An overprint is an additional layer of text or graphics added to the face of a postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

 or banknote
A banknote is a kind of negotiable instrument, a promissory note made by a bank payable to the bearer on demand, used as money, and in many jurisdictions is legal tender. In addition to coins, banknotes make up the cash or bearer forms of all modern fiat money...

 after it has been printed
Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing....

. Post office
Post office
A post office is a facility forming part of a postal system for the posting, receipt, sorting, handling, transmission or delivery of mail.Post offices offer mail-related services such as post office boxes, postage and packaging supplies...

s most often use overprints for internal administrative purposes such as accounting but they are also employed in public mail
Mail, or post, is a system for transporting letters and other tangible objects: written documents, typically enclosed in envelopes, and also small packages are delivered to destinations around the world. Anything sent through the postal system is called mail or post.In principle, a postal service...

. The most well-recognized varieties are commemorative
Commemorative stamp
A commemorative stamp is a postage stamp, often issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honor or commemorate a place, event or person. The subject of the commemorative stamp is usually spelled out in print, unlike definitive stamps which normally depict the subject along with the...

 overprints which are produced for their public appeal and command significant interest in the field of philately
Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps...



The term "surcharge" in philately describes any type of overprint that alters the price of a stamp. Surcharges raise or lower the face value of existing stamps when prices have changed too quickly to produce an appropriate new issue, or simply to use up surplus stocks.

Any overprint which restates a stamp's face value
Face value
The Face value is the value of a coin, stamp or paper money, as printed on the coin, stamp or bill itself by the minting authority. While the face value usually refers to the true value of the coin, stamp or bill in question it can sometimes be largely symbolic, as is often the case with bullion...

 in a new currency
In economics, currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply...

 is also described as a surchage. Some postal systems have resorted to surcharge overprints when converting to a new national monetary system, such as when British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 countries converted to decimal currency in the late 1960s.

Stamps have occasionally been overprinted multiple times. A famous example of repeated surcharging happened during the German hyperinflation of 1921–1923
Inflation in the Weimar Republic
The hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic was a three year period of hyperinflation in Germany between June 1921 and July 1924.- Analysis :...

. Prices rose so fast and dramatically that postage stamps which cost five or ten pfennig
The Pfennig , plural Pfennige, is an old German coin or note, which existed from the 9th century until the introduction of the euro in 2002....

s in 1920 were overprinted for sale in the thousands, millions, and eventually billions.

Commemorative overprints

Overprints have often been used as commemoratives
Commemorative stamp
A commemorative stamp is a postage stamp, often issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honor or commemorate a place, event or person. The subject of the commemorative stamp is usually spelled out in print, unlike definitive stamps which normally depict the subject along with the...

, providing a faster and lower-cost alternative to designing and issuing special stamps. The United States, which historically has issued relatively few commemorative overprints, did this in 1928 for issues celebrating Molly Pitcher
Molly Pitcher
Molly Pitcher was a nickname given to a woman said to have fought in the American Revolutionary War, who is generally believed to have been Mary Ludwig Hays...

 and the discovery of Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

. British stamps heralding the World Cup soccer championship (1966) were reissued after England's victory with the overprint "England Winners". Similarly, Guyana
Postage stamps and postal history of Guyana
Guyana became independent from Great Britain on May 26, 1966. It began producing its own stamps as an independent nation from that date.Previously the country was British Guiana and had printed stamps.In 1969, some issues were put on the market cancelled to order in such a way as to be...

 issued a set of 32 stamps showing team pictures of all the participants in the 1998 World Cup – after the tournament eight of these were reissued with an overprint announcing France's win.

In some rare cases, commemorative overprints have been applied to souvenir sheets. When these postal commodities are overprinted, they are always very carefully positioned for aesthetic appeal, usually on the blank outer border ("selvage
The selvage or selvedge is the term for the self-finished edges of fabric. The selvages keep the fabric from unraveling or fraying. The selvages are a result of how the fabric is created...

") of the paper.

Security measures

Overprints have been used as security measures to deter misuse and theft. In the nineteenth century, Mexico was plagued by thefts of stamps on their way to remote post offices. To address this, stamps were shipped from Mexico City to the local districts where they were overprinted with the district name – they were not valid for postage without the overprint. The United States used a similar strategy to deal with thefts in Kansas
Kansas is a US state located in the Midwestern United States. It is named after the Kansas River which flows through it, which in turn was named after the Kansa Native American tribe, which inhabited the area. The tribe's name is often said to mean "people of the wind" or "people of the south...

 and Nebraska
Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

 in 1929, overprinting the current definitive issue
Definitive stamp
A definitive stamp is a postage stamp, that is part of a regular issue of a country's stamps available for sale by the postal service for an extended period of time...

 with "Kans." and "Nebr." before they were shipped from Washington, to make it more difficult to sell stolen stamps outside the indicated state.

Colonial overprints

Overprints were often used by nations to establish the first stage of postal service in a new territorial possession or colony. If preparations had not been made, the controlling nation's regular homeland stamps would be overprinted with a local name.

Provisional overprints

Provisional stamp
Provisional stamp
Linn's World Stamp Almanac defines a provisional stamp as "a postage stamp issued for temporary use to meet postal demands until new or regular stocks of stamps can be obtained."...

s are postage issue made for temporary ad hoc usage to meet demands until regular issues are reintroduced.

Transitional government overprints

New states or states in transition have sometimes found it necessary to recirculate stocks of stamps printed by a previous government. Some historical perspective may be gleaned from the study of such stamps: some transitional government overprints blend neatly with their predecessors' designs, while others attempt to totally obscure or even deface the older markings. In several European nations in 1944-45, Nazi occupational stamps were overprinted for the provisional governments, and those which depicted Adolf Hitler were most heavily overprinted, obliterating his face.

Wartime overprints

During times of war, many nations have issued war tax stamp
War tax stamp
A war tax stamp is a type of postage stamp added to an envelope in addition to regular postage. It is similar to a postal tax stamp, but the revenue is used to defray the costs of a war; as with other postal taxes, its use is obligatory for some period of time.- Early Spanish issues :The first war...

s. Before new stamps could be printed, older stamps were frequently overprinted with surcharges or a simple inscription such as "War Tax".

In actual combat zones, the replenishment of stamp stocks is generally low on a military's list of priorities. In contested or occupied areas, captured local stamps are often expediently overprinted by the occupying forces.


Any stamp that is cancelled by postal authorities before it is sold is described as "precancelled": the precancellation mark is an overprint. This is usually only done when stamps are sold in large bulk quantities to businesses or other large organizations: the postal service will save the labor of cancelling each individual stamp by precancelling the entire purchased quantity. The overprints also help prevent theft or misuse because they usually include the name of the city or region in which they are to be used. Unlike standard cancellation marks, they usually do not give a specific date, affording the bulk purchaser time to use them at their discretion. In some situations, however, months or years may be included in the overprint to indicate an expiration.

Precancels for official government use are fastidiously prepared, but other kinds are almost always "heavy cancels" which deliberately obliterate much of a stamp's design. For this reason, precancelled stamps are frequently unrepresented in philatelic collection
Stamp collecting
Stamp collecting is the collecting of postage stamps and related objects. It is one of the world's most popular hobbies, with the number of collectors in the United States alone estimated to be over 20 million.- Collecting :...


Since the 1980s, many modern postal systems no longer use overprints to indicate bulk purchases. Bulk mail is franked using barcode
A barcode is an optical machine-readable representation of data, which shows data about the object to which it attaches. Originally barcodes represented data by varying the widths and spacings of parallel lines, and may be referred to as linear or 1 dimensional . Later they evolved into rectangles,...

s on pre-printed envelopes or on blank adhesive label
Adhesive label
An adhesive label is a small piece of paper designed to be affixed to another larger piece of paper or other object, typically by the action of a layer of adhesive on the back of the label....

s. The USPS introduced a new standard of barcode cancellation
Intelligent Mail Barcode
The Intelligent Mail Barcode is a 65-bar code for use on mail in the United States. The term “Intelligent Mail” refers to services offered by the United States Postal Service for domestic mail delivery. is intended to provide greater information and functionality than its predecessors POSTNET and...

 in 2011.

Private overprints

Any overprint that does not originate from a stamp-issuing authority is considered a private overprint
Private overprint
Private overprints, in philately, are overprints , usually rubberstamped though occasionally applied by some other method, to postage stamps used by some person or entity other than a government or other official stamp-issuing entity...

 or private cancellation
Private cancellation
Private cancellations are cancellations of postage stamps, or, in some cases, artistamps, applied by other than a government or other official stamp-issuing entity...

. Such overprints almost always invalidate a stamp for postal use. Most countries treat unofficial overprints the same way the United States Post Office does: the USPS Domestic Mail Manual states that stamps "overprinted with an unauthorized design, message or other marking" are not valid for postage.

Private overprints generally remain outside the formal realm of philately, although individual issues can achieve notoriety through their popularity or aesthetic appeal. Private overprints are typically political messages or commercial promotion.

Stamps owned by commercial entities have sometimes privately overprinted the backs of their purchased stamps. These overprints are usually made as control marks or accounting information. Such overprinting does not invalidate a stamp unless it shows through the front.

Specimen overprints

Some stamps are never valid for postal use. They are made for use in promotional displays or as reference material by postal authorities and the Universal Postal Union
Universal Postal Union
The Universal Postal Union is an international organization that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration , the Postal Operations Council and the...

 (UPU). Still others are manufactured by printers for color matching
Color management
In digital imaging systems, color management is the controlled conversion between the color representations of various devices, such as image scanners, digital cameras, monitors, TV screens, film printers, computer printers, offset presses, and corresponding media.The primary goal of color...

 throughout successive printings. In all such cases, the stamps will display the word "specimen"
Specimen stamp
A specimen stamp is a postage stamp or postal stationery indicium sent to postmasters and postal administrations so that they are able to identify valid stamps and to avoid forgeries....

 (or "cancelled") on its face. Occasionally, the word may be uniquely handwritten by a postal authority or, much more elaborately, punched through the stamp paper in a method known as perfin
In philately, a perfin is a stamp that has had initials or a name perforated across it to discourage theft. The name is a contraction of perforated initials or perforated insignia...

. Most often, though, specimen markings are applied as a prominent overprint.

Overprints on currency

The design and printing of valid paper currency
In economics, currency refers to a generally accepted medium of exchange. These are usually the coins and banknotes of a particular government, which comprise the physical aspects of a nation's money supply...

 is rarely done hastily and overprints are extremely rare, but in times of crisis such measures have been taken. After World War I, the various successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made multilingual overprints to their old Imperial currency until new notes could be designed and circulated.

Currency overprints were also used during World War II to mark all United States dollar
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

s in the Hawaiiian islands. These Hawaii overprint note
Hawaii overprint note
A Hawaii overprint note is one of a series of banknotes issued during World War II as an emergency issue after the attack on Pearl Harbor...

s were made in case the islands were captured and the invading forces gained control of the money.

The Haiti
Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

an Gourde was overprinted after the unexpectedly rapid fall of the Baby Doc Duvalier
Jean-Claude Duvalier
Jean-Claude Duvalier, nicknamed "Bébé Doc" or "Baby Doc" was the President of Haiti from 1971 until his overthrow by a popular uprising in 1986. He succeeded his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, as the ruler of Haiti upon his father's death in 1971...

 regime. The overprint consisted of a red circle with a slash across it with the date of the end of the Duvalier regime (7 February 1986) printed below in red. The brusque symbol obscured the images of Baby Doc and Papa Doc
François Duvalier
François Duvalier was the President of Haiti from 1957 until his death in 1971. Duvalier first won acclaim in fighting diseases, earning him the nickname "Papa Doc" . He opposed a military coup d'état in 1950, and was elected President in 1957 on a populist and black nationalist platform...

 until they were replaced with images of figures from Haitian history. Something similar was done in Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

 in 1979 when the Shah
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, Shah of Persia , ruled Iran from 16 September 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979...

's picture was covered by an intricate design.

External links

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