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Mr. Cheng Kam Che, the President of the China Philatelic Association,

takes a stroll through the philatelic history of Hong Kong


      "Before the Treaty of Nanking was the Ching court Britain had already established her postal services in Hong Kong"


   The postal history of Hong Kong begins well before the Treaty of Nanking was concluded in 1842.  When the general Post Office came into operation in 1841, it primarily served Britain’s Chinese Expeditionary Force, then fighting the Chinese in the ‘Opium Wars’.  The local community was also served by the new postal service, buy only as an afterthought.

       Alexander Johnston was appointed the Governor of Hong Kong in June 1841, and indicated his intention of opening a post office to the Governor General of India In August.  Stamps had yet to be issued, even when the provision of a postal service was realized.

       During the pre-adhesive period between 1841’.  In other words, they were for the use of the British Force in Hong Kong and the local civilians respectively.

       H.M. ships carried on board the oval ‘Military Post Office China’ handstamp on expeditions along the coast of China.  The two surviving covers found cancelled with this stamp were both sent from Ningpo.  The first, from the Headquarters of the Expeditionary Land Force on 31 January 1842, was marked ‘China Expedition Force’ and ‘H.M.S. Wellesley’.  The other known cover was marked ’20 April 1842, Ningpo, China’ and sent to Scotland.


1841-1842 oval handstamp 'MILITARY POST OFFICE CHINA' 1841-1842 circular handstamp 'MILITARY POST OFFICE HONG KONG' 1841-1842 circular handstamp 'POST OFFICE HONG KONG 1841'


        An undated letter was sent to Mr. R. Owen of H.M. Cutter Lerrisa at Canton or Macao from Calcutta, India via Hong Kong.  A red mark was cancelled, and this is the only cover surviving with the marking ‘Post Office Hong Kong, 1841’

      These items spell out quite clearly that before the Treaty of Nanking was signed with te Ching court in 1842, Britain had already established her administration and postal services in Hong Kong.  After the Treaty was concluded, british post offices were open at trade ports to sell stamps issued in Hong Kong, and mail items accepted were transmitted via Hong Kong.  These post offices, therefore, were in a way branch offices of Hong Kong General post Office.

       It was only 21 years after the first post office was established that the first set of postage stamps as issued.  During the pre-adhesive period, between 1841 and 1862, postal markings were used,  The first one was oval in shape, with the royal emblem in the middle and ‘Hong Kong Post Office’ round the top.  The second was circular and marked ‘Miltary Hong Kong Post’.  All these four handstamps were made locally and used between 1841 and 1842.

       Handstamps used between 1844 and 1862 were all made in Britain.  These circular handstamps had a double ring, showed the royal crown at the top and ‘paid at  Hong Kong’ across the centre.  A couple of circular handstamps were also usedduring more or less the same period.  They have ‘Hong Kong’ at the top, a double ring at eh bottom and the date across the centre.


The Royal Arms, Hong Kong Post Office  Large Crowned Circle paid at  Hong Kong Large Datestamp


        B62 or 62B oval barred obliterators were introduced after adhesive stamps were issued in 1862.  They were called ‘killers’ because the cancellation completely spoiled the   look of the stamp.  Smaller circular handstamps with date slot were used at the same time.




   In the following century, British double ring postal markings emerged during the 1980s.  Paving the way for the Handover of Hong Kong  to China, Chinese characters of ‘Hong  Kong’(香港), as well as the initials of post offices, were added to the marking.



Definitive Stamps

      Queen Victoria’s portrait appeared on the first definitive issue of 1862.  Crown CC watermark appeared on the second issue, printed in the following year, and the third was printed in the 1882 with Crown Ca watermark.  When the Victorian era ended in 1901, there were altogether three issues of 61 stamps (overprints included) released.  Due to repeated reprinting, the colour of these stamps varied and double or inverted overprints or irregular perforations occurred because of printing errors.  The more valuable are 96 cents olive-bistre (1856), 4 cents pale green perf.  12.5 (1865), and 2 cents rose perf. 12.


      A total of 39 definitive stamps were released between 1903 and 1911 under King Edward VII.  These three issues were only slightly different, and not particularly rare in the eyes of the philatelists.  It is quite amusing that the issues are nicknamed the ‘Bald Issues’ because the old king has almost no hair on top.



      These were 34 definitive stamps issued under King George V between 1912 and 1937.  The portrait showed the King in full beard, and therefore the issues were called the ‘Beard Issues’  what is note-worthy is that 27 of them were overprinted with ‘China’ and made available for sale in British post offices in China.


      35 Definitive stamps were released under the reign of King George VI, Between 1938 and 1952.  Instead of local stamps, Japanese stamps were used in Hong Kong from December 1941 to August 1845, during Japanese occupation.  Japanese definitive stamps in 20 denominations were used in Hong Kong between December 1941 and August 1945.  Since the same stamps were used in Japan, it was the postmark that determined that they were actually cancelled in Hong Kong.  In April 1945, overprints of $1.5, $3 and $5 were added to these Japanese stamps.  The most precious stamp issued under King George VI was the 8 cents stamp issued in 1946 with perforation error.


Japanese definitive stamps were used in Hong Kong

overprints of  $3  were added to these Japanese stamps


          Between 1953 and 1997, 292 definitive stamps depicting queen Elizabeth II were released in six issues.  When a reprint of the fifth issue was made in 1989, the year was added to the stamp at the right hand corner at the bottom, causing much criticism.  


First Issue Second Issue Third Issue Fourth Issue Fifth Issue Sixth Issue


     A set of definitive stamps depicting the water of Hong Kong was issued on January 26, 1997, prior to the Handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1. Neither the Queen’s portrait nor the royal emblem appeared on the issue and no reference was made to the territory’s sovereignty.  Then, in October 18 1999, Hongkong Post issued the first set of definitive stamps in the name of Hong Kong, China, with illustrations on the theme of local landmarks.



Commemoratives and special stamps
50th Anniversary of   the Colony Silver Jubilee Coronation Centenary of British Occupation

       Less then 200 commemorative and special stamps issues were released in one and half centuries, and only four during the century between 1841 and 1941: the Silver Jubilee Issue (1935), Coronation Issue (1937), 50th Anniversary of Colony (1891), and Centenary of British Occupation (1941).



Postage Stamp Centenary

        The Victory Issue was released in 1946 to commemorate the resumption of British rule after Japanese occupation.  Only six issues were released in the following 18 years.  It was not until the 1980s that the Post Office set up the Stamp Advisory Committee and a more open policy was adopted.  Stamps began to take up local flavour and the element of Chinese culture emerged, as the handover to China neared.  Hong Kong Birds, Hong Kong Fauna, Flowers of Hong Kong public Housing, Hong Kong people, Chinese Lanterns, Hong Kong Chinese Opera, Historic Chinese Costumes, Traditional Chinese Festivals were depicted. Since the 1980s, five and six sets of commemorative stamps were issued each year, each set containing one to six denominations.  Stamp sheetlets would be issued as well, in commemoration of special occasions.


Stamps began to take up local flavour and the element of Chinese culture emerged




Fiscal stamps and postal stationary


         During the Victorian Era, stamps were issued in low value.  The highest denomination was 96 cents and sometimes an overprint of $1 was added.  To meet the demand for higher value postage stamps, fiscal stamps in $2, $3, $5 and $10 were used for postage until 1903, when a $10 definitive stamp was issued.  Postal stationary was put on sale as early as 1879.  Postcards, postage pre-paid envelopes, aerogrammes and registered envelopes are available, and recently postage pre-paid Christmas cards have been added to the list.


$10  fiscal stamps $10 definitive stamp




           Current stamps

      Hong Kong stamps are on sale at the General Post Office and all post offices over the territory.  Hong Kong Post Office used to accept advanced orders from stamps dealers and overseas collectors and since 1988 the service has been extended to local philatelists.

      Since July1, 1997, stamps with British connotations were no longer accepted for postage.  With the arrival of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, stamps issued after the Handover bear the words ‘Hong Kong, China’ in both Chinese and English.’



Commemoration of the establishment of the Hong Kong

special administrative region, people's republic of CHINA


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