Seapost -> Maritime Mail

Maritime Mail

By Mike Dovey

In the beginning

The Maritime Mail postmark was and still is primarily used on letters posted from Royal Naval and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, although there are some instances of mail from merchant vessels receiving this postmark as well. Prior to the mid-1940s all mail posted from a vessel in the Royal Navy were postmarked with a "RECEIVED FROM H.M.SHIPS" machine or "H.M.Ships" hand cancel and until 1943 there were some 43 different examples of the latter. However, from 1943 onwards a new system was introduced with a machine cancel "Maritime Mail" mark. To date there have been another 30 different cancels showing this description.

Robertson (Portsmouth) N3 cancel

Robertson (Portsmouth) N3 dated 1940's posted from HMS ACHERON

The Machine cancel

Between 1943 and 1952 there were 3 different machine cancellations all with "Maritime Mail" in the main part of the cancel (Robertson London, N48, 48a, & 49). The vast majority of maritime marks of all shapes and sizes were used in wartime from 1914 to the present day and by their nature it can be very difficult to obtain very good copies. These will often appear together with censor cancels.

Robertson (London) N48 cancel

Robertson (London) N48 undated 1940's.

The Circular cancel

Alongside the three machine cancels there were a number of circular cancellations, most of which were used for very short times and are therefore extremely hard to come by. The longest use of these cancels was used from 1953- 62 and they have code numbers 1-12 (Robertson London, N50-62).

On the 2nd January 1968 the Post Office proofed and sent out a new cancel (Robertson London, N66) to offices at Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Londonderry, Newcastle, Plymouth, and Weymouth. However, this mark was never used at the ports shown in bold text and was only used until 1972 in the others.

Robertson (Liverpool) N3 cancel

Robertson (Liverpool) N3 dated 1972, posted from a Canadian Naval vessel.

In the last issue of hand cancellations were London I[nland] S[ervice] circular marks (Robertson London, N67) which were used from 1974 until about 1982 and covered the Falklands War period. Robertson records only codes 2, 3, 5, & 8 and the cover shown below bears code 4. However, it is now understood that in addition to one un-numbered type there existed codes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Code 1 was used for training purposes only and code 7 for registered mail. The hand stamps were superseded by machine slogan cancellations with letter R in lower part of the die and 2-line slogan MARITIME/ MAIL similar to the Robinson type N48.

Robertson (London) N67 cancel

Robertson (London) N67 dated 1976 from HMS EGERIA.

Related Collecting Area - British Fleet Mail cancellations


ROYAL NAVY cover with circular cancel "BRITISH FLEET MAIL / AM / 3 MR 1955 / 9" and boxed "Fleet Mail Officer/3 Mar 1955/Hong Kong". The index number indicates the location of the naval port.

Markings used on Royal Naval Mails are discussed at some length in the London section of Robertson Revisited. References to British Fleet Mail are found in Collect British Postmarks.



Tabeart, C: Robertson Revisited, 1997 edition, James Bendon Ltd, Limassol, Cyprus
Robertson, AW: A History of the Ship Letters of the British Isles; The Author, Ranworth, 1955
Whitney, J T: Collect British Postmarks, Fifth Edition, The Author, Benfleet, Essex, January 1990

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