Free Franks

Free Franks

Some markings used for the Parliamentary Franking System in the U.K.

by Ron Shanahan

The origin of the Franking System was a decree of the Council of State in 1652, by which correspondence to and from Members of Parliament and of certain State Officials was permitted to pass free through the post.

The system lasted till January 10 1840, when the Uniform Penny Postage was introduced.

Abuses soon arose, and regulations were made at various times, about the number and weight of 'FREE' letters, the time and place of posting and the method and form of addressing them.

In the early days of the system, the written word 'FRANK' or 'FREE', accompanied by the seal and sometimes the name of the person entitled to the privilege was all that appeared on the letter. (*) see below

Manuscript "Free Geo. Bird?" at bottom left of cover.

This entire is dated inside 'Carmarthen March ye 10th 1760' and despite its age the letter is perfectly legible and is as easily read as the address on the front

In it, the sender, John Rogers mentions a chirograph' and an indenture.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of these two terms are Chirograph : Document of various kinds formally written or signed.
Indenture = any sealed agreement or contract, usually concerned with apprentices, a formal list, certificate etc.

In the centre of the front is the two line ' CARMAR THEN' stamp. On the reverse is a Bishop Mark of 14 MR.


In July 2021, we were contacted by a visitor to our website who very kindly identified some of the signatures on our examples here, which we had not been able to decipher. He also added information about them. So we have added this information in BOLD print after our entries. (*) In the case of this first one, he amended our entry with this comment

Certainly this is not George Bird because there was no-one by that name in parliament at that time. The illustration is unclear but it cannot be a Lord as it would not have ‘Geo’ in front. How about George Rice, MP Carmarthenshire 1754-1779? There appears to be a dot above the name waiting for an ’i’. The manuscript scrawl is a ‘P’ which stands for ‘Privilege’ and indicates that the letter should pass free.


Introduced in 1764, the first London Chief Office mark was a circled 'Free' with the letter 'F' larger than the other letters

This piece has a 20mm. circle around the word Free and was franked by Lord Burghersh. "Free Burghersh" in manuscript, left of 'London'

     FREE detail click here

Later marks had all four letters of the word 'FREE' the same size.

This entire dated 10th December 1778 has a 20mm circle around 'FREE'.

In the late 1780's, more decorative types of 'FREE' marks began to be used. The initials which were incorporated into the marks were those of the surnames of the various Inspectors of Franks.

FREE detail click here

This piece is dated July 2nd 1792, franked by Lord Grenville, 1st Baron 1790, William Wyndham Grenville 1759-1834

In 1791 three ring date stamps with initials were brought into use. This letter is dated AP 4 96 and has the initial 'C'

     FREE detail click here

The signature is J Hunter.

In 1791 the Post Office experimented with various designs, one of which consisted of 'FREE' above a circle with the date and two digit year inside the circle underneath a crown.

This wrapper has manuscript "London August sixteenth 1799" across the top.

     FREE detail click here

The signature is Dudley & Ward, 3rd Viscount 1788 William Ward 1750-1823

At the beginning of 1800, a type of mark was introduced which showed 'FREE' on a crown and contained within a single rim.

This mark, with some variations, remained in use until 1807.

     FREE detail click here

This front bears a manuscript "London march twenty first 1800" and is franked by Lord Inchiquin.

1807 saw the introduction of what are commonly called "Crown Circle Frees".

     FREE detail click here

This wrapper is dated in manuscript "London May twelve 1813"

The double ring shows that this was an evening duty mark, morning duty had a single ring.

Our web visitor commented on this one
I think this is Lord John Douglas Edward Henry Campbell, MP Argyllshire 1799-1822

Smaller stamps came into use from 1807 and these, with differences in the size, shape and details of the crown and in the size of figures and letters, continued to be used until the system ended.

     FREE detail click here

This signature is Macdonald, 1784-1832. James Macdonald, MP 1805-32

     FREE detail click here

FitzRoy, James Henry, MP Thetford 1830-34 & Lord 1804-1834

The 'additional' stamp for each duty had a cross, differing in size and shape, below the date.

The signature on this one is Thomas Law Hodges,1776-1857, MP 1830-41 & 1847-52.

There are varieties of the crowned circlemarks with the letter 'O' or 'E' below the date

     FREE detail click here

This front shows an example of the 'E' type. The letter was addressed to Oxford Street, London, but was redirected to Dorking, which explains the use of the two free stamps.

It has been suggested that the 'E' type was used on letters that arrived in London by train in the early afternoon.

This is the signature of Wadham Wyndham, 1773-1842, MP Salisbury 1818-33 & 35-43.

This entire has a single rim crowned circle free dated 6 De 6 1831 but the manuscript date reads "Selkirk October three 1831".

There is no apparent reason for this and it does not seem to have been detected.

The signature appears to be A. Pringle.

In 1832, a mark was introduced for use on letters received on Sunday and posted on Sunday at the Chief and Branch Offices, consisting of a circle surrounded by arcs or scollops

There are many varieties of this mark, differing in size and the number of arcs. The use of these marks continued into the 1860's.

This piece franked by "Will" and dated May eighteen 1834 in manuscript, has the "SUNDAY" mark dated May 18 and with the curved figures in the year. The inner circle is 21mm, and it has 22 arcs around it.

The single rim, crowned circle Free mark was applied on May 19th 1834.

     FREE detail click here

We could only make out this signature as being Will, but our visitor identified it as

"Will" is C B Wall - Charles Baring Wall,


The mark shown on this piece was introduced in 1819. This example is dated 29 JU 29 1825. The type appears to have been in use until 1831.

This is R free Latouch, for Robert Latouch 1773-1844 MP Co Kildare 1802-30

This mystified us as we thought the signature was Coltness,

A completely different shape was introduced in 1815 and remained in use till 1831.

This is the signature of Downes, 2nd Baron 1826-64 Ulysses Bagenal de Burgh, 1788-1864.

In 1832 a new type was introduced consisting of a two-ring date stamp with date symbols in the centre, FREE and DUBLIN in the outer band separated by two stars.

This type is listed by Lovegrove as being in use from 1832 - 1835.

This is the signature of William Gosset, 1782-1848, MP Truro 1820-26.

Time coded stamps were in use from 1835 - 1840. The mark consisted of a crowned circle containing date symbols with code letter 'M' at the bottom for 'Morning'.

This piece is dated 29 AU 29 and the part manuscript at the top reads 'twenty eight 1835'.

This front is as the previous mark but with the code 'E' at the bottom, for 'Evening'.

Not easy to identify civil servants! Thomas Drummond,1797-1840. Under Secretary for Ireland 1835-40

This piece makes one wonder how on earth it was delivered. It was redirected twice as is seen by the three addresses and the three 'FREE' marks.

Other marks on the front are the mileage mark of

'STIRLING 20 MAR 1826 431 -- E' and Glasgow mark 'G MAR 20M 1826' plus a receiving stamp.

Good luck to the Postman!

This is another signature for R free Latouch for

Latouch, Robert, 1773-1844, MP Co Kildare 1802-30,


Much of the information regarding these marks was taken from the book

"HEREWITH MY FRANK...."   by J. W. Lovegrove.

printed in Great Britain by KB Printers Ltd. 15a Alma Road, Bournemouth.

The book runs to 100 pages of highly detailed information and illustrations and shows how incredibly complex the whole story was.

The items above, from our own collection, barely scratch the surface of a complicated study.

We do not claim to be experts - simply interested collectors who utilise philatelic literature where possible to help with our collection.

We are always interested in hearing from anyone who collects, or is interested in, these marks.

If you would like to read a "FREE" letter sent in 1820   Election in England, 1820> click here

HREF=""> Election, in England, 1820> click here

Should you have any queries or comments please contact us right here

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