UPU Specimen Stamps 1878–1961 — A Complete Revision of the 1988 Edition

from the reviews . . .


Open the stamp album of any serious philatelist and you are almost certain to find at least one postage stamp either overprinted or perforated with the word “Specimen:” Such stamps are mostly, but not exclusively, the result of Universal Postal Union (UPU) requirements. And it is the UPU specimen stamps that are the primary subject of this marvelous new work by Bendon. At more than 500 pages, “comprehensive” does not fully describe this impressive volume.

The UPU’s requirement that member nations provide specimen stamps dates to 1878. But the first acknowledged specimens came about in 1840 when the General Post Office in London issued a notice to postmasters regarding the use and appearance of the world's first postage stamp, the Penny Black. Thus, as long as there have been stamps there have been specimens. And Bendon provides an illustration of this earliest specimen communication. The GPO's purpose in distributing the notice – which contained two examples of the Penny Black – primarily was to inform postmasters of what a legitimate postage stamp looked like. And the UPU’s purpose was similar: to ensure that the postal authorities of its member nations could recognize all of the genuine stamps of their counterpart members. Thus, UPU members were mandated to send a quantity of specimen stamps to the UPU, which would in turn redistribute them to the other member nations (as well as keep samples for their own records).

Marcus Samuel, long regarded as the dean of specimen stamp philately, is quoted by Bendon to provide the definition of a specimen stamp:

“A stamp or stamp proof that has been provided or preserved as a sample, for which no payment had been made to the revenue, and that has been defaced to prevent its postal (or fiscal) use:”

However, Samuel’s characterization is not quite definitive. Most often the sending nation would overprint (or perforate) the word “Specimen” on the stamps before sending. But for numerous reasons, unused stamps also were sent and it was the recipient countries that would – sometimes – deface the stamps upon receipt. And other times the only way to identify a stamp as a specimen is context: its location attached to a page from a log book emanating from a post office archive.

Philately has never been solely about the stamps in isolation, and Bendon provides background with a brief history of the UPU and an explanation of the different types of specimen stamps. On first blush, the study of specimens might appear to be a narrow, specialized topic. But the early UPU was central to the development of the nascent international postal system. Therefore, understanding the operations of the UPU and relations among its constituent postal authorities is central to much of philately, including – perhaps unobviously – postal history. Bendon’s comprehensive treatment ensures that employing this volume for philatelic research will be a satisfying and rewarding undertaking. He has included chapters examining the distribution of specimens by the UPU as well as the receiving procedures of member authorities. Philatelists might gain a greater understanding of their holdings by studying these introductory chapters.

But it is the catalog section – more than 400 pages long – that is at the heart of this book. Countries are listed alphabetically (by their English names), although groupings are used for various territories or political subdivisions. Within the catalog, the identification of types of protective markings is addressed. This is no mean task. Much of the codification for markings of the British Empire comes from the work of Marcus Samuel. For other nations, Bendon himself has developed a classification system. A major contribution in the catalog is Bendon’s use of country checklists to present a convenient means of identification. These checklists include the Samuel/Bendon Type classifications.

However, it is most certainly the overwhelming presentation of full color illustrations that first strikes the reader. If one did not read a single word in this book, but merely studied the illustrations, one could come away with a solid understanding of the topic. Nevertheless, the author includes many explanations of the details and nuances of individual countries’ specimens. Between the descriptive text, the checklists and the innumerable illustrations, the catalog section represents a complete treatment of UPU specimen stamps.

Rare is the philatelic work that does not build upon the research of predecessors. The author wisely includes a reprint of the definitive 1964–1965 series of articles by Samuel as Appendix A. This is a must read section and I recommend that readers turn here early in their perusal of the book. While one will certainly become a better-informed owner of stamps with this book, one can also become a more effective purchaser by referring to other material in the appendices. In particular, Appendix B, “Numbers of Specimens Required for Distribution,” is informative from several standpoints, including that of rarity.

Philately was a well-established hobby by 1878 when the UPU first mandated the distribution of specimen stamps. One of the earliest references to specimens that appeared in the literature was identified by philatelic bibliographer Brian Birch. He describes an article by C.W. Viner that appeared in the December, 1889 issue of The Stamp News, “Reminiscences of a septuagenarian stamp collector:” Birch summarizes part of that article: “The second part of the article is devoted to stamps which had fallen out of favour by the time of writing, such as proofs, essays, specimen stamps, locals, etc:” Philately has certainly been subject to the waxing and waning in popularity of various topics and specializations, including specimens. But with publication of this book, Bendon has unquestionably ensured the enduring popularity of specimens for the foreseeable future.

With a few notable exceptions, Bendon’s book is focused upon UPU­ related specimens. There remain several other categories of specimen stamps in need of a comparable codification. (Perhaps the author might consider this as his next publishing project!) Bendon’s philatelic legacy is now indelibly established. Renowned philatelist James Peter Gough, in his own review published elsewhere, calls this book Bendon’s “gift to philately” and indeed it is. Serious philatelists everywhere owe it to themselves to obtain their own copies of this book for their libraries. No philatelic library will be complete without one. But, do not leave this book sitting on your library shelf. Place it prominently on a coffee table to share with your non-philatelic friends the beauty apparent in this stunning volume.

The book was awarded a Gold Medal and Special Prize for Research at NORDIA 2016.

Gary Wayne Loew
Philatelic Literature Third Quarter 2016


Specimen stamps were a mystery to many collectors until Marcus Samuel published his articles in 1964/5, and followed these with his book Specimen Stamps of the Crown Colonies 1857-1948 in 1976. Specimen Stamps and Stationery of Great Britain by Samuel and Alan Huggins appeared in 1980. James Bendon's original book which dealt with specimen stamps worldwide was published as long ago as 1988, with occasional addenda, but has stood the test of time.

This completely revised and updated edition takes advantage of modern printing and digital programming to incorporate the new information that has come to light, especially with the liberation of three major archives in Goa, Mauritania and Tunisia. The reprints of stamps of Portugal, with the Azores, Madeira and other Colonies, sent to the UPU in 1885 are now listed. As well as SPECIMEN overprints all the MUESTRA, MONSTER and other overprints; (in native script for example in Japan) are included, as too are the perforated types of the British printers.

The author particularly mentions stamps cancelled with a datestamp or other postal obliterator before being sent to the UPU for distribution. Countries here include Australia, the United States, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Iran and the Netherlands. A number of instances when actual un-overprinted mint stamps have been sent are recorded, and there are many references to postal stationery which was often protected by similar methods.

Useful information has also been gleaned from the International Bureau Circulars, Letters and Bulletins and is cited throughout the catalogue.

The early chapters have been rewritten or expanded and their headings are The Universal Postal Union; Specimen Stamps; UPU Specimen Stamps; Distribution of Specimens by the International Bureau; and Receipt of Specimen Stamps by Members of the UPU. These are further sub-divided as appropriate, the last having separate illustrated sections for Bechuanaland, French West Africa, Gabon, Gambia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Natal, Angola, Goa, Spanish Zone of Morocco, Tunisia and the British South Africa Company in Rhodesia.

However, the meat of the book is the catalogue occupying more than 400 pages with countries listed in alphabetical order, with background information, full-colour illustrations for many stamps and a detailed checklist.

This is followed by five appendices including the original 24-page article by Marcus Samuel ‘The Distribution of SPECIMEN Stamps by the UPU', originally serialised in 1964/5 issues of Stamp Collecting. Others include alphabetical and chronological lists of member countries, and the British Printers' Standard Types. There is a full index and list of sources.

This superbly produced book has 521 catalogue pages, with further advertising pages from many of the major dealers and auctioneers, is 216x280mm, bound in library buckram, with gold tooling. A superb and comprehensive book of reference.

David Rennie
Gibbons Stamp Monthly July 2016


When one moves beyond collecting — the filling of album spaces with stamps, for example — and embraces the close study of stamps — their methods of production, how they were used in the mail, and so on — one is called a philatelist. During the more than 170 years of our hobby’s existence, the names of some of the great philatelists have become indelibly associated with a particular field of study. In the world of specimen stamps, the name that springs to mind is James Bendon, the widely respected dealer who has made specimen stamps his professional avocation since 1970.

In 1988, Bendon published UPU Specimen Stamps, the essential guide for those who collect and study the stamps or stationery items distributed to the member countries of the Universal Postal Union for identification purposes. A number of methods were used to mark stamps as specimens. The most familiar of these is an overprint reading “Specimen.” In some cases, specimen stamps were submitted to the International Bureau of the UPU in as-issued condition, without any markings to identify them as such.

As with most (if not all) areas of scholarly endeavor, the advance of knowledge and the reporting of new discoveries continued apace following the appearance of Bendon’s book. For the better part of the next three decades, Bendon methodically documented new finds, pored over new archival material, and brought more clarity and understanding to the rich fields of specimen-stamp collecting. All of these efforts came to fruition in late 2015, with the publication of a complete revision of Bendon’s seminal work under the same title.

The meat of the book, about 500 of the 534 pages, is the catalog listing of specimen stamps arranged alphabetically by country. Headings at the top of each page make quick work of finding a particular country.

Each country’s listings follows the same format. First is a cogent introduction, followed by crisp color illustrations of the relevant specimen stamps (arranged chronologically by the specimen type). These are followed by a table providing details about the specimen types. Finally, a “checklist” summarizes each specimen by issue date (year), description, type, and UPU reference date and number. As Bendon explains in one of the chapters preceding the catalog, the UPU reference “identifies the International Bureau document that covered the items distributed.”

But before diving into the catalog and feasting your eyes on all those marvelous stamps, I strongly encourage you to spend some time reading Bendon’s preface and the six chapters that precede the catalog. In the preface, eight key areas of expansion and improvements over the 1988 edition are detailed. Some of these additions were prompted by recent discoveries, including the dispersal of the UPU specimen archives from the post offices of Goa, Mauritania, and Tunisia.

Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of the Universal Postal Union. The beginnings of the UPU can be traced to Sept. 15, 1874, when 22 nations gathered in Berne, Switzerland, to draft a universal postal treaty. On Oct. 9, 1874, the General Postal Union was founded. The GPU changed its name to the Universal Postal Union May 18, 1878, during the second gathering of member nations.

Bendon defines what a specimen stamp is and discusses the classifications of specimen stamps in the second chapter. He also explains that specimen items that have not been defaced are included in the book’s catalog, “provided always that it can be shown” that they were sent “as a sample to a member of the UPU.”

In chapter 3, Bendon outlines the categories of UPU specimen stamps and the “protective markings” that identify most of them as such. These markings include overprints, handstamps, perforations (“specimen” in a pattern of holes punched through the stamp), and postal markings (such as datestamps).

Distribution and receipt of specimen stamps are discussed in chapters 4 and 5, respectively.

Chapter 6 orients the reader to the information presented in the catalog. Its contents should be read carefully before digging into the listings.

Once you’ve gathered in the pertinent details from the chapters, dip into the catalog listings and start exploring the diversity of, and the fascinating stories behind, specimen stamps.

Of the five appendices that close out the book, be sure to read appendix A, which reproduces what Bendon refers to as the “earliest published information on UPU specimen stamps”: an article authored by Marcus Samuel that was published in eight installments in Stamp Collecting during 1964-65. This article may properly be seen as the foundation upon which Bendon and other students of specimen stamps have built their work.

In appendix B, you will find a brief table detailing the number of specimen items that each member nation was required to submit to the UPU for distribution. For example, from July 1, 1892, to Sept. 30, 1907, each UPU member had to send in five examples of each specimen item. Since Jan. 1, 2008, each UPU member has been required to submit only one of each item. Following the table is a list of the total number of submitted items from UPU members from Dec. 12, 1878, to Sept. 29, 1961. The peak number of items sent occurred in 1907, when UPU member countries sent a total of 756 stamps and 756 postal stationery items.

Appendices C and D provide alphabetical and chronological lists, respectively, of UPU member countries. Both lists are in French, the official language of the UPU.

The various specimen types used by British printers to mark stamps and stationery are discussed and illustrated in appendix E. This section will no doubt provide welcome relief to collectors and dealers seeking to classify their specimen items.

Last, but by no means least, the book is a pleasure to read. Chris Hulin of Oxford Book Projects did a marvelous job marrying Bendon’s text, tables, and illustrations into an eye-pleasing display. Two sewn-in ribbon markers, their purple color contrasting vividly against the bright red cloth binding, provide a useful added convenience.

Perhaps, after reading this far, you’re still sitting on the fence about whether or not to add this splendid volume to your philatelic library. Let me be clear: This thoroughly revised edition of UPU Specimen Stamps will be the indispensable reference on this subject for decades to come. Even if specimen stamps are but a small part of your collecting world, you should acquire a copy.

Charles "Chad" Snee
Linn's Stamp News February 2016

Linns.com


James Bendon has made a lifetime study of the specimen stamps of the world. He first published a book on the subject in 1988. Over time, James became the clearing center for all new discoveries of specimen stamps and postal stationery as well as questions pertaining to all aspects of the specimen markings. His role at the vortex of specimen-collecting was well-earned from his diligent studies, especially those at the archives of the UPU in Berne. Philatelists who collect UPU related material have a high regard for James Bendon and his contributory work in the UPU field.

After 27 years of finding significant amounts of additional information, James thought it was time for an update! And what an update it is! It is both scholarly and handy to use. Anyone who collects a country that has issued specimen stamps needs to have a copy of this book on their shelf for ready access. But even for those countries that supplied un-defaced stamps to the UPU, collectors can obtain "specimens" for their collections because of the application of distinctive receiving handstamps to those stamps upon arrival in the reference collections.

Additionally, any other philatelist who simply wishes to be informed about an important niche within global philately should also have this reference on their shelf (after reading the narrative parts!). No less so than having other general references regarding worldwide philately. For philatelic judges, it is de rigor.

What many collectors will find interesting is that the creation of defaced stamps as specimens predates the UPU, when post offices wished to put examples on announcements for new stamp issues as well as when the various printers of stamps wished to show other postal administrations the quality of their work.

Many collectors will also find interesting the different means by which post offices (and printers) would deface specimens for their various purposes of distribution and even sale. There are quite a number of stamps and postal stationery that appear to be 'canceled to order' ("CTO") but were actually specimens sent to the UPU in Berne for distribution to other members of that organization.

Another aspect that enthralled me were the number of stamps that were printed but not ever issued, or stamps that were quickly withdrawn, are available to collectors as specimens in a number of cases. Who would have thought? There are also the cases of stamps having to be reprinted for UPU distribution (because when they were created someone forgot to send a shipment to Berne of the original printing) and which are different from the actual issues!

This book is not just a compendium of the various stamps with some form of specimen marking, but is full of stories of interest that bring some animated flavor to reading such a book. In that way, it is not just your typical reference book. Even though James and I have been collecting the field of the UPU individually, in parallel, for over 40 years, I found the book enthralling.

James Bendon talks about an update in the future having to be done by someone else. I just can't see that happening under the current rules of plagiarism because this book appears to me to be complete now. Because of James's passionate dedication to details, this book is his Magnum Opus, and his gift to philately.

James Peter Gough
The Collectors Club Philatelist January/February 2016


Although this publication is an update of the author’s 1988 book with the same title, it reaches an entirely new level with respect to both content and presentation.

Profusely illustrated in colour throughout (over 1800) this book is a truly outstanding publication by the leading student of the subject, and brings together a great wealth of information in one volume.

The style used for the layout of the pages makes the book not only visually superbly attractive to the eye but also extremely easy to use.

James is to be warmly congratulated on this masterly exposition of the subject which will certainly be recognised as the classic reference for the foreseeable future.

Alan Huggins
The London Philatelist December 2015


This handsome volume … is bound in rich library buckram, with gold tooling and two place tags. This is a superb and comprehensive book of reference, not likely to remain in print for long, but destined to have a long shelf life as the book of reference for these issues.

David Rennie
Philatelic Exporter December 2015


The main Catalogue … lists each separate sending of adhesive stamps to the UPU, together with the overprint type, the date of sending and the UPU reference number.

A number of postal stationery items are also included, mainly for foreign countries, especially items that were protected using the same methods as those applied to the corresponding contemporary postage stamps … more extensive listings are available on the United Postal Stationery Society web site (www.upss.org/upuspecimens) which has taken on the role of updating the original web site co-ordinated by James.

Alan Huggins
The Postal Stationery Society Journal November 2015