Perhaps you can find a stamp which resembles the ones in the block
pictured here. It is time to look into that Cinderella stockbook or
cigar box where so many treasures, both large and small, have been
tucked away through the years. It is time to sift through all those "not-listed"
items which lie there waiting to be rediscovered as more information
comes along. I will sketch here (1) a brief history of the issue; (2)
a description of the characteristics of the genuine stamps; (3) some
information on the varieties and rarities which are known to exist;
and (4) suggest others that should exist and may yet be found. If you
do find some of these varieties or even a nice single stamp you will
indeed have stumbled upon a treasure. Read on and you may be amazed by
some of the facts about this stamp.
The "Lepta 40" stamp is from Greece and the reason for its
issuance has generated some debate. The Kohl Handbook, authority on so
many matters, dedicates two pages to this stamp. It states that the "Lepta
40" is a postage due issue designed to be affixed to incoming
mail in the ordinary way, to denote payment of fees upon letter's
arrival destination. The Vlastos catalogue, instead, states that it is
a postal tax stamp intended to raise funds for the relief of Cretan
refugees in the Greek mainland during the wars of liberation of Greece
from the Ottoman Empire. In the latter case the stamp would belong to
the category which in the Scott catalogues is designated by the
lettering "RA". That is, stamps affixed to letters to
indicate the payment of contributions to various funds, charitable or
The date of issue seems to be May of 1831 on the basis of the
fragmentary evidence available to me. A decree of the young Government
of Greece, signed by President J. Capodistrias in May of 1831,
authorized the issuance of "a fragment of paper just large enough
to bear a stamp" to act as a receipt for the payment of
contributions to the Fund for Cretan Refugees. In addition, the
typesetting of the stamp and the paper upon which it was printed are
characteristic of the supplies used by the Government printers of the
time for the production of the other public documents, such as the
The Kohl handbook illustrates one famous cover bearing this stamp and
discusses in some detail two other known covers from subsequent years.
More about this subject follows later.
The issue may have been intended for duty as a postage due stamp or
as a postal tax stamp. In either case it would be contender to become
the earliest adhesive postage stamp known. It may, on the other hand,
be a fiscal instrument with little or no relation to the posts, in
which case it would not be such an important "first". It
would still be an important fiscal stamp, and given its rarity and
fascinating history, a most desirable one at that. According to Dr. Z.
Zeron the first adhesive fiscal stamp was introduced by Tasso (founder
of the Thurn and Taxis postal empire) in the second half of the 16th
Century. A nice history of fiscal adhesives may be found in Dr.
Zeron's delightful book "FROM THE WINGED HEELS OF MERCURY",
which, incidentally, makes no mention of the 1831 "Lepta 40".
The artwork for the stamp is simple. The denomination "Lepta 40"
is in the center, and a double border composed of straight lines and
shaded pearls completes the design. The outside dimensions of the
stamp are 26.5 x 36.0 mm. The printing method is typography, and the
size of the plate is not known. It can be easily observed, however,
that each position was drawn and set on the plate independently of the
others as each position differs in detail. In the block illustrated,
for instance, two major types can be easily distinguished. The
left-hand stamps have ten pearls in the vertical frames, and these I
have labelled Type I. The two right-hand stamps have only nine pearls
in the vertical frames and these I have labelled Type II. Another
distinguishing feature is that Type II stamps are only 25mm. tall. In
addition, the corner pearls differ in the position of the shading,
creating further subtypes.
Each pearl can be shaded at the top, bottom, right or left (T, B, R,
or L). Thus clockwise from the top-right corner, the upper Type II
stamp may be labelled RBTT and the one below it RLTR. Following this
procedure I have been able to identify so far two subtypes of the nine
pearl stamps (both illustrated above), and eleven sub-types of the
Type I stamps (alphabetically: BBLL, BBLR, BBRL, BLLT, BLTL, BLTR,
BLTT, RBTL, RLLR, BLTR and RLTT).
The distance between the stamps in the plate is 18 mm. horizontally
and 8-10 mm. vertically. Thus single stamps should normally have
substantial margins. The example tied to a cover illustrated in the
Kohl Handbook has narrow but complete margins all around of about 1
mm. Most copies I have seen are larger. The stamp is printed in black
on thick laid paper of ivory color (a bit irregular, raging from 100
to 125 microns). The laid lines are uniformly spaced 1 mm. apart. The
stamp is imperforated and produced without gum. Quantities issued are
not known, but what is known is that the number of examples which have
survived to this date is very small indeed.
The block illustrated above was in my collection, and to the best of
my knowledge it is one of only two surviving blocks (two stamps in my
block are defective). The two stamps of Type II in the block are the
only two examples of this variety that I have recorded. Used copies,
if more should be found, will likely be cancelled by red crayon. Any
other cancellation would constitute a world-class rarity and could
shed new light on this subject.
Returning finally to the issue of the covers, the Kohl Handbook lists
three known covers. They are from Athens and addressed to Piraeus and
date from December 1840 to June 1848. It is possible that these covers
represent genuine usages, and certainly it is a fact that many of the
finest philatelists in Europe have seen them and have agreed to their
authenticity. The dates of the covers, however, leave a lingering
doubt in my mind. If a cover dated from the early 1830's bearing this
stamp were to be found, that would settle the issue for me. Forgeries
and reprints are not known to me. Are there any out there?
I would be happy to correspond with any and all who have examples of
this elusive Cinderella stamp, especially in the event that the
multiples or sheet-border positions should surface. That would assist
the continuation of my plating study. Used copies would also be of
greater interest, as would any other variations, fragments or covers.
More material is required to learn more about this mysterious and
Munk, Herbert. Kohl-Briefmarken-Handbuch. 11 Auflage. Verein
der Freunde des Kohl-Briefmarkenhandbuchs, E. V. Berlin, 1926.
Vlastos Stamp Catalogue and Postal History of Greece. Orestis
Vlastos, Ltd. Athens, 1992-93.
Zeron, Z. From the Winged Heels of Mercury, Collectors Club
of San Francisco, San Fransisco, 1984.
This article first appeared in the HPSA NEWS BULLETIN JUNE 1995, NO.
Copyright © 1998 by Sergio Sismondo