My Favourite…

Leading German philatelist Karl Louis, one of the shareholders in the Global Philatelic Network, comprising Heinrich Köhler, Corinphila, H R Harmer and John Bull, reveals a favourite philatelic item.

Some years ago, at Stampex 2012 in London, I spotted an amazing mixed-franking cover bearing three different 2d. blue stamps at one of the dealer’s booths. The cover was addressed to the Reverend W W Phelps, Spence’s Hotel, Calcutta, India. I could not resist the temptation to acquire it. Today, it is one of my favourites in my Great Britain collection of Queen Victoria issues. This mixed-franking cover is rare and even unique in regard to four philatelic categories!

Traditional philately – the 2d. mixed franking
The three 2d. adhesive stamps with the imperforate sandwiched between the two perforated adhesives are from three different issues: the 1841 2d. imperforate, plate 3 (SG14); the 1855 2d. perforated 16, plate 5 (SG 27); and the 1857 2d. perforated 14, plate 6 (SG 35). This combination of three different 2d. issues and printing plates on one cover is unique!

Postal history – destination to India
My favourite cover was despatched from Bath on 2 November 1858. Carried in a mail bag, it reached the P&O steamer Indus, which was departing from Southampton two days later. Indus called at Gibraltar, Malta and, after nearly 3000 nautical miles, finally reached Alexandria in Egypt on 15 November. From here, the cover was carried overland. First with the mail transported on the railway built by Robert Stephenson from Alexandria to Cairo. From Cairo, the journey continued by camels or desert carriage with four horses to Suez on the Red Sea. In Suez, the cover reached the P&O steamer Nemesis on 21 November. Nemesis called at Aden on 27 November and arrived in Galle on the south peak of Ceylon on 7 December. In Galle, the mail to Calcutta was unloaded and took the next packet going north. After a journey of 7800 miles in 44 days, the cover finally reached Calcutta on 14 December. It was delivered to the Reverend W W Phelps at Spence’s Hotel the following day.

Arrival of the mail in Alexandria

Despite the fascinating overland journey through Egypt, the use of the 1841 2d. blue imperforate on cover to India is a rarity on its own. It is also exceedingly rare as only a handful of mixed-issue frankings of the 1841 2d. blue imperforate with the later 2d. perforated issues are known.

Social history – Spence’s Hotel in Calcutta
Fascinating as is the journey, so is Spence’s Hotel in Calcutta, where the cover finally reached Reverend W W Phelps. Spence’s Hotel was established in 1830 near Government House. Jules Verne, the French novelist, mentioned in The Steam House (1880) that Spence’s Hotel was one of the best, and he made his characters reside there after they arrived in Calcutta. It proves that the hotel was well known to the Europeans in those days.

The cover was sent to Spence’s Hotel in Calcutta

Reverend William Whitmarsh Phelps of Chicklade, Wilts, was born in 1828 and matriculated at Queens College, Oxford. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1849, followed by a Master of Arts in 1852. He then worked as a chaplain in India.

Philatelic history – provenance
The cover has a far-reaching provenance. The first entry in my Card Index Register showed that the cover was in the F E Pattison Collection, sold by H R Harmer in New Bond Street, where it was mentioned as being part of a ‘mixed lot’ in November 1940. It fetched £5.15s. The cover found a new home in the collection of Basil Stranack of Upton-on-Severn. The Stranack collection was sold by Robson Lowe in March 1955, with the cover now being offered as a single lot for an estimate of £10! Possibly bought by Sir John Dodd, the cover was offered again by Robson Lowe in March 1962 when the Sir John Dodd’s collection was sold by auction. Exactly half a century later, in 2012, I paid nearly 500 times the price compared to the cover’s first appearance in 1940.

Article by Karl Louis

Great Britain Victorian Mixed-Franking Covers by Karl Louis and Ray Simpson is published by Mike Jackson Publications (

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