for their railway letter stamps.

Both Jackson and de Lacy-Spencer divide the 2d Blue issues into five printings. We have been informed that research by Sidney Turner in the 1940s, allied to recent further studies, has established that there were in fact seventeen 2d issues, not five. Further, there were two printers involved and it is now generally thought that the point of changeover from Waterlow's to H. Blacklock & Co. Ltd. was with Control #14401 (rather than the previously quoted #15001).

The majority of collectors, we suspect, will be content with dividing these 2d Blue issues into five, rather than seventeen, printings and we have therefore adopted the Jackson / de Lacy-Spencer groupings below.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

Imperforate PROOF :
2d : Blue : PROOF (Imperforate and without Control number) [ . ]
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

First Issue:
2d : Blue : Controls 001-1200 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Broken frame-line under 'E' of 'METN.' [ . ] [ . ] *
*
Seen on two 1st Issue stamps, with Controls 182 (used) and 542 (mint). Stamps are in sheets/60, 10x6, but numbered downwards in columns, starting on the RIGHT-HAND side. This stamp is therefore from Row 2,10 (Position 20).
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

Second Issue:
2d : Blue : Controls 1201-2400 [ . ] [ . ]
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

The long, small piece from an envelope shown above, and dated Oct 3 1910, bears an Edward VII 1d (the king had died in May) and a 'Met. & GC Joint' Third Issue 2d. The RLS has the regularly ink cross cancellation but additionally is tied by the Royal Mail machine cancellation. Note the 12.15 am time (00.15) on the cancellation, suggesting that the letter was indeed posted late in the day with the extra (RLS) fee paid in order to try to ensure next day delivery.

Third Issue:
2d : Blue : Controls 2401-9960 [ . ] [ . ]
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

Fourth Issue:
2d : Chalky Blue : Controls 9962-15000 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Cross Bar through 4th pillar on left side [ . ] [ . ] **
**
Seen on stamp with Control 10030. Stamps are in sheets/60, 10x6, but numbered downwards in columns, again starting on the right. Stamp 10030 is therefore from Row 3,9 or Position 29 in the sheet. We have insufficient examples to check if this is a constant flaw of the 4th Issue.
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

Fifth Issue:
2d : Blue (towards Prussian-Blue) : Controls 15001-20000 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - plate scratch to left of 'NCE' of 'CONVEYANCE' [ . ] [ . ]

The blue of some stamps of the Fifth issue has a hint of green in it, but less than is present in true Prussian-blue.
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In 1916, the inscription of the stamps was amended and the colour changed to green, in line with standard practice.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

1916 Issue : Perf 11 :
2d : Green : No Control Numbers [ . ] [ . ]
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From this point onwards for the Metropolitan & G.C.J. Committee stamps, the quantities produced and/or still surviving are often tiny. We have provided check-boxes for used as well as mint throughout but very few of these stamps appear to have seen much postal use.
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The 2d value was reissued in 1919 in Bluish-Green, Perf 10. No scan available.
2d : Bluish-Green : Perf 10 : No Control Numbers [ . ] [ . ]
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Both the above stamps exist with a manuscript surcharge of just the figure '3' in black ink. We have not seen them, nor have we been able to source scans for them. They appear to be rare.

3(d) / 2d : Green : Manuscript surcharge in black ink on 1916 2d, Perf 11. [ . ] [ . ]

3(d) / 2d : Bluish-Green : Manuscript surcharge in black ink on 1919 2d, Perf 12. [ . ] [ . ]

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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
Image from Grosvenor Auctions archive, April 2021 sale, Lot 216, Wilson handstamp applied.

3(d) / 2d : Bluish-Green : Handstamped '3' in Blue-Violet on 1919 2d, Perf 12. [ . ] [ . ]
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

1920 Issue : 3d
3d : Green : Perf 10½ : Controls 1-1200 [ . ] [ . ]
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee 1928 4d / 3d / 2d
Above: The final issue of the 2d, with manuscript correction to 3d and a further uprating to 4d, all in black ink.

4d / 3(d) / 2d : Two manuscript revaluations in black ink (as on fragment above) [ . ] [ . ]

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We now run into a problem with these issues. According to Jackson, the 3d stamps with Controls 973-984 were given a manuscript surcharge of the figure '4', whilst Controls 929-950 received a handstamped surcharge of the figure '4'. An inspection of the scan below showing a 3d with Control 975 is a handstamp, not a manuscript, surcharge.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

We cannot dismiss the Jackson listing of a manuscript surcharge (repeated in de Lacy-Spencer) simply on the basis of the one stamp with Control 975 but it is possible that Jackson was working off reports of a manuscript surcharge, rather than having sight of it in person. We list it first below but with reservations.

4(d) / 3d : Green : The 1920 3d Surcharged '4' in manuscript in purple ink [ . ] [ . ] (unconfirmed)

4(d) / 3d : Green : Handstamped '4' in Bright Violet [ . ] [ . ]

The right-hand stamp in the scan displays a vertical frameline transferred from the handstamp; we do not list this.
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The next five issues were all 4d Green printings, each in a slightly different shade but much more easily identified by Control number.

4d Issues :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee 4d
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee 4d Wendover
The scans show the five series of 4d stamps.

1921 4d : Perf 14 : 1st 4d Issue :
4d : Bright Green : Perf 14 : Controls 1-1500 [ . ] [ . ]

1922 4d : Perf 10 : 2nd 4d Issue :
4d : Yellow Green : Perf 10 : Controls 1501-3000 [ . ] [ . ]

1923 4d : Perf 10 : 3rd 4d Issue :
4d : Dark Green : Perf 10 : Controls 3001-4800 [ . ] [ . ]

192? 4d : Perf 11½ : 4th 4d Issue :
4d : Pale Green : Perf 11½ : Controls 4801-6300 [ . ] [ . ]

1928 4d : 11½ : 5th 4d 'Issue' :
4d : Yellow Green : Perf 11½ : Controls 6301 / 8184 [ . ] [ . ]

Both Jackson and de Lacy-Spencer state that the Fifth Issue is not known without surcharge. However, the fragment with control 6704 scanned above with a 1927 postmark appears unsurcharged, which is in line with the correct (4d) rate for 1927. We have therefore removed any reference to this stamp only being known surcharged although un-surcharged examples will be very rare and quite possibly only found in used condition. Jackson states controls in the range 6301 to 8184 are known for this fifth 4d issue but the actual number surviving appears to be very small.
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3d / 4d Surcharges :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
A 1929 cover with both stamps cancelled by the G.P.O. as well as the simple 'X' of the railway company's servant. By this period, the use of the railway letter post had fallen away markedly with covers and even used stamps becoming increasingly less common.
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Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
Scans from different scanners. Shade comparison not reliable, indeed probably misleading. These are all from the 5th 4d Issue.

In 1928, there were surcharges on both the 4th 4d Issue and the 5th 4d Issue, surcharges as described below. We only have scans of the red and the black surcharges on the 5th 4d issue.

1928 4d : Perf 10 : Surcharge on 4th 4d Issue :
3(d) / 4d : Yellowish-Green : 192? issue with manuscript figure '3' in Black [ . ] [ . ] (No scan)

1928 4d : Perf 10 : Surcharge on 5th 4d Issue :
3d / 4d : Dark Green : 1928 4d with manuscript '3d' (and bars) in Red Pencil [ . ] [ . ]
Controls known are 7537-48, one sheet/12. Control 7542 shown above.

1928 4d : Perf 10 : Surcharge on 5th 4d Issue :
3(d) / 4d : Dark Green : 1928 4d with manuscript '3' in Black Ink [ . ] [ . ]
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3(d) / 4d : Handstamped Surcharge (on Wilson envelope)
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
Image from the Grosvenor 2015 sale of the de Lacy-Spencer collection, Lot 2258. We have adjusted the contrast in this image, better to reveal the handstamp, half-concealed below the Wendover oval cancellation. This results in slightly untrue colours.

We only know of a handstamped surcharge on this issue from this one Wilson cover.

1928 4d : Perf 10
3(d) / 4d : Green : Handstamped '3' in Violet [ ? ] [ . ]
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New 3d Issue : Perf 10 :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee
A captured scan of a full sheet from the Grosvenor 2021 sale, showing the numbering of the Controls.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee

c.1930 3d : Perf 10½
3d : Green : Control Numbers A/1 - A/1600 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Plate flaw under 'MM' of 'COMMITTEE' (R.3,3 = Position 11) (see scan) [ . ] [ . ]

The flaw is NOT constant and not found on three other full sheets, whose scans we examined.

In calculating the sheet position of the 'MM' variety above, we noticed that the reported issue quantity of 1600 stamps was not an exact multiple of the sheet size of 12. Working forwards from Control 0001 establishes that, in the sheets/12, the variety is in Position 11 (R.3,3). The printing would naturally have produced either 1596 or 1608 stamps, not 1600 as reported. For accounting purposes, eight stamps were perhaps destroyed immediately.
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3 . . . . . . METROPOLITAN & LONDON & NORTH EASTERN RAILWAYS . . . . . .
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As mentioned in the introduction, this 'company' is strangely difficult to research. It is not listed as a 'Joint Railway' in the standard lists. We believe that there is more information to be gleaned from the London Transport archive at Kew but that this has yet to be digitised. We have also found a brief reference to it on the website aim25.com, as follows:

'The Watford Joint Railway Committee was a joint undertaking of the Metropolitan Railway Company and the London & North Eastern Railway Company (LNER). It was formed to construct a branch of the Metropolitan Railway to Watford, now part of the London Underground Metropolitan Line.'

It appears that the life of whatever arrangements were made between the Metropolitan and the LNER was short, c.1927-1933, apparently ending with the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board. Covers, and indeed used stamps, are barely known and we have Mr. A. Wilson to thank for the cover shown below. It is with such covers that the pioneering collectors in unfashionable spheres of philately probably make their greatest mark. We note that de Lacy-Spencer does not posit a used price for any Metropolitan and LNER issues.

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & London & North Eastern Railways Joint issue on Wilson cover

First Issue : 4d :

Un-surcharged 4d stamps appear to be exceptionally scarce and it seems that most of the 240 stamps printed were either surcharged or perhaps destroyed.

1927 4d : Green : Control Numbers 1-240 [ . ] [ . ]
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Second Issue : 3(d) / 4d

These are all surcharges on the First Issue above. Jackson gives quite a detailed breakdown of the known 3(d)/4d stamps with surcharges as follows:

In Red Ink : Controls 16 (an error in Jackson), 29-30
In Black Ink: Controls 46, 206-214, 231-240

We can corroborate Black Ink Controls 212, 215, 237 & 240 and can add Control 228 to that list.

However, the cover we illustrate above clearly shows that the 4d with Control #16 does not have a red, or indeed any, surcharge.
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3(d) / 4d Manuscript Surcharges :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & London & North Eastern Railways (LNER) Joint issue
We have seen only one example of the (probably very few) stamps which were surcharged in red pen, on a Wilson cover (with Control #30) in the 2015 Grosvenor sale of the de Lacy-Spencer collection (Lot 2257), shown above.

Second Issue : 3(d) / 4d : with Red Surcharge :
1928 3(d) / 4d : Green : Manuscript figure '3' in RED Ink [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & London & North Eastern Railways (LNER) Joint issue
Examples from the Second Issue, showing marked shades in what was a very small original print run (20 sheets/12)

Stamps from the sheet containing Controls 229-240 are in a deeper green than all the other 4d stamps (with or without surcharge) that we have seen. Depending on the numbering procedure applied on the day, this could have been the first, rather than the last, sheet printed and the first sheet would certainly have been the most prone to contamination, perhaps affected by some black ink left on the roller from a previous job. Although speculative, it is quite a plausible explanation.

If this hypothesis is correct, one would not expect to find the darker shade on any of the unsurcharged 4d stamps and we have therefore only added a Deep Green shade to our listing below, not to our listing of the original 4d higher up.

Second Issue : 3(d) / 4d : with Black Surcharge :
1928 3(d) / 4d : Green : Manuscript figure '3' in BLACK Ink : Control Numbers up to 228 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Deep Green : Controls 229-240 (only?) [ . ] [ . ]

Evidence to date hints at all the stamps between #205 and #240 having manuscript surcharges in Black. Unhelpfully, we currently have no information about any of the stamps with a Control between #30 and #204 - which represents more than 70% of the entire original print run of 240.
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Third Issue : 3d :
Railway Letter Stamps Metropolitan & London & North Eastern Railways Joint issue
A sheet/12 from the third issue, Control numbers still applied in columns starting at top right.

Third Issue : 3d :
1928 3d : Green : Controls 241 - 480 [ . ] (mint)

This entire printing is reported to have been remaindered and no check-box therefore has been provided for a used example.

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4 . . . . . . . . . . . LONDON PASSENGER TRANSPORT BOARD . . . . . . . . . . .

Formed in 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) had extensive authority over a wide area and beyond the confines of Greater London. There is a Wikipedia page which explains its remit succinctly and it may be accessed here (opens in a new tab)

This company produced only one issue, apparently of at least 762 stamps, but they are rarely seen and the existence of any mint examples has not been established. The illustrated stamp with Control 762 is grubby and could possibly be mint without gum, but it is more likely that it is a lightly-used example. We are unsure whether these stamps were widely available to the public and, if so, at what locations for which services. It seems to us that, by the 1930s, there would have been little demand for them in most of the London area, where late mail collections were readily available.

Railway Letter Stamps London Passenger Transport  Board
Railway Letter Stamps London Passenger Transport  Board Railway Letter Stamps London Passenger Transport  Board

All three images from Grosvenor Auctions, Stamp 751 from the 2015 sale of the de Lacy-Spencer collection, the other two from the April 2021 sale of the Stuart Phillips collection.

1938 3d : Red : Controls reported for 1-762+ [ ? ] [ . ]

From 1939 onwards, the London Passenger Transport Board are known to have used Newspaper stamps and, later, remainders of the Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee PARCEL stamps, for franking Railway Letters. Other railways also tended towards this practice of using Parcel Stamps in the final years of the Railway Letter service, probably because the demand was so low that printing new RLS was not deemed worthwhile. Letters with non-standard franking are highly collectable but we do not cover them in this article.

To close, albeit totally unconnected to the Railway Letter service, we illustrate a Metropolitan Railway parcel receipt form, as it shows a locomotive. The parcel was consigned at Farringdon Street, a station that the Metropolitan shared with other companies, and sent to Enfield with a routing instruction via 'GN', the Great Northern Railway, a predecessor and the main artery of what would become the LNER in 1923. A cut-out from a version of the form printed in blue shows the locomotive more clearly.

Metropolitan Railway Company parcel waybill / docket steam locomotive Metropolitan Railway Company parcel waybill / docket steam locomotive

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