This section includes some basic definitions and a general overview the stamps and postal history of Nepal prior to 1949.
Before 1879 Nepalese governmental mail was strictly official. Any public or commercial correspondence was carried informally as a favor by merchants or individuals who happened to be traveling in the right direction. Governmental correspondence was generally carried by a relay system made up of families spaced across the country who were required to transport such mail in exchange for not having to pay taxes. Very important mail was carried on occasion by special courier. Official mail of this era almost always bears the personal hand stamped seal of the sender. Such mail usually includes a manuscript posting date at the beginning of the top line of characters on the back of the envelope. Refer to Frame 1 of my collection for examples of such mail.
According to government records the first true post offices were apparently openned in December 1878 about two years before the issuance of the first postage stamps although the earlist known covers carried on this system date from early April 1879. Western style postmarks were introduced during this period; and for the first time public mail was carried by the government. The earliest known examples of such public mail date from June 1879. See the last few pages in Frame 1 of my first exhibit for examples of early postal service mail.
The first stamps were issued in April 1881. There were three values - one anna, two annas and four annas. In 1899 a half anna value of a different design was also issued. These are refered to as the Classic designs. In a sense the same stamps were used from 1881 until 1907 since the same printing plates were used for the entire period. However, the stamps of this era are generally grouped into three seperate issues primarily based on paper type.
The first issue was printed between 1881 and 1886 on European manufactured paper. This paper can be differentiated from the local handmade paper fairly easily by holding a stamp up to a light. When lit from behind, the European paper shows a distinct woven pattern whereas the local paper is composed of fibers just pressed together rather than woven and is totally without pattern. English printed stamps showing the god sitting amongst the mountains (Pashupati Designs) were issued by Nepal in 1907. These are on a very similar European paper as that used for the Classics and if held up to a light offer an easy way to understand what a woven paper pattern looks like.
The second issue was printed between 1886 and 1898 on what is termed good quality native paper. The designs are generally very clearly printed compared to later issues especially that of the one anna value. The 1886 printings are very clearly printed on a fairly thin paper with a slight beige tinge. The next printings in 1887 can be easily mistaken for the white European paper except for the pressed rather than woven pattern of fibers. Later printings were on a thicker paper which can in some instances be almost the consistancy of a thin card. Impressions generally became increasingly indistinct with the passage of time as the plates wore down and became dirty.
The third issue is composed of the printing made between 1899 and 1907 on what is termed poor native paper. In actuality, the 1899 printings are on a fairly decent quality thin white paper. Later printings are on a decidedly poor quality buff color paper of varying thicknesses. Since the one anna value was used far more than the other two and printed in far greater quantities, the 1899 and early 1901 printings are very unclear with the central design and the outer frame being almost solid blobs and the characters of the text becoming almost illegable. In 1901 the one anna was recut and cleaned. Recut examples are noticibly different having far fewer lines in the outside frame. A small number of the one anna recut design were printed on European paper which again can be distinguished by the woven pattern of the paper which is exactly the same as that used for the 1907 European printed Pashupati designs described in the next section. The recut one anna on European paper is rare and expensive. It should be noted that a portion of most of the 1899 to 1907 printings were pin perforated.
The classic designs were originally printed in sheets of 64. The printing plates were composed of individual cliches for each stamp. These cliches could and did come loose from the master plate. On occasion they would be replaced upside down resulting in one of the positions being inverted (tete-beche) with regard to the rest of the sheet. Examples of tete-beche pairs are shown in several pages in Frames 2, 9, and 10 of my first exhibit.
Most Classic Era Collections also include what are refered to as the "Telegraph Printings." When the the Classics were replaced by the Pashupati designs in 1907, a comparitively small stock of sheets was consigned to the treasury. These were reissued in1917 to prepay telegraph messages. The stored stock was quickly used up and the old plates were brought out of storage and used to produce a whole series of new printings. Please refer to my "Quick Guide to Telegraph Cancels" for a more in depth discusion of these issues. They are also shown in Frames 9 and 10 of my first exhibit. The very rare and expensive 1/2 anna orange value is from these printings. Forgeries of this issue are extremely dangerous. This stamp should never be purchased without an expert's certificate. I have seen forgeries of this issue offered as genuine by major international auction houses, as well as, by large, well respected dealers. Uncertified unused examples are almost certainly forgeries. All known unused examples are from the same two sheets and for the most part are all documented. Used examples have at best about a 1 in 75 chance of being genuine. The so called essays of this issue with lines between the stamps occasionally offered on eBay and elsewhere are also forgeries.
At the beginning of the Twentith Century, Chandara Shumsher Rana became Prime Minister and instituted a number of governmental reforms including a change to a decimal currency which made the old stamp values obsolete. A set of new stamps with the values of 2 pice, 4 pice, 8 pice and 16 pice was obtained from the English firm of Perkins Bacon and Company and issued in the fall of 1907. The design of these stamps featured Siva Mahadheva (Pashupati), the guardian deity of Nepal, seated amidst the Himalayan Mountains. Over the next 40 odd years, three additional sets were issued with this basic design. Examples of 1907 issue can be found in Frame 7 of my exhibit.
Between 1907 and 1912, the old Classic postal markings contined to be used with and on the new stamps. This period is usually refered to as the Transition Era. Examples may be found in Frame 7. In 1912 the first modern postmarks, the Pashupati Regional Types, were released. There were three major types which as the name implies were generally assigned to three general regions of the country: the lowlands southeast of Kathmandu, the highlands east of Kathmandu, and the remainder of the country to the west of Kathmandu. Refer to Frame 8 of my exhibit for examples.