Numbers In Maltese Cross
by John A. McCulloch

Number 7 MX

After nearly three years of postage stamp issuance, primarily cancelled with the 'standard' Maltese Cross, an experiment was begun in the London Chief Office to place a deliberate identification in the obliterator. In March 1843 the use of a limited series of Maltese Cross chops, numbered 1 through 12, commenced. These paved the way for the adoption of the Barred Numeral cancels in May 1844.

The top of the design, with the exception of the "3" was indicated by a cross, not that the clerk would much observed this desired orientation in his application of the obliteration. Probably it was added to avoid confusion with the 2-5 and 6-9 pairs should the letter need to be traced to the handling clerk.

Numbers 1 through 6 may have been a 'starter' group as they are known used earlier (21 March and on) than numbers 7 to 12 (April). Westley in "Postal Cancellations of London (1840-1890)" states that 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 were 'issued' on 23 March, but earlier covers have since been found. The point, however, is that "3" is absent from this listing. Alcock & Holland note existence of a letter of 17 March, 1843 with the "3" numeral, so perhaps this was the first to be created and thus the small upper crosses were an addition for the 11 others.

With the ease of identification, as against the variations of the 'normal' Maltese Cross, collectors soon desired of having a 'set'. Morley, in 1897, offered a complete set on the 1d for just 15 shillings (75p today!). A 2d set was 88 shillings ($22.00 US). Unfortunately, as only the Chief Office utilized these distinctive chops and only over a short period of fourteen months, finding nice full margin copies is a challenge. Much of the mail passing through was commercial in nature and so speed, not beauty was the issue in snipping apart the rows of stamps.

Comon practice at the time was for the clerks to 'strip' a sheet of stamps into rows of one shilling value. As called for, they could then quickly count out the individual stamps needed and snip them off the strip. Blocks of the 1d, therefore, are very unusual, except from individual mailers who had purchased whole or half sheets of the postage labels and who needed to pay for 2oz. or more! Being the Chief Office, it should have meant that heavier weights exclusively used the 2d value where possible, so pairs and strips of the 1d are also less common (again excepting individual mailers). Blocks of the 2d would be even that much harder to find, expecting most 2d's to be sold/applied at the Chief Office.

As most of the mailings were of minimum (1/2 oz.) weight, these numerals are more common on the 1d stamp than the 2d. The 2d's relative value (number/basic MX ratio) is 33% more on average. Perhaps because of the stamping desk's processing assignment (type of mail, destination, ???) where each chop was located, the number "4" is uncommon on the 1d and common on the 2d. The number "12", next most scarce on the 1d, is the most common on the 2d.

The following twelve pages are a look into the past during that 'special' time when the Numbers In Maltese Cross were being used at 12 stamping desks in London. Where covers are available, the word "cover" will provide a link to the image appropriate for the stamp being described. You may jump to any number's page by using the buttons below.