Overprints Part 1. Why Stamps Were Overprinted [147]

Why Stamps were Overprinted

Ireland experienced many years of civil unrest, brought about by revolutionary factions in the quest for Independence from Britain. The declaration of April 24, 1916, during the ‘Easter Rising’  by the self-proclaimed Provisional Government placed the country on a Civil War footing, although this wasn’t totally supported by the populace. The actions of the British after the Uprising; the courts-martial and shootings of the leaders without lawful process, and the imprisonment of many others, not all of whom were participants, succeeded in creating support for the rebels.  This triggered other actions, such as the Irish Convention, which is addressed elsewhere. A guerilla war ensued, with atrocities committed on both sides.

Despite this backdrop, negotiations between the political factions and the British Government were ongoing, culminating in the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in Downing Street, London on December 6, 1921.  This Treaty was duly ratified by the British Parliament on December 16, 1921, and 30 days later the Irish Provisional Government, became a reality.

Under the terms of the Treaty, twenty-six Irish Counties would eventually make up the Irish Free State, with six Counties in Ulster  remaining as part of Great Britain.  With the imminent recognition of the Free State, the urgent need was apparent for postage stamps, which would reflect Ireland’s change of status.

The Postal Authority of the Irish Provisional government set about the process of calling for stamp designs on February 1, 1922. (The Irish would not assume control of the Post Office until April).

At the outset it was evident that the production and issue of dedicated stamps would take time. As a result, on the February 8, 1922, the Postmaster General Designate announced, that as an interim measure and following agreement with the British Government, the current British George V stamps would be overprinted in Gaelic and released on February 17, 1922. Eight low value and three high value stamps were overprinted.  [More discussion in following parts].  

The first overprint translates from Gaelic to read ‘Provisional Government of Ireland 1922’.  The typeface used was a Gaelic one, and, fortunately for collectors, was not made of steel, but rather softer metals.  Since the Provisional Government was only to remain in existence until elections for the Free State in November 1922, this was not expected to be a problem; however, the demand for stamps greatly exceeded forecasts. The softer and more brittle type metal cracked and broke under the high volume and increased pressures used, thus creating many varieties.

The initial contractors, Dollard Printing House, Ltd, Dublin and Alex, Thom & Co., Ltd, also of Dublin, provided the initial issues.  Figures 1 and 2 respectively display the eight low and three high value stamps overprinted by Dollard and figure 3 displays the four values overprinted by Thom.  Five stamps by Thom are shown since there are two identifiable varieties of the 2d stamps.  The output from both printers were placed on sale on February 17, 1922.

Contributed by Barry Cousins