The History of the UPU International Reply Coupons (IRC)

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The History of the UPU International Reply Coupons (IRC)

Post by David Smitham »



This is the 1st of a 3 part article published earlier in 2008 in CAPTAIN COQK - the monthly newsletter of the Christchurch Philatelic Society.

I must emphasise that I do not collect these items of postal stationery. This series of articles was compiled when I was recuperating from a serious motor car crash in mid 2007 and it gave me something to do whilst returning to the path of good health.

Whilst it primarily relates to New Zealand there is much general information that will be applicable to other countries...


International Reply Coupons

Background: I first came across these almost 40 years ago when having arrived in New Zealand my father used to listen to Deutsche Welle the overseas service of the then West German radio service. My dad used to listen to the English broadcasts of Deutsche Welle and sent in reception reports to them monthly. Several months later the first of many such International Reply Coupons (IRCs) was received along with supplies of pre printed radio reception report aerogrammes.

At first we did not know what to do with them but after a while a number had accumulated and eventually they were checked out at the local post office where a number of stamps were given in lieu of the IRCs. Each was to the value of the cost of posting a surface mail letter to West Germany.

Sometimes we received a lower denomination stamp if the IRC had for example been issued in Australia, because the cost of sending a surface mail letter to Australia was cheaper than sending one to West Germany. A similar example but from Britain is evidenced in the 17 July 1975 edition of Stamp Collecting (ref 1).

Today the IRC exchange system is over 100 years old having commenced its life on 1 October 1907.

So, what exactly is an IRC? They are sold to clients wanting to ensure that the recipient of their letter can send a reply. Effectively this is a method of prepaying postage as do postage stamps and imprinted postal stationery. IRCs are more closely related to postal stationery than they are to postage stamps.

In Germany, the Michel postal stationery catalogue for Germany lists and prices IRCs. In America the Scott USA specialised catalogue lists and prices IRCs, as well as postal stationery and a whole raft of other items philatelic.

Unfortunately the late Robert Samuel did not bother to even list UPU IRCs in his useful 5 part catalogue listings of New Zealand postal stationery nor do they appear in volume IX of the Postage Stamps of New Zealand published by the Royal Philatelic Society of New Zealand, which is based upon his earlier catalogue listings.

At one time one could purchase reply cards over the post office counter. These were postal stationery postcards sold by the post office that had two joined parts: a sender postcard upon which the original message was written, and a reply postcard upon which the recipient's reply was written prior to being separated overseas and posted back to the originating country for delivery. These are of course listed in Samuel's New Zealand postcard catalogue and in volume IX of the Postage Stamps of New Zealand.

Whilst it may appear strange that a New Zealand reply postcard was valid for postage back to New Zealand (from for example Paraguay) it was thanks to a system devised by the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Similarly, IRCs were issued by the UPU to member countries for sale over the post office counter and could be redeemed just about anywhere in the world for a postage stamp to cover the cost of a surface mail reply to the sender's letter.

The 1906 Postal Union Congress (the forerunner to today's UPU) was held in Rome, Italy. It was there that New Zealand, the Cook Islands + other dependencies (as a single entity) received voting rights to the world's governing body for all matters postal. New Zealand's representative was Sir Joseph Ward. New Zealand had various matters of concern according to a report in the 28 February 1906 edition of The Advocate. A New Zealand suggestion taken to the Rome Congress came from a Hastings man, and is a forerunner to today's IRC scheme.

There seems to be a desire on the Continent of Europe to provide some method to letter-writers of sending to their correspondents means for a reply. Suggestions to provide for this mainly take the form of reply postcards of more or less ingenious design and it is possible that one or other of the systems put forward may be adopted. A scheme of some merit which has been submitted by Mr C.H. Shattky, of Hastings appears to overcome the financial objections to a reply-paid stamp and will be laid before the Congress (ref 2).

So, what was Shattky's concept? The following was submitted to and approved of by Sir Joseph Ward and the Heads of the Postal Department of New Zealand to the Rome Congress.

WORKING OF Shattky's International Reply-paid System (ref 3)

A If the sender of a letter to any part of the world wishes to enclose a stamp for reply, he must apply to a Post Office, stating the amount. The official will issue one in the following manner; he will take the block with coupon attached to it (see fig 1) and adhere a stamp of the required value on the space provided on the left side of the coupon, cancelling it by any convenient sign, such as X or R, put the date stamp of the office on the place opposite "Place of Issue" also putting the same on the block and marking the amount of the stamp thereon; he will then detach the coupon at the perforated line, see fig 2.

The coupon now being complete he will hand the same to the person applying for it, who will adhere it to a self addressed envelope by means of a gummed slip or enclose it loose in the letter and post it.

B The letter having duly arrived at its destination, the addressee will hand the letter of reply, with the coupon attached to it by the gummed slip, into any Post Office, the receiving official will separate the coupon from the letter by the perforated line and affix a stamp of his own country of equivalent value to the letter and despatch it in the usual way, retaining the coupon, making an impress of his office stamp on the place opposite "Place of Exchange" see fig 3.

C These coupons are later exchanged or paid for as between Government and Government in the usual manner.



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Figure 1

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Figure 2

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Figure 3

ITS MERITS

I It requires no special issue of stamps, because it will take the ordinary issue of each country from the lowest to the highest.

II It is inexpensive, only requiring a printed form or coupon attached to a check block, which is retained by the issuing office.

III It is simple to issue and to exchange.

IV When once issued it cannot be used for any other purpose, but for the reply only.

V It cannot be cashed, it is for exchange by the receiving office only, it cannot be used for reply to any other country except to that which issued it, because the receiving official would decline to make the exchange, it cannot be used to remit small amounts for the purpose of purchase.

VI It offers no inducement to forge or defraud, because the individual doing so could not possibly reap any pecuniary advantage from his act.

VII Each country issues its own coupons and redeems them; but the whole work on the same system.

VIII It is an infallible check as between Government and Government, easy to exchange or for collection.

IX It may be attached to a self-addressed envelope or to the letter of reply by means of a gummed slip.

X Instead of a stamp being attached to the coupon, the value of the stamp could be printed or stamped on; but in the first case a great amount of printing would be necessary, in the second an enormous expense in providing each office with stampers; but by using empty coupons and ordinary stamps, the cost is trifling.


This proposal was discussed in Rome and adapted to a simpler system whereby the coupon was exchanged in the country of receipt for equivalent postage back to the country of issue.

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Figure 4


Figure 4 indicates the format of coupon agreed to at the 1906 Rome Congress (ref 4). Whilst it contains only French rubric, please bear in mind that French is the official language of the UPU and that English as well as French also appears on customs documents from New Zealand and Australia, but that Spanish and French would be seen on similar customs documents from for example Chile and Mexico. Notice was given in mid 1906 of the UPU's scheme: Reply Coupon (ref 5)

As a means of enabling the sender of a letter addressed to a place abroad to prepay a reply, the International Bureau will issue Postal Administrations special coupons exchangeable for a postage-stamp of 25 centimes or its equivalent by the Post Office of any country which adopts the scheme. In order to prevent speculative transactions through the purchase of coupons in countries where the local equivalent of 25 centimes is low in order to obtain at a reduced rate postage-stamps in countries where the equivalent is high, the coupons are not to be sold for less than 28 centimes. In countries with sterling currency 3d will probably be the usual sale price. The date of commencement of this scheme as agreed in Rome was to be 1 October 1907.


In a New Zealand Post and Telegraph Official Circular dated 2 September 1907 the scheme was announced: Reply Coupon (ref 6)

As a means of enabling the sender of a letter addressed to a place abroad to prepay a reply, the department will presently issue reply coupons on payment of a fee of 3d. These coupons may be exchanged for a postage stamp to the value of 2½d in any country which adopts the scheme. They will be available on receipt of a supply from the International Office, Berne. The list of countries they may be sent to will be published later.


Further and importantly:

The coupons are to be treated as stamps, and accounted for accordingly by Chief Postmasters. Those sent to accounting offices are to be dealt with as part of the stamp balances at those offices; those sent to offices where there are credit stocks of stamps are to be treated as a part of those credit stocks, and those sent to the smaller offices where there are no credit stocks of stamps, must be paid for by the Postmasters.

When a coupon issued in one of the UPU countries which exchange IRCs is presented at any post office in New Zealand, the Postmaster will give in exchange a 2½d stamp. A non-accounting Postmaster will send the coupon to his Chief Postmaster, who will send a 2½d stamp in lieu of it.

An accounting Postmaster will send the redeemed coupon to his Chief Postmaster as a remittance of the amount which it represents, and Chief Postmasters will claim credit for redeemed coupons under the heading Postage refunded and written off, sending the coupons with the daily cash account in which credit is claimed (ref 7).


Please bear in mind that whilst IRCs were to be treated as stamps for accounting purposes by postal staff the same treatment would also apply to postal stationery stocks.

The Reply Coupons: The UPU initially arranged for the printing of these to be made by Benziger & Co. located in the North East Swiss town of Einsiedeln. Benziger held the contract for these until 1993 when they went into liquidation. Another Einsiedeln printing company, Kürzi, printed them for two years and a third Swiss company called Impressor took over from September 1995 at least until the end of the Lausanne model (ref 8 ).

According to Michael Wright in the October 2007 issue of The London Philatelist the greatest number of IRC's printed in any year was 21.9 million in 1971 and the lowest since 1934 was 1.9 million in 2001. The first was boosted by the sharp change in the minimum price half way through the year and the last was reduced by the imminence of the withdrawal at the end of the year of the Lausanne design coupons.

The two world wars suffered from the interruption of much correspondence on the one hand, but on the other very many IRCs were used to pay the International Red Cross for its scheme to facilitate limited personal correspondence; many covers addressed to Geneva are handstamped COUPON-RESPONSE in small red letters to show that a coupon had been enclosed.

IRCs are naturally at risk of several types of error and unwanted variety. Watermarks may be inverted or (less often) reversed or even both; parts of the printing, eg the addition of the country details, may be missing, characters or punctuation etc may be missing or defective. The printers may possibly on their own initiative, change the size or setting of the type.

Coupons already on hand in post offices when selling prices are changed are frequently repriced simply in manuscript (or not made at all). Frequently they are handstamped with a stamp locally made (usually in rubber), in one or more centres. Only occasionally are they overprinted by letterpress. The addition of an adhesive stamp is often employed (particularly in rapidly inflating countries such as Argentina); this eases the accounting, as it does not change the value of a post office's total stock of coupons and stamps taken together.

Australia used its own coupons in countries it ruled, like Papua and New Guinea whilst New Zealand coupons were used in Western Samoa etc.

The type of postmarks used to issue or exchange IRCs may be of interest. In larger offices (smaller offices may not be selling coupons) they are likely to be counter stamps which may only infrequently be used to cancel stamps on mail Postmarks may be found fairly often inscribed Registered, Express, Savings Bank, Money Orders or Postal Orders. In at least two cases special postmarks have been made for use with reply coupons: in Madrid, inscribed VALES IMPUESTA and in Calcutta inscribed REPLY COUPON.

IRCs are known with SPECIMEN overprints, either applied by the printers or by post offices eg for training schools. The French even went to the trouble of printing crude pastiches or facsimiles of the London and Lausanne designs for such purposes. Coupons are occasionally found pasted to the back of envelopes (not just by philatelists); this is certainly irregular; sometimes the overseas post office cancels the coupon in the appropriate handstamp circle, or draws a blue crayon rectangle around them. Even when taxe marks are applied, however, quite often there is no sign that the item actually paid any postage due (ref 8 ).


As with stamp collecting IRC collecting poses a few questions. What does one collect - on a simplified or on an in depth basis? Many readers of CAPTAIN COQK are happy to collect stamps on a simplified basis. This can be applied to collecting New Zealand IRCs and their counterpart British Commonwealth Reply Coupons, more about the latter later.

If one collects for example New Zealand 1898 pictorials on a simplified basis one will probably be aware that different printings on different papers and with different perforations/watermarks exist but that they are not for one's collection. Similarly with IRCs; in just over 100 years since they were first issued there have only been 6 IRC models or basic designs; these models may be found with one or more variations - usually something to do with the printed rubric.

The following summary of UPU Convention models and types distinguished by collectors details some 33 different IRC types (ref 8 ).


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Whilst they exist, there is no guarantee that all 33 types exist for New Zealand. This is partly due to the country's relatively small population size and hence demands for IRCs from the UPU by the NZ Post Office.

For example, there are 3 types listed under the Cairo Convention (Types X, XI and XII) but only one type may have been distributed to the New Zealand Post Office. New Zealand also had the exchange facility with other Empire (and later British Commonwealth) nations via a similar coupon scheme introduced on 16 September 1926 but at a cheaper price, as there were concessionary postal rates applicable to these British Empire/Commonwealth countries. New Zealand's Empire Reply coupons will be dealt with later.

Acknowledgements: thanks are given to Robin Startup and Claude Voirol for their assistance with this article as well as to André Hurtré for information and illustrations from his web site.

References sited:

Ref 1: Stamp Collecting 17 July 1975, p 895.

Ref 2: The Advocate 28 February 1906, p 29.

Ref 3: reported by The Weekly Press (Christchurch) 8 April 1903.

Ref 4: UPU Convention Principale Conclue à Rome le 26 Mai 1906 et Règlement d'Exécution, page 75, Imprimerie Lierow & Cie, Berne 1906.

Ref 5: GPO, London 26 July 1906 notice re Postal Union Congress of Rome, 1906, Principal Results and Practical Outcome.

Ref 6: New Zealand Post and Telegraph Official Circular, 2 September 1907, p 119.

Ref 7: ibid, 1 November 1907, pp 155/6.

Ref 8: The London Philatelist October 2007, Vol 116, number 1349, pp 284/297
Last edited by David Smitham on 04 Jan 2009 07:52, edited 1 time in total.
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UPU IRCs

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This is the second of three parts:

International Reply Coupon Models


Rome Model: introduced on 1 October 1907 after the 1906 Rome Postal Union Congress. Figure 5 below illustrates a French IRC issued on the first day of sale.

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Figure 5: Rome model French IRC Type I

All IRCs have their principal or sole inscriptions on the face in French, the official language of the UPU. With one exception (a largest ever printing of 3 million coupons for the USA with a single front blue plate) all have been printed on a key and duty plate system, with the key plate printing a basic frame showing the title COUPON-R‰PONSE INTERNATIONAL, a design and two labelled circles for issue and exchange postmark. Each IRC has a watermark of some kind.

The Rome model had 25c at top left and bottom right with UNION POSTALE in a rainbow curve and below that UNIVERSELLE curved the other way. The latest (Beijing) model comprises a watermark of a small star symbol (a circle with eight projecting triangles) next to a cross shape formed by the letters UPU horizontally and vertically, both repeating about three times across the lower part of the IRC (ref 8 ).


The Rome IRC model includes Types I to VIII in Table I. Each UPU Congress can specify in its resulting Convention a new model as and when required taking into consideration currency and social changes as well as trying to make the IRC simpler to understand for the user.


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London Model: introduced on 1 July 1930 after the 1929 Postal Union Congress; it includes Types IX to XVIIa in Table I.


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Figure 6: London model New Zealand bilingual front IRC Type XVIu above - sorry about the colour - and France monolingual front IRC Type IX - in colour!

Vienna Model: introduced on 1 January 1966 after the 1964 Vienna UPU Congress; it includes Types XVIII to XXI in Table I.

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Figure 7: Vienna model Nigerian IRC Type XVIII

Lausanne Model: introduced on 1 July 1975 after the UPU's centenary Congress in 1974 in Lausanne; it includes Types XXII to XXX in Table I.

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Figure 8: Lausanne model Tunisian IRC Type XXX

Until the end of 1990 all IRCs were able to be exchanged for a stamp(s) prepaying a letter to be sent by surface mail. The Washington Convention became effective 1 January 1991 and saw an IRC able to be exchanged for a stamp(s) for a letter to be sent abroad via airmail.

Until 31 December 1990 the accounting currency of the UPU and hence of IRCs was based upon the gold franc and centimes. It was then changed to Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) in the International Monetary Fund and the initial minimum IRC price was set at 0.74 SDR (ref 8 ).

Beijing Model: this was supposed to be introduced on 1 January 2002 after the 1999 Beijing UPU Congress; it includes Types XXXI to XXXIII in Table I. However, as with stamps some postal clerks do occasionally sell them prior to their official release date as happened in Great Britain when some were erroneously sold on 28 December 2001 (ref 9).

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Figure 9: Beijing girl with letter model French IRC Type XXXI

The Beijing Convention, effective 1 January 2002 introduced the most radical changes to IRCs that have occurred since they first appeared. They were doubled in size to 148 x 105 mm (A6 size) and printed on stiffer paper that could be processed by a machine. These incorporate a lengthy bar code with code lettering and numerals. The latter are grouped as follows: a) the two letter code for the country of issue, b) two eight figure numerals for the dates of printing, and the ending of validity (both reading year, month, day format), c) a seven figure serial number, d) the value of the IRC in hundredths of an SDR (074 as before) and finally e) a pair of letters changing from AA to AB etc for each batch of 10,000 IRCs (ref 8 ).

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Figure 10: reduced size reverses of IRC Type XXX from Switzerland (CH), Great Britain (GB) and Norway (NO)

Beijing model IRCs for example for New Zealand bear the two letter International Standards Organisation country code NZ whilst those for Australia bear AU. Printing dates known on NZ Beijing model IRCs include: 20011121 (21 Nov 2001), 20030311, 20040120, 20050407. The lowest printing number seen from the 21 November 2001 printing is 0016374 and the earliest date sighted is 12 March 2002 (ref 9).

It is interesting to note that initial printings for both Australia and New Zealand Beijing model IRCs were made on the same day as printing dates known for Australia include 20011121 (21 Nov 2001), 20030402, 20031013, 20040816. The lowest printing number seen from the Australia 21 November 2001 printing is 0059886 and the earliest date sighted is 31 January 2002.

New Zealand's IRCs are still sold in various Pacific Island countries. Similarly Australian IRCs are sold in their overseas administered territories. For example the 2 November 2001 printings are known to have been sold on Cocos Is as well as on Christmas Island, whilst a 13 October 2003 printing is the earliest known Australian Beijing model IRC to have been sold on Norfolk Island (ref 9).

As mentioned earlier, IRCs are known with Specimen (or SP‰CIMEN) overprints. Like stamps the UPU distributes such Specimen IRCs to its member countries partly for educational purposes but also to promote the service. The Specimen rubric is printed on both the front and reverse of IRCs and instead of the two letter country code ZZ appears eg AA 0000000 20020101 this indicates the expiry of validity as 1 January 2002 (ref 9).

A new design Beijing model (featuring the Finger of God) was introduced on 1 July 2006 after the 2004 Bucharest UPU Congress.

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Figure 11: Beijing Finger of God model Specimen IRC Type XXXII

To mark the centenary of the UPU's IRC scheme Type XXXII coupons were additionally inscribed 100 ans/1907-2007. The earliest sited is from Cyprus dated 2 February 2007. New Zealand as at 30 November 2007 was one of 118 nations that sold IRCs. As of 27 September 2007 there were 37 countries listed by the UPU that sold the centenary IRC. Australia was listed but not New Zealand (ref 10 ).

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Figure 12: Beijing IRC centenary model Italian Specimen IRC Type XXXIII

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Figure 13: Beijing IRC centenary model Italian Specimen IRC Type XXXIII

The next UPU Congress will be held in Nairobi in Kenya from 13 August to 3 September 2008. No doubt there will be a Nairobi model IRC introduced sometime in mid 2009 and it will probably have a validity ending on 31 December 2012 as UPU Congresses are now scheduled to be held every four years and not five as was the situation until Bucharest.

The summary, in Table I, of UPU Convention models and types distinguished by collectors details some 33 different IRC types (ref 8 ). Whilst they exist, there is no guarantee that all 33 types exist for New Zealand. This may be partly due to the country's relatively small population size and hence demands for IRCs from the UPU by the New Zealand Post Office.

For example, there are 3 types listed under the Cairo Convention (Types X, XI and XII) but only one type may have been distributed to the New Zealand Post Office. New Zealand also had the exchange facility with other Empire (and later British Commonwealth) nations via a similar coupon scheme introduced on 16 September 1926 but at a cheaper price, as there were concessionary postal rates applicable to these British Empire/Commonwealth countries. New Zealand's Empire Reply coupons will be dealt with later.

Acknowledgements: thanks are given to Robin Startup and Allan Berry for their assistance with this article as well as to André Hurtré for information and illustrations from his web site.

References sited:

Ref 1: Stamp Collecting 17 July 1975, p 895.

Ref 2: The Advocate 28 February 1906, p 29.

Ref 3: reported by The Weekly Press (Christchurch) 8 April 1903.

Ref 4: UPU Convention Principale Conclue à Rome le 26 Mai 1906 et Règlement d'Exécution, page 75, Imprimerie Lierow & Cie, Berne 1906.

Ref 5: GPO, London 26 July 1906 notice re Postal Union Congress of Rome, 1906, Principal Results and Practical Outcome.

Ref 6: New Zealand Post and Telegraph Official Circular, 2 September 1907, p 119.

Ref 7: ibid, 1 November 1907, pp 155/6.

Ref 8: The London Philatelist October 2007, Vol 116, number 1349, pp 284/297.

Ref 9: www.coponresponse.fr

Ref 10: www.upu.int.irc.en
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Post by David Smitham »

This is the third and final part:

Imperial & Commonwealth Reply Coupons in New Zealand

Imperial Reply Coupons were introduced in New Zealand in 1927 and were initially sold for 2½d at a time when the UPU IRCs were sold in New Zealand for 5d (ref 13). This was because concessionary postal rates applied for surface mail to Britain and to other British Empire countries. The advent of the new coupon alleviated the problem whereby prior to the introduction of the Imperial coupons a purchaser would have paid much more than was necessary to receive a reply from a correspondent in an Empire country which had concessionary Empire postal rates.

For a period of about 12 months prior to the outbreak of World War II when the Empire all up airmail scheme operated (for 1½d from New Zealand) it is reasonable to assume that the recipient of such an Imperial Reply Coupon would have received a stamp(s) in exchange for an airmail letter back to New Zealand. Unfortunately, thanks to Adolf and his pals the Empire all up airmail scheme was discontinued in 1939.

A 1959 quoted report in An Illustrated Guide to Imperial Reply Coupons and Commonwealth Reply Coupons advised (ref 11) that:

Both types of coupon were printed in lithography from two plates, one for each colour, 9-up to a sheet. The name of the country, the value, and the inscription in the second language are also added by lithography, although letterpress is sometimes used. Depending upon the quantities required this operation may be carried out on the 9-subject sheets or on single coupons.


A response quoted from the Postal Services Department at London, advised about the dates of issue of the various types of Imperial and Commonwealth Reply Coupons:

Orders for coupons are sent to the Postal Services Department, London, by various countries of the Commonwealth and the coupons are sent out by their supplies department. The dates of issue of the various types are as follows:

Sept 1926 Imperial model Type I
Jan 1934 Imperial model Type II
Jan 1936 Imperial model Type III
? Imperial model Type IV
June 1939 Imperial model Type V
Sept 1941 Imperial model Type VI
April 1947 Imperial model Type VII
June 1948 Imperial model Type VIII
Jan 1953 Commonwealth model Type IX
Oct 1956 Commonwealth model Type X
Mar 1957 Commonwealth model Type XI

The dates were interpreted as being the dates when the coupons were supplied by the supplies department to the country that would be using them. It is generally agreed that for example Great Britain placed the Imperial model Type I Reply Coupon on sale in April 1927, yet the date quoted above is September 1926 (ref 11).


The Imperial Reply Coupon model includes eight different types but only six were employed in New Zealand.


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Fig 15: Imperial Reply Coupon model Great Britain Type I

A total of four different watermarks may be seen on the Imperial and Commonwealth Reply Coupons; unwatermarked paper was used for Type XVI and later coupons. Descriptions of the four different watermarks are given in Tables II, III.


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Fig 16: Imperial Reply Coupon model India type VI


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Fig 17: Commonwealth Reply Coupon model Barbados Type IX

The Commonwealth Reply Coupon model includes 13 different types but only eight or nine were employed in New Zealand; they are described in Table III (ref 12). Type XVI coupons are known to exist from other Commonwealth countries such as Malawi and St. Helena. As Type XVI is listed under New Zealand in ref 12 it is included in Table III. The source appears to indicate that it was a 3c denomination coupon, but whether it was 3c and/or 3c. was unknown.


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All Commonwealth Reply Coupons were invalidated on 31 October 1975 (ref 9). Some countries ceased to honour them prior to this date. For example: these coupons were no longer valid in Australia, Norfolk Is., Cocos (Keeling) Is., and in Christmas Island effective 1 October 1971; and in Papua New Guinea from 31 March 1972. According to McNiven effective 1 July 1971 Commonwealth Reply Coupons were no longer available in New Zealand (ref 13). Apparently as of mid July 1975 they were still valid in New Zealand according to Stamp Collecting (ref 1).

The usual reason for which postal administrations cease to exchange Commonwealth Reply Coupons is the abolition of Commonwealth concessionary rates of postage for surface letters. Historically, this concession was introduced on social grounds, for the large volume of correspondence between friends and relatives living in the various countries of the British Empire. Over 80% of letters are now sent by Airmail and so the former social link argument for the concession has weakened accordingly. Countries are not obliged to inform the (British) Post Office of their reason for the withdrawal of the concession and generally do not. The Commonwealth Concessionary Rate was completely abolished (in Britain) on 17 March 1975, mainly because of financial considerations (ref 1).

The selling prices in New Zealand of both UPU International Reply Coupons and Imperial/Commonwealth Reply Coupons are indicated in Table IV below (ref 13 ).

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Unlike postal stationery or traditional philately there is no obvious class at a New Zealand national stamp exhibition for UPU IRCs and/or Imperial/Commonwealth Reply Coupons to be entered. I suppose the catchall class for entries not provided elsewhere will suffice from an exhibitor's viewpoint; however from a judge's viewpoint how would one assess such an exhibit?

It may depend upon the treatment of such an exhibit. Apart from traditional or postal stationery classes - perhaps the only other class for which such an exhibit could be judged may be social philately. No doubt my fellow judges and I will cross that bridge when one is presented to us; in the meantime please start putting together exhibits for us to judge!

This concludes a series of articles detailing UPU IRCs & Imperial/Commonwealth Reply Coupons.

Acknowledgements: thanks are given to Robin Startup and Andrew McNiven for their assistance with this article as well as to André Hurtré for information and various illustrations from his web site.

References sited:

Ref 1: Stamp Collecting 17 July 1975, p 895.

Ref 2: The Advocate 28 February 1906, p 29.

Ref 3: reported by The Weekly Press (Christchurch) 8 April 1903.

Ref 4: UPU Convention Principale Conclue à Rome le 26 Mai 1906 et Règlement d'Exécution, page 75, Imprimerie Lierow & Cie, Berne 1906.

Ref 5: GPO, London 26 July 1906 notice re Postal Union Congress of Rome, 1906, Principal Results and Practical Outcome.

Ref 6: New Zealand Post and Telegraph Official Circular, 2 September 1907, p 119.

Ref 7: ibid, 1 November 1907, pp 155/6.

Ref 8: The London Philatelist October 2007, Vol 116, number 1349, pp 284/297.

Ref 9: www.coponresponse.fr

Ref 10: www.upu.int.irc.en

Ref 11: An Illustrated Guide to Imperial Reply Coupons & Commonwealth Reply Coupons - A trial listing, 2007, Peter Robin, p 46.

Ref 12: ibid, p14.

Ref 13: History of Postal Rates & Charges from 1849, 1980, Andrew McNiven, p39.
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Post by GlenStephens »

Brilliant data resource David .. never knew there were so many types!

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GlenStephens wrote:Brilliant data resource David .. never knew there were so many types!

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Just keep putting them in a Tony pile please Glen :lol: :wink:
If no one else collects Heligoland or UPU how come I have to pay so much ?????

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Post by David Smitham »

Just to bring readers right up to date:

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The above shows the Nairobi Model IRC which will come into use from 1 July 2009. The design was approved at the 2008 UPU Congress held earlier in 2008 at Nairobi, Kenya and was designed by a graphic artist from Luxembourg - Rob van Goor.

Source as per ref 10 above: www.upu.int.irc.en
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Imperial Reply Coupon - Australia

Post by Huckles888 »

Was going through some stuff that I pulled out of storage over the weekend and came across a small hoard (16) of some 4d Imperial Reply Coupons (dated in the 1950s)

I have no knowledge (outside of my collecting areas) of these at all and am looking for information on tehm and their possible values etc

Any help would be greatly appreciated

PS would have posted an image of one of them but dont have the access needed to do so

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Re: Imperial Reply Coupon - Australia

Post by muruk »

Do you mean International Reply Coupons?

I know how those work, but don't know how long they are valid for, nor whether anyone collects them.

A scan will be pretty much essential before anyone on here can give you a reasonable opinion.
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Re: Imperial Reply Coupon - Australia

Post by muruk »

OK, looks like there are Imperial Reply Coupons (my new lesson for today).

Depending on style, they could be worth something ... do a google check and see if there are any on sale or auction:

This style is valued by Leski Auctions at about $10 ($150-200 for 15):

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Re: Imperial Reply Coupon - Australia

Post by norvic »

More recently there were 'Commonwealth Reply Coupons' for use within the British Commonwealth but I don't know either when the changeover happened or when they ceased altogether.
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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by RCC »

Wonderful article David!
Are you personally collecting reply coupons ?
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Re: Imperial Reply Coupon - Australia

Post by RCC »

These regional reply coupons for the countries belonging to the British Commonwealth
started in 1927, first known date is 04.04.1927 and ended 31.12.1975
The first type, the Imperial Reply Coupons were issued until about 1953,
the second main type, the Commonwealth reply coupons have been issued from 1953.

If your lot is still available, I might be interested.

RCC ( Reply Coupon Collector :D )

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Re: Imperial Reply Coupon - Australia

Post by Wolfgang »

Huckles888 wrote:Was going through some stuff that I pulled out of storage over the weekend and came across a small hoard (16) of some 4d Imperial Reply Coupons (dated in the 1950s)

I have no knowledge (outside of my collecting areas) of these at all and am looking for information on tehm and their possible values etc

Any help would be greatly appreciated

PS would have posted an image of one of them but dont have the access needed to do so
Could you please show us some pictures?
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Post by Wolfgang »

David Smitham wrote: Unlike postal stationery or traditional philately there is no obvious class at a New Zealand national stamp exhibition for UPU IRCs and/or Imperial/Commonwealth Reply Coupons to be entered.
Reply Coupons are displayed as postal stationery!
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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by Safi »

Good to see this topic come again in the forefront, just the other day, one of my good friends had acquired a few British Imperial Reply Coupons and we were trying to find out if the sailing ship on it was a specific one and if yes which one? I remember coming here, giving a search, and going through this very topic to see if the sailing ship has been mentioned by name. And now, I see it catch someone else's interest too. Law of Attraction at work here :D

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by David Smitham »

Greetings!

No, I do not collect these items of postal stationery, nor have I in the past. This research article came about when I was recuperating from a major motor car accident that happened in mid 2007. Once I returned home from hospital I wanted to do something as opposed to laze around and I could not return to work!

Doing this kept me busy and I enjoyed compiling the research - it is "out there" if you seek it!

Anyway this is now in the public domain via Stampboards. I am pleased to have helped in some small way.

Thank you.

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by alltorque »

a great addition David.
your time mending was put to a good use...
Very handy information.
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Do "International Reply Coupons" (IRC) really work?

Post by zaguy »

I have just been reading through the rates brochure from the SA Post Office for 2014 and noticed the paragraph below on international reply coupons:

International reply coupons

The international reply coupon service enables customers to prepay
the postage on a reply from a correspondent abroad. Coupons
sent abroad may be exchanged for one or more postage stamps
representing the minimum postage to be pre-paid on an airmail
letter. The coupons cost R23.40 and are available at Post Office
branches.


I am curious now. I did not even know that these still existed.

Does anybody still use these, and if I were to send an international reply coupon from SA to Australia, or let's make it hard, say, Azerbaijan, would you really be able to exchange it there for an airmail stamp?

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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by norvic »

Many countries have stopped issuing them and those and others have stopped accepting them.
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by Allegheny »

I have been wondering about this myself.
Is there a list, which countries still accept IRC?
Do philatelic bueraus accept IRC?
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by nigelc »

Allegheny wrote:I have been wondering about this myself.
Is there a list, which countries still accept IRC?
Do philatelic bueraus accept IRC?
It's still mandatory for UPU members to exchange IRCs (although they don't have to sell them).
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by nigelc »

Allegheny wrote: I have been wondering about this myself.
Is there a list, which countries still accept IRC?
Do philatelic bueraus accept IRC?
Hi Allegheny,

Here's the UPU's current list of countries that sell IRCs:

http://www.upu.int/en/activities/international-reply-coupons/countries-selling-ircs.html
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by Global Administrator »

For near a century there was a bit of a bookies type "Ponzi Scheme" racket in these. :)

I have a feeling there now is a cap or maximum on cashing them to sort this issue?

It used to that you could buy 10,000 of them in Laos or Guyana or Angola etc for 30c or whatever, and take them to a PO like Australia and swap them for 10,000 x $A2.60 stamps, and sell them cash for $20,000 anywhere here. Profit $17,000 each time.

The word "Ponzi" isn't some technical financial jargon – it was somebody's name. :lol:

And his scheme involved UPU stamp Reply Coupons and stamps. I only found this out recently.

Charles Ponzi was an Italian immigrant living in Boston during the First World War.

Ponzi, who had previously served time in a Canadian prison for forgery, stumbled upon a loophole in the postal system regarding International Reply Coupons - IRC’s.
Image
Heart of the “Ponzi Scheme”
He found that he could buy IRC’s in countries with weak currencies, and exchange them for USA Postage stamps at a FAR higher face value than what he paid. Many times his cost.

In fact you can do exactly the same thing today - quite legally. Australia Post sells them for about $A3.50 each as I recall. When I was in Burma last visit they cost just a few cents each at PO’s when paying in local currency, as a fake dual exchange rate regime is in place.

The Burma ones - or IRC’s from Libya (illustrated), Bolivia, Zambia or Belarus etc, you can redeem at any Post Office here and receive a $A2.65 International stamp.

Ponzi went to several of his friends in Boston with this story, and promised that he would double their investment in 90 days.

The massive arbitrage returns available from Postal Reply Coupons, he explained to them, made such incredible profits easy – and legal.

Word spread quickly and investors were being paid out impressive rates, encouraging yet others to invest.

The “Ponzi” scheme was born.

By May 1920 Ponzi had made $US420,000 - about $US5 million in modern terms.

The scheme collapsed in 1921, and Ponzi spent three years in federal prison, and another nine in state prison.
Image
1920’s prison mug-shot of Ponzi


The exact amount that Charles Ponzi bilked his investors for remains unknown. However, at the height of the scheme he took in $US1 million in three hours according to the SEC. In the end, he only ever actually bought $30 worth of IRCs.

He fled to Italy in the 1930s after his jail sentences. Benito Mussolini gave him a job in the financial section of his government! :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

However, he mismanaged things so badly that he was forced to flee to South America - but not before taking an undisclosed amount from the Italian treasury.

Ponzi died penniless in a charity hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 18, 1949.

Some people never learn from history. It was only a few years back that people in Spain and Portugal were duped of BILLIONS by a postage stamp investment “Ponzi” scheme run by Afinsa, and Forum Filatelico.

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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by Global Administrator »

Remember that was the era where this kind of stuff was all the rage!
Image

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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by aethelwulf »

I remember reading about Ponzi somewhere, and it was stated that he took in so much money, there weren't enough IRCs in the entire world to match the funds he had on hand.

Would have been no problem for Bernie Madoff--if he had actually run his hedge fund properly--the financial markets by comparison are huge.
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by aethelwulf »

The simple solution to avoid the arbitrage is to sell the coupons for more than the postage elsewhere in the world. If Burma or wherever sold them for $3, you'd lose money sending them to Oz, and would only buy one if you really had to--like a money order, those don't come cheap anymore.

Just checked the HK Post website--the PO Guide says they sell for HKD$14, while AUD$2.65 is about HKD$19. So there's a small margin there, but you'd have to be using the stamps in Australia at full face, rather than selling at 80% of face, to earn a profit.
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by lionheart »

I was collecting ham QSL cards 10 years ago and used to buy lots of IRCs from Malaysia where they only cost RM3 each (less than USD 1) compared to SGD 2.50 (more than USD 1.50) in Singapore to send to radio amateurs.

I recall that there seems to be a number of countries where it is necessary you need more than 1 IRC to exchange for airmail postage. These countries include Germany and Argentina.

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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by Global Administrator »

lionheart wrote:
I recall that there seems to be a number of countries where it is necessary you need more than 1 IRC to exchange for airmail postage. These countries include Germany and Argentina.
Do not think this is correct - it defeats the purpose of having them if ONE is not enough to pay for a return letter - that is what they were designed for!

The Germans might give you 2 stamps for a letter back if they choose to, but they can't ask for 2 coupons!
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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by lionheart »

Global Administrator wrote:Do not think this is correct - it defeats the purpose of having them if ONE is not enough to pay for a return letter - that is what they were designed for!
I thought so too, but was told that was how post offices in those countries treat IRCs. Their postage rates may have something to do with this.

German airmail postage in those days was DM 3, which was more than SGD 2.50 and much more than RM 3.

Somebody in Germany or Argentina may care to comment.

I was also told that IRCs are not valid in Taiwan and other non UPU entities.

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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by aethelwulf »

lionheart wrote:I recall that there seems to be a number of countries where it is necessary you need more than 1 IRC to exchange for airmail postage.
The whole idea of the IRCs is that they're worth the cost of the first-weight-step airmail service. One coupon = postage for one letter (up to 20g or however the country sets its weight steps).

From the HKPost website,
These coupons may be purchased at any post office for HK$14, and are exchangeable in any foreign country of the Universal Postal Union for one or more postage stamps representing the minimum postage prepayable on an unregistered priority item or an unregistered letter sent abroad by air. Coupons received from other countries may be exchanged at any post office in Hong Kong for postage stamps, prepayment impressions
or postal stationery at a surrender value of HK$3.7.
($3.7 is the first rate step for airmail letters up to 20g to "Zone 2", and would actually overpay for a letter to "Zone 1"--Japan, Asia, Australia).
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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by Global Administrator »

lionheart wrote:
German airmail postage in those days was DM 3, which was more than SGD 2.50 and much more than RM 3.
You realise I suppose that Germany has not used DMs for FIFTEEN YEARS?? :lol: :lol: :lol:

It has been even longer since Reichmarks. 8)

They are UPU members - they cannot simply make up their own rules.

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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by aethelwulf »

Global Administrator wrote:It has been even longer since Reichmarks. 8)
Lionheart's use of RM refers to Malaysian ringgit. 8)

But indeed, to be quoting even DM is going back a few years.
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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by Heinz55 »

The last times I used IRC for correspondence, at our post office the employees refused to sell me stamps for them, but willingly stamped "postage paid" on my departing letters and I know the letters arrived.

The basic rate for letters abroad (up to 20 grams) is actually 0.75 Euros no matter if air mail or not, because most German mail is now transported by air.

Deutsche Post sells IRC for 2.00 Euros.

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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by zaguy »

So many interesting answers! I never realised the original Ponzi scheme actually involved IRCs. You learn something new every day :-)

Just a wild guess, but I think maybe the price of IRCs has risen everywhere to avoid the matter of selling them cheaply in one country and exchanging in another where stamps are more expensive.

Take the South African IRCs as an example, our overseas airmail letter rate is R7 (that's only around 70 US cents), but the IRC costs R23 ($2,30).

Maybe the price of an IRC is set at UPU level internationally and is more or less the same for all countries?

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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by Kennethsequeira »

Hi,

Here is an example of a IRC from Australia recently used in UAE

Image

The IRC from UAE costs AED 4.5 around 1.23 $
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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by Blair »

Canada sells IRC at a large markup ($5.50) and
redeems them at the current International rate of $2.50 .

However they they are closing local post offices and
contracting pharmacies and other to run postal counters.

Thus if I ever cash in an IRC, I have to instruct the clerk
(usually not trained beyond selling a booklet of stamps
or mailing a parcel) on what it is , UPU rules on them,
and how to process them.

I am lucky, in that my pharmacy employs one former
Canada Post employee, with decades of experience.
(Unfortunately it is at about half the pay rate that
she had before.)

She is very helpful and friendly and has a great
knowledge of philatelic matters. She gives me a big smile,
when I bring her an " out of the ordinary" transaction,
such as an IRC. It gives her a chance to show off her stuff.

With recent, large Canadian rate increases ($1.85 to $2.50) ,
I guess my big stack of Indian IRC's bought years ago for
about 10-15 Rupees each (20 to 30 cents) have appreciated
almost 40% in the last month.

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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by Allegheny »

nigelc wrote:
Allegheny wrote: I have been wondering about this myself.
Is there a list, which countries still accept IRC?
Do philatelic bueraus accept IRC?
Hi Allegheny,

Here's the UPU's current list of countries that sell IRCs:

http://www.upu.int/en/activities/international-reply-coupons/countries-selling-ircs.html
thanks for the link Nigelc. Will check it out later. Because I know that Indonesia doesn't sell IRC coupons anymore and I doubt that those clowns at the post office will accept IRC as a form of payment
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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by Magpie »

When I have tried to purchase IRC's in some of my local post offices in the area, I have to take my Australia Post Postage Rates booklet with me and show the Postal Officer the page that lists IRC's, so there is no drama over it, as have noticed in the past that most staff have no idea what IRC's are.

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by aethelwulf »

It seems IRCs are still alive and well in Hong Kong.

Received a promotional mailing today from HKPost, and one of the products they mention is a commemorative IRC.

That's probably a new concept.

I'll order a few just to put away. If anyone collects these, or has a UPU thematic collection, and would like one (or more), let me know and I can order them. Issue date is 9 October.

Apologies for the image; a photo taken with my phone, of the illustration in the advert.
Image
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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by norvic »

Although I've posted it in other threads it seems most appropriate to show this use of IRCs which is unusual:

Image

I wrote to Radio Armenia in about 1992/3 having heard their English language broadcast and as is customary I included an IRC. I was hoping to get a cover with stamps on for my postal history collection, but got this instead! It hadn't been postmarked on purchase (I can't even remember which country it was from). The selling price was uprated to 25p (UK currency), and the $2 must have been typed on in Armenia. It's not completely attached, only on the right edge!
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by msah83 »

lionheart wrote:I was collecting ham QSL cards 10 years ago and used to buy lots of IRCs from Malaysia where they only cost RM3 each (less than USD 1) compared to SGD 2.50 (more than USD 1.50) in Singapore to send to radio amateurs.

I recall that there seems to be a number of countries where it is necessary you need more than 1 IRC to exchange for airmail postage. These countries include Germany and Argentina.
Quite interesting. Do you know when was last issue in Malaysia?

I am trying to collect Malaysia IRC and so far in my collection:

Image

Image

Image

Image
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Re: Do international reply coupons work?

Post by norvic »

lionheart wrote:I was collecting ham QSL cards 10 years ago and used to buy lots of IRCs from Malaysia where they only cost RM3 each (less than USD 1) compared to SGD 2.50 (more than USD 1.50) in Singapore to send to radio amateurs.
Back in the 90s when the USSR had self-destructed I was listening to the English languages broadcasts of Radio Armenia, and wrote to them, enclosing the IRC as is customary still. I thought I would get some nice modern postal history - Armenian inflation-period stamps to the UK (commercial use). But what I got was even better: I'm sure the Armenians typed 2$ on this, and then stuck it by one edge, and postmarked it. It got through to me with no problem.

Image
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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by msah83 »

Quite and interesting topic.

I would like to ask to confirm whether this is classified as Postal Stationery. Does it fulfil:
"with an imprinted stamp or inscription indicating that a specific rate of postage or related service has been prepaid".
I was reading,
Reply Coupons
Reply coupons belong to postage stamps according to postal definition. These coupons are paying return postage for a standard international letter. The sender of a letter attaches a reply coupon to pay the return postage of the addressee. The addressee hands in the reply coupon at his or her post office and receives stamps for a standard international letter. Special services like airmail or registration may be paid for by using more reply coupons.
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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by lionheart »

msah83 wrote:
Quite interesting. Do you know when was last issue in Malaysia?

I am trying to collect Malaysia IRC and so far in my collection:
Very impressive collection! Unfortunately, I do not know when Malaysia stopped selling IRCs. In all probability, they did not issue any of the larger IRCs.

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Re: Do "International Reply Coupons" work?

Post by GlenStephens »

I asked at my PO today and one staffer had never heard of them, and the other pulled out a bundle of CURRENT IRCs!

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by BarryM »

This was a great article. It was a pleasure to stumble across it this week.

I do have one question about IRCs that I've never seen addressed. On older IRCs, I've always seen a cancel on the left side (i.e. the issuing office). On newer IRCs I've often seen them offered without any cancel. I've never seen an explanation for this.

My hypothesis is that the "cancellation" by the issuing office is actually considered to be an activation of the IRC, which is invalid until the issuing office applies it's markings. At some point, collectors started requesting IRCs without any cancellations and postal authorities obliged. Which makes me wonder if the unmarked IRCs would be considered invalid for use?

Barry

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by lionheart »

Unmarked IRCs are still valid.

There were occasions when IRCs were postmarked in the wrong box (i.e., the receiving office's box) at the time of purchase because the postal workers do not understand the French instructions on the coupon. Most post offices still accept coupons for exchange even though they were postmarked in the wrong box although there are some countries which insist that IRCs must be correctly postmarked.

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Magpie
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International Reply Coupons for Australia

Post by Magpie »

Has any one seen any International Reply Coupons for Australia commemorating the "140th Anniversary of the UPU", issued by some overseas countries in October 2014 and what post offices can they be purchased at in the Sydney CBD or metro areas?

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by Global Administrator »

Never seen the 140th Anniv UPU IRC types. 8)

Please add a photo as we ask here incessantly. :idea:
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Click HERE to see superb, RARE and unusual stamps, at FIXED low nett prices, high rez photos, and NO buyer fees etc!

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Re: UPU International Reply Coupons

Post by ekbustad »

Global Administrator wrote:Never seen the 140th Anniv UPU IRC types. 8)

Please add a photo as we ask here incessantly. :idea:
See the July 29, 2014 message from aethelwulf!

I would ask if any of these 140th Anniversary types have been used by Norway or Germany, the two countries that I collect.

Bjørn Myhre has a great website on IRCs at http://bmyhre.com/bjmy2/irc/intro.htm, but it has not been updated to include this latest IRC design type.

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