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Sunday Marks
1798 - 1868

90 years of use

      A Sunday Marks was applied to mail received on a Sunday at the London Chief Office or one of the branch offices, but which would not be forwarded until the following day. It was a means of showing the reason for the delay of the letter, being thus, in effect, an extension of the introduction of the Bishop Marks in 1661. Early branch office examples struck in red usually show the initial letter of the office enclosed in a circle. Most of the surviving examples of the early marks are on "Free Franks"; those on normal mail are far less common.

      This article is has been illustrated with as many of the types and variations as possible; sources of information being quoted. The writer of this article does not always agree with the published texts on these marks, and where this is the case, both sides of the coin have been presented so that the reader may draw their own conclusions.

      In addition to the marks applied in London, Dublin also used two types of Sunday Mark. Wales came under the control of the chief office in London and there is no evidence that any marks of this type were used in Scotland. Those for Dublin are listed after the London types.

      Any reader that can provide more scans of these marks and is willing to share them may send them via email to the address on the main page. Such submitted will then be checked and the details added in for the benefit of all. Credit will be noted with the item if required.

      At the end of the listing are some notes on the free marks that have the letter 'S' in the centre and which is often confused with or mistaken for a Sunday Mark. In many reference books the FREE Mark and SUNDAY Mark are often discussed together. As the later is more common on the Free Frank covers and the illustration most often used is the one with the 'S' in the centre, this tends to lead to some confusion. I hope that the notes provided will show clearly that this is a general use mark and hopefully prevent collectors from an incorrect allocation of these types.

      Allan Oliver - December 2007
      Minor revisions - January 2008


1661 - 1673 1673 - 1713 The Bishop Mark was first introduced in 1661 and this basic type remained in use until about 1787. The first type with serifed letters was in use from 1661 to 1673 when the slightly larger type with san-serifed letters appeared. This remained in use until about 1713 when the type with the day at the top came into use.
1713 - 1787 The type with the day at the top varies in size from 14mm up to 20mm
1787 - 1799
1798 - 1799
Henry Bishop, the Postmaster at the time, introduced the various marks to counter the criticism that letters were being delayed in their transmission and it is basically for the same reason that a Sunday Mark was brought into use in 1798.

In 1787 the mark was again modified to include the month. At first this appeared in full, but from the 1st May of that year it appeared in an abbreviated form as illustrated. In 1795 a code letter was added to the left side of the day number, and also at this time, variations with a double outer rim appeared for use on evening duty mail.

In 1798 a similar type was introduced, but with the letter on the outside of the top of the frame. This was used on general weekday mail. Three examples are also recorded with a cross at the top in place of the letter

The details above are intended to provide a basic background

From this point onwards, generally only the Sunday Marks will be illustrated

1798 Also introduced in 1798 was the first Sunday Mark. This followed the same style as the normal morning duty mark, but had the letter 'S' at the top.

These marks have only been recorded in black

A mock-up illustration is shown (left)
1799 - 1842 Following the short period of use of the later Bishop Mark with the letter 'E' at the top, a date-stamp with movable type was brought into use. At first this had the year in two figures only, but from 1800 onwards the year was shown in full. In the period from 1799 to 1810 the letters A to G are found and from 1810 onwards the letter H also appears.

At the same time as this mark was introduced, (1799), examples also appear with the letter S for Sunday post. These all have the year in two figures. From 1800 to 1842 the year is shown in full.

From 1812 to 1842, it would appear that a new stamp was supplied; for during this period the day appears before the month.
All these marks are only recorded in red
1832 - 1868 In 1832 a new type of mark was introduced with the fancy border and the diameter of the inner circle is 18 to 19mm. Robson Lowe in "The Encyclopedia of British Empire Postage Stamps", volume 1; 2nd edition published in 1952 states that the inner circle is 19mm. Here he also states that this size was in use from 1832 to 1865, always stamped in red with the exception of examples during 1850 which are known in black.
In "The Encyclopedia of British Empire Postage Stamps", he also states that the stamp appears to have been cut fresh every week. This implies that it was probably a wooden mark. It is strange however that from 1799 date-stamps with movable type were being used, yet this mark was still being hand cut as required. I feel it is possible that a series of hand-stamps were made, all slightly different from one another, with movable type. It may be possible to prove or disprove this from pictures of examples and matching types, size, etc.

An example of the large type used on cover is shown below

Large type Sunday Mark
From the Stuart Tanner collection


1842 onwards. Doubtful if it exists in this form

1865 - 1868. Smaller type
James A Mackay in his book "English and Welsh postmarks since 1840", published in 1980, states on page 22 "Mail prepaid in cash and taken to the Branch Offices on Sundays for onward transmission the following day was marked with distinctive scalloped date stamps containing the abbreviation 'SUN'. A serifed stamp was issued for this purpose in 1842 and a much smaller stamp, with sans-serifed lettering is known to have been used as late as the 1860s."

The illustrations provided by J Mackay are shown on the left ...

This writer takes the writing of Mr Mackay with a pinch of salt. It is known that he had articles withdrawn from publication due to errors, incorrect information and in some cases the insertion of items that did not exist - just to fill the gaps in the story.

His illustration of the large type, "without the date in the centre", I believe to be incorrect. Contact with a number of dealers and collectors, confirms my own observations that every example known has the date in the middle. Regarding his comment that this was issued in 1842, this implies that it was sent from the Post Office stores. If this was the case, should be recorded in the date stamp impressions books held in the archives. (This needs to be checked.). Another point is that the 1842 date stated may be a transcript error for 1832, the date shown above, as examples are known on pre-stamp covers.

He also states that this mark was applied to mail at the branch offices. This is wrong as the mark is known to have been used at the Chief Office. Branch office mail being stamped with the office initial was, if forwarded to the Chief Office, additionally stamped with this mark. The smaller type illustration supplied by Mackay appears to be correct.
In their book "British Postmarks - A short history and guide" by Alcock and Holland, they state, (in reference to the free frank system), that mail received these marks to show the reason for the difference between the date written on the letter in manuscript and the date it was stamped for onward transmission. This confirms it use pre-stamp period, (1832); a date that they also confirm. (The illustration provided in this book is the same type as illustrated above with the date across the centre). In the text Alcock and Holland also confirm the use into the 1860s, (although no specific date is given), the use of the mark at the chief office and the application of the branch office initials if sent via that route.

This type of mark remained in use until 1868. However, from 1865 the size of the inner circle was reduced to 13mm and impressions are recorded in black or blue. With the exception of the early mark of 1798, the brief period of this scallop type in 1850 and the use of the smaller type from 1865, all types of Sunday Mark are applied in red. A collector has informed me that a Sunday Mark applied in the 1865 - 1868 period is known in red. This is unconfirmed and a scan has been requested.



Sunday Marks used at Dublin
1815 - 1853


1815 - 1853 1815 - 1853

This mark was applied at the main office in Dublin

Known applied in green, black and red

This mark appears on the rear of the cover shown below
1830 cover
The cover was posted from Loughrea where they applied their namestamp with the mileage figure 80 below. The letter was then forwarded to the head office in Dublin where the square Sunday date-stamp was applied. (See the illustration above)
Oval type mark Details to be added



Free Frank Mark
With the letter 'S' in the centre

1787 - 1795


I am aware of three types of Free Frank marks that were used with letters that are sometimes confused with the Sunday Marks. All of these are found with one of four letters - these being A, C, P and S. These letters refer to the surnames of the inspector of franks who was on duty at the time, each having their own stamp with which to make the impressions.

The letters are believed to refer to the following people ...

C Charles Colston Inspector from 1777 to 1797
S James Stafford Inspector for by-days
(days on which very little mail left London)
A Unknown Replaced Stafford as Inspector for by-days
(November 1789)
P J Palmer An Inspector from 1789 - 1795
The three types are ilustrated below ...
1787 - 1792 1787 - 1792

Known applied in purple, red and black
1789 - 1795 1789 - 1795

Known applied in purple and green during this period
Known applied in red during 1791 only
1790 - 1791 1790 - 1791

Only recorded applied in purple


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