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Guide to the Stamps of India

In the Colonial era, India – comprising modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma – was referred to as “the Subcontinent,” and the designation persists to this day. It hints at the vastness and diversity of the country’s populations, and the richness of its history. Collecting and researching Indian stamps provides a window to a world within a world, where thousands of languages are spoken. Some of India’s more than 600 “states” during colonial times were equal in size to European nations. India is not so much a country as a world unto itself, and its stamps tell that world’s story.

Bishop Marks – ’Stamps’ Before There Were Stamps

The earliest items of interest to the collector of Indian stamps are not stamps at all, in the sense of separate postage documents adhered to packages. They are rather “Indian Bishop Marks,” named for seventeenth century British Postmaster General Henry Bishop. These were applied to letters sent in British India from 1688, when the East India Company opened its first post office in Bombay.

Scinde District Dawk 1852

Earliest Indian Stamps – the ‘Dawks

Soon after came a system of private “Dawks,” paper or wax wafers affixed to mail. The Scinde District Dawk made its debut in 1852 in Scinde, now Sindh in Pakistan. One version of the Scinde District Dawk is printed in blue on a wafer of off-white paper, with a face value of ½ anna. Used examples bring anywhere from $600 to $10,000. An embossed red wax version is valued at tens of thousands of dollars, but no examples are known to exist today.

Early Postage Stamps of India, and the Inverted Head 4 Anna

Queen Victoria Stamp with inverted Head 1854

The first true Indian postage stamps were issued in Calcutta in 1854, denominated ½ anna, 1 anna, 2 annas, and 4 annas respectively. Each featured a head of Queen Victoria. Today some can be had in good used condition for a few hundred dollars. But one run of the 4 anna denomination was printed with the head inverted; fewer than 30 of the “Inverted Head 4 Anna” still exist, making it one of the most rare Indian stamps.

The Raj period, the Feudatory States, and the Convention States

In 1877, Britain proclaimed the Raj, or Empire of India. The first India Postage stamps were issued in 1882. The Raj also entered into conventions with various native states under local rule, called the “convention states.” These states used India Postage stamps, overprinted with the name of the state in question – for example, Jhind or Chamba.

Chamba State 1887

1947-present: Modern India

Since independence, popular Indian stamps have featured every conceivable subject, from Gandhi, Nehru, Mother Theresa, and other great Indians, to cricket and traditional landmarks. In 2008, India issued a jasmine-scented stamp, which, while not rare, has become popular with collectors

Where to Buy Stamps of India

Indian philately, like India itself, is a fascinating world that is easy to enter, but difficult to leave. If you are just starting out, look for a site offering recent popular issues, grab bags, and/or low-cost packets. The beginner need not be discouraged; today’s common stamps, especially in new, uncancelled condition – or on cancelled first-day covers – are the valuable commodities of tomorrow. and are both good general introductory sites. Some sites specialize in stamps of India, or have appreciable Indian sections, such as or . Finally, for the established collector, auction sites such as and offer more valuable lots.

For general information on where to buy stamps online please visit my stamp collecting home page.

What’s my collection worth? buys and sells stamps of India (among many others) and has a  valuation service, though you will need to subscribe to their service.

Stanley Gibbons offers a valuation service and has an good database which includes stamps of India and surrounds. They charge an annual subscription fee for this service

You could also try we buy stamps who provide a no obligation free quote for your collection. You will need to complete an online form.

Clubs and Societies:

Dakshina Kannada Philatelic Association (DKPNA) is a philatelic club based in Mangalore, India. The objective of the Club is to promote philatelic interest and to provide education about postage stamp collecting. They are most suitable for members living in India and can be contacted via email :

The Indian Thematic Society is for topical stamp colectors of indian Stamps and is based in Ludhiana Punjab. Visit their website for more info.