Bishop Sans - Type Specimen
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Date Stamps on posted letters were first introduced in April of 1661 by Britain’s first Postmaster-General Henry Bishop to counteract accusations of unwarranted delays and profiteering by unscrupulous employees of the postal service belonging to The Crown. All letters in England and Wales were locally town-stamped and were sent via London, or Edinburgh in Scotland and Dublin in Ireland; ready for distribution via the ‘post roads’ throughout the provinces.
In 1673 the fourth postmaster-general Henry Bennet the 1st Earl of Arlington, introduced a new London date stamp of serif-less letterforms which proliferated for the next one hundred or so years. The forerunner of our postmark franking system, and the reason our self-adhesive labels are called ‘stamps’ – these ink-stampers appear to have been originally made from metal. But were later cut from end grain wood by craftsmen of varying ability and as such differ widely. The vast majority of date stamps, utilised a sans serif Latin Roman alphabet with I for J and V as U.
Bishop Marks as they are known mirror Roman ceramic seals, legionnaire’s signet rings and document lead bulla which guaranteed authenticity and the un-tampered arrival of correspondence and goods. This method of safe-guarding contents continued through the Byzantine period into the medieval, with lead cloth bale seals used into the nineteenth-century. Many of these are dated with the year and utilise sans serif typography to denote the producer.
Edinburgh bishop marks retained serif letterforms, and the canny scots devised an ingenious double headed month stampers so that the dates were interchangeable, thus reducing the numbers of ink stamps purchased. The double letter month abbreviations continued into the late twentieth-century using movable metal type head franking stampers for regional post collection offices.
Countless numbers of stamped letters would have been sent, and serif-less letterforms were common-place throughout the eighteenth century – yet type historians have seemingly overlooked this classically informed stamped face which likely left its mark on the the first letterpress metal types of the nineteenth century.