Monday, October 12, 2009


In 1850 Joseph Wilson Swan began working on a light bulb using carbonized paper filaments in an evacuated glass bulb. By 1860 he was able to demonstrate a working device, and obtained a British patent covering a partial vacuum, carbon filament incandescent lamp. However, the lack of a good vacuum and an adequate electric source resulted in an inefficient bulb with a short lifetime.

Fifteen years later, in 1875, Swan returned to consider the problem of the light bulb with the aid of a better vacuum and a carbonised thread as a filament. The most significant feature of Swan's improved lamp was that there was little residual oxygen in the vacuum tube to ignite the filament, thus allowing the filament to glow almost white-hot without catching fire. However, his filament had low resistance, thus needing heavy copper wires to supply it.

Swan received a British patent for his device in 1878, about a year before Thomas Edison. Swan had reported success to the Newcastle Chemical Society and at a lecture at Sunderland Technical College in February 1879 he demonstrated a working lamp. Starting that year he began installing light bulbs in homes and landmarks in England. His house Underhill on Kells Lane in Low Fell, Gateshead was the first in the world to have working light bulbs installed. In 1881 he had started his own company, The Swan Electric Light Company, and started commercial production.

In America Edison had been working on copies of the original Swan patent, trying to make them more efficient. Though Swan had beaten him to this goal, Edison obtained patents in America for a fairly direct copy of the Swan light, and started an advertising campaign which claimed that he was the real inventor. Swan, who was less interested in making money from the invention, agreed that Edison could sell the lights in America while he retained the rights in Britain.

While searching for a better filament for his light bulb, Swan inadvertently made another advance. In 1881 Swan developed and patented a process for squeezing nitro-cellulose through holes to form fibers. His newly established Swan Electric Company, which by merger was to become the Edison and Swan United Company, used the cellulose filaments, that Swan had invented, in their bulbs.

In 1883 the Edison & Swan United Electric Light Company was established. Known commonly as "Ediswan" the company sold lamps made with a cellulose filament that Swan had invented in 1881. Variations of the cellulose filament became an industry standard, except with the Edison Company. Edison continued using bamboo filaments until the 1892 merger that created General Electric, and that company then shifted to cellulose.

In 1886 Ediswan moved production to a former jute mill at Ponders End, North London. In 1916 Ediswan set up Britain's first radio thermionic valve factory at Ponders End. This area, with nearby Brimsdown subsequently developed as a centre for the manufacture of valves, cathode ray tubes, etc. and nearby parts of Enfield became an important centre of the electronics industry for much of the 20th century.

Ediswan became part of British Thomson-Houston and AEI in the late 1920s.

-submitted by Paul Green

Scottish National Insurance Company

The Union Insurance Company was established on November 20 1824 as the Scottish Union Insurance Company. In 1833, the company obtained a royal charter and was incorporated under an act of parliament on April 9 1847.

The company commenced business on February 1 1825 and, according to its first prospectus, offered: "insurances on property against loss by fire, with power to embrace insurance in lives and survivorship if it shall be so determined."

The company exercised that power with little delay, issuing its first life policy within a month of starting business.

On January 31 1877, the company merged with the Scottish National Insurance Company and changed its name to the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company. The merger had been opposed by the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company and the Edinburgh Life Assurance Company but an act of parliament approving the amalgamation received royal assent in May 1878 and the merger went ahead.

In the following years, the company moved to extend its business both at home and overseas. It established a burglary department in 1905 and, with the acquisition of Lancashire and Yorkshire Accident Insurance Company Ltd, started to transact accident business the following year.

By 1909, the company was offering insurance against all forms of risk, life and endowments, annuities and pensions, leasehold and capital redemptions. By 1927, it had added wireless installations, householders' consolidated, boiler explosion, machinery risks and lift accidents insurance.

The company underwent a number of changes in the following decades. On November 6 1948, it was incorporated as the Scottish Union and National Insurance Company and, in 1959, was acquired by the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society Ltd. By 1991, the company's principal activity was the transaction of short-term insurance business.

On November 27 2002, the company changed its name to Aviva Insurance Ltd and again, two days later, to Aviva Insurance. On August 15 2006, the company was renamed the Union Insurance Company and on September 23 2008 it was put into liquidation.

-submitted by Paul Green

Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation

After the British established Hong Kong as a colony in the aftermath of the Opium Wars, local merchants felt the need for a bank to finance the growing trade between China and Europe. They established the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in 1865.

The founder, a Scotsman named Thomas Sutherland, wanted a bank operating on "sound Scottish banking principles." The original location of the bank was considered crucial and the founders chose Wardley House in Hong Kong since the construction was based on some of the best feng shui in Colonial Hong Kong. The bank initially leased its premises for HKD $500 a month in 1864.

After raising a capital stock of HKD $5 million, the "Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited" opened its doors on 3 March 1865. It opened a branch in Shanghai during April of that year, and started issuing locally-denominated banknotes in both the Crown Colony and Shanghai soon afterwards. The bank was incorporated in Hong Kong by special dispensation from the British Treasury in 1866, and under the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Ordinance 1866, a new branch in Japan was also established. The bank handled the first public loan in China in 1874.

In 1980, the Bank, now under the chairmanship of Michael Sandberg acquired a 51% stake in Marine Midland Bank of the United States of America, and continued its expansion with the establishment of Hongkong Bank of Canada in 1981 and Hongkong Bank of Australia Limited in 1986. 1987, under the Chairmanship of William Purves, saw the bank's ownership of Marine Midland Bank increased to 100% and the acquisition of a 14.9% share in Midland Bank in the United Kingdom.

In 1991 HSBC Holdings plc was established to act as a parent company to the group; shares are currently traded on the London, Hong Kong, Paris, New York, and Bermuda stock exchanges.

-submitted by Paul Green

Sunday, September 13, 2009

City of Birmingham Gas

In a sense, Birmingham is the home of gas, as William Murdock came from Cornwall in 1777 to join Boulton and Watt at the Soho Manufactory. There he discovered the use of coal gas for lighting and gave a public display at the Soho works for the celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802. A year later the whole of the works was lit by gas.

In 1816 tenders were invited for street lighting by gas, and only one offer was received, from a Mr. Gostling of London, who had already installed lighting in Westminster. The tender was accepted, and he was immediately asked to extend his contract to another 16 streets. As this was beyond his private means, he set up the Birmingham Gas Company by private Act of Parliament. In 1818 Birmingham had its first street lighting by gas, which was manufactured in Gas Street.

The 1849 Kelly’s Director lists the Birmingham Gas Light & Coke Company with works at Gas Street, Fazeley Street, and Windsor Street, and the Birmingham & Staffordshire Gas & Coke Company with its Birmingham works at 57 Adderley Street.

By the 1870s there were 33 municipal gas undertakings in the country. This was at a time when Birmingham reached the peak of its prosperity, and enjoyed the leadership of the Mayor, Joseph Chamberlain, who in 1874 persuaded the Council to vote by 54 votes to two in favour of buying the companies out. An Act of Parliament in July 1875 authorised the deal and the Birmingham Corporation Gas Committee was set up.

From the start, the Birmingham Gas department was a success, making more money which benefited the ratepayers, while gas charges were reduced twice in the first five years. Between 1929 and 1931 the Gas Department installed gas connections and slot meters to about 21,000 court and terrace houses without charge, enlarging its statutory area of operation from 125 to 195 square miles.

By 1938 one-third of the gas produced was used for manufacturing purposes. Gas was still used largely for street lighting, with spectacular high-pressure fittings in Victoria Square, Now Street, Corporation Street, and parts of Hagley Road.

With nationalization in 1949 the undertaking came under the control of the West Midlands Gas Board.

-submitted by Paul Green

Bristol Water Co.

Water was piped in to Bristol as early as 1695, and a canal - which was never built - was planned to link Bath with Bristol in 1811. Neither ever provided enough clean water to satisfy the city's needs or to help prevent the outbreak of disease.

In 1840, a government commission recorded: "There are few large towns in England in which the supply of water is as inadequate as at Bristol." The following year, the Society of Merchant Venturers, a collection of prominent Bristol businessmen, established the Merchant Venturers Water Works. With Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a backer, the group sought to supply water to Clifton and the wealthier parts of Bristol.

In 1845 a rival group formed. They were concerned that these plans were too restrictive and would not provide for the poorer, more densely-populated areas of Bristol. Prominent local citizens involved included William Budd, a pioneer in sanitation; Francis Fry, the industrialist and philanthropist; and George Thomas, the Quaker merchant who founded Bristol General Hospital. Their plan was to supply the whole city, not just Clifton, by bringing in fresh water from the Mendips.

The government weighed up the plans of the two groups, and narrowly came down on the side of the new group. On the 16th of July 1846 the Bristol Waterworks Company was formally established by an Act of Parliament. Only fifteen months later, the first 'sweet clear waters' travelled from Chewton Mendip, via Barrow and the engineering feat of the 16km Line of Works conduit, into the heart of Bristol.

Today Bristol Water now supplies well over a million people. Whilst the Mendips, particularly Chew, Blagdon, and Cheddar Lakes, are vitally important to the local water supply, over half of the supplied water is piped from the Severn via the Sharpness Canal.

There are 6,382 km of local water mains - a far cry from the 16km of the original Line of Works!

-submitted by Paul Green

Britannic Assurance Company Ltd.

Britannic Assurance Company Ltd. was founded in Birmingham in 1866 as British Workman’s Mutual Assurance Company Limited to provide life assurance and pension services.

Britannic went through a series of name changes until settling on Britannic Assurance Company Ltd. in 1921.

In 1981 it changed its name again to Britannic Assurance Plc. It made acquisitions, including Britannia Asset Management, Alba Life, Evergreen Retirement and First Active.

Finally, in December 2006, Britannic Group Plc was merged into Resolution Plc.

-submitted by Paul Green

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Aberdare Urban District Council

Aberdare Urban District Council (Glamorgan) was formed in 1894, following the Local Government of England and Wales Act. It took over the functions of Aberdare Local Board of Health. The Council's area of responsibility was the parish of Aberdare, Glamorgan. The Urban District Council ceased to exist on 31 March 1974, and was merged with Mountain Ash and parts of Neath Rural District Council and Vaynor and Penderyn Rural District Council to form Cynon Valley Borough Council.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Walton-le-Dale is an ancient village in Lancashire. It is home to the church of St Leonard, originally erected in the 11th century, but the community's history goes back to at least Roman times.

According to legend, in 1560 Dr. John Dee summoned a spirit in the churchyard of St. Leonard's and learned the whereabouts of the dead man's wealth and received prophecies the fate of many of the townspeople. Apparently this was not an outrageous assertion in those times.

As for Walton-le-Dale, the local government of this community of 11,000 or so used commercial overprints on at least SG 573 and 727.

Friday, June 12, 2009

East and West India Dock Company

The East India Company's principle warehouse in the City of London was the Cutler Street complex, constructed in the late 18th century. The West India Dock Road was a toll road laid out in 1802 as part of the Commercial Road to transport company goods from the East India Dock to the City of London. In 1838, after it's monopoly ran out (1833), the East India Dock Company ran into financial difficulties and decided to merge with the West India Dock Company to form the East and West India Dock Company.

In 1866 the company negotiated an 80-year lease for
their building. Among the uses of the warehouses during this period was the storage of tea.

The freehold of the warehouses was acquired in the 1880s. The company struck a medal commemorating the opening of the East and West India Dock Company's Tilbury Docks in 1886.

The companies were eventually incorporated into a single entity called "The Port of London Authority".

Monday, May 18, 2009

Map of Local Government Overprints on SG 518

There are many ways we can organize information about commercial overprints. For example, to see a map of all the reported local governments that used commercial overprints on issue SG 518, click here.

You can make maps of your own using Google's "My Maps" feature.

Arthur and Company, Limited, Part 2

Tom Sanford sent a scan that shows that Arthur and Company used commercial overprints at least as late as the Edward VII era.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Sloper Records

This is something special: an example of a sample overprint from the Sloper records; J. Sloper & Co. Ltd. being a firm that produced perfins and commercial overprints.

The astounding story of how the Sloper records were saved can be found in the COSGB newsletters.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Donald Currie and Company

In 1862, Donald Currie purchased controlling shares in the Leith, Hull and Hamburg Steam Packet Company and set up his shipping company as the Castle Shipping Line. The London ship repair yards of the Castle Shipping Line were established under the trading name of Donald Currie and Company.

Donald Currie became Sir Donald Currie in 1881 while he was member of parliament for Garth. He passed away in 1909 at the age of 83.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Credito Italiano

Perfin collectors will know Credito Italiano as the source of thousands of CI perfins on Italian stamps. Much more rare is the Credito Italiano overprint on British stamps.

Credito Italiano opened an office in London in 1911. The stamp shown here is from the 1930s--a time when this bank (among others) had been refinanced by the Italian govenment's Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale, the bank having gone bankrupt in the Great Depression.

Friday, April 10, 2009

G. Hitchcock & Co.

This G. Hitchcock & Co. overprint may be from the firm that preceded G. Hitchcock Williams & Co., who were known to have used underprints (G.H.W. & Co.) on issues of 1864-79.

Hitchcock Williams & Co. also used overprints on issues in the 1930s and 1940s.

Arthur and Company, Limited

In the 19th century there was a manufacturing firm named Arthur and Company, Limited that had its head office and warehouse in Glasgow. There were factories in London, Leeds, Manchester, Ireland and Scotland as well as an office in New Zealand. I believe that this overprint is from that firm.

There are at least three distinct overprints known from Arthur and Company, and all are on this issue.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

R. Twining and Company Ltd.

The firm that was R. Twining and Company in the 1870s was founded in 1706 by Thomas Twining. At that time Thomas would sell 100 grams of his Gunpowder Green Tea for the equivalent of £160 in today’s currency.

Although Twinings is still in business today, I am not aware of their commercial overprints on any issue but the one shown here.

T. Tapling & Co. Ld. part 2

T. Tapling & Co. was in operation (and using commercial overprints) in 1874, as this example shows.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tod Brothers & Co.

Tod Brothers were flour millers in Stockbridge, Edinburgh from at least 1874. The company's flour mill was severely damaged by a gas explosion and subsequent fire c. 1901.

The company moved to new premises in Leith, Edinburgh. At some point the name was changed to A & R Tod. Commercial overprints with that name are known from at least 1934 to 1943.

Dolgellau R.D.C.

It is difficult to know how rare a given overprint is, but this one from Dolgellau, Wales (pop. 2,700) is probably quite scarce.

At the time this overprint was created, Dolgellau was the county town (that is, "main town" or capital) of the county of Merionethshire.

A catalogue of British commercial overprints

Gianni Sironi has created a catalogue of British commercial overprints! The files at are in PDF form for easy printing. The image on the left is a sample page (the cover of chapter S).

I've been asked about the Bonney & Lane catalogues that were made years ago. Apparently those catalogues were created in a type of software that cannot be read these days. I'm told that there have been attempts to covert the data, but these were unsuccessful.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

T. Tapling & Co. Ld.

There are at least three different overprint patterns for T. Tapling & Company. But what of the company itself? The Peerage lists many Taplings, including a Thomas Tapling whose daughter married in 1896, which would be roughly the time the first two stamps above were used.

Today there is a Thomas Tapling and Co. Ltd. at 65 Hazlewell Road, London, SW15 6UT. However, I cannot confirm that this is the same company that used the commercial overprints that you see here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vyse, Sons and Company

According to a document held at the British Library, Vyse, Sons and Company sold "French sewn goods" (that is, corsets) circa 1884.

The "Received/£/for/VYSE SONS & CO" commercial overprint is difficult to find on Victorian Era stamps.

In the George V Era there is a similar overprint "[R/E/C/E/I/V/E/D] [V/S/&/CO/LD]" that I suspect also comes from Vyse.