Collecting IRCs

(International Reply Coupons )

    The Universal Postal Union was formally established in 1874. Thirty three years later, during the 1906 Congress of the UPU in Rome, the concept of the International Reply Coupon was agreed upon.
    The very first design of IRCs showed an allegorical female figure, delivering mail from one part of the globe to another. For exemplification we have taken a 1910 coupon from Germany's offices in Turkey (see below, on the left).  There is an evident resemblance between the allegorical female figure displayed on this coupon and the female figures shown of the official UPU-emblem, displayed on this page on the front cover of a Swedish booklet, issued in 1974 (below, on the right).

    The front side of an IRC cancelled at Ashford, Kent, UK (see below, on the left) is shown on the left. On the right you can see a better reproduction of an IRC that wasn't used, with the same design of a bird carrying a letter in its beak, superimposed over the geographic grid of a world globe, with a background of yellow vertical stripes. Another bird, with an IRC as the right wing (and as a postal money order form as the left one), was displayed on a Swiss stamps, issued in 1983 (Scott 9O14, Zumstein X UPU 14) for the official use of the International Bureau of the UPU. You can see it on the top of this page.

    Since the IRCs were created before the days of airmail, the earliest coupons could be redeemed for a stamp representing single-rate ordinary postage to a foreign country.
    Most of the IRCs coming into stamp collectors hands are struck with one postmark showing where and when the coupon was issued. When the coupon is taken to the post office to be redeemed, it is postmarked again by the redeeming postal clerk, who then keeps it and provides the correct amount of postage.  It is possible to find coupons with two postmarks or blank coupons with no postmark.

George Kringelbach
& Victor Manta

First version: 5/28/00. Revised: 10/28/00.
Copyright 2000 by Victor Manta, Switzerland. All rights reserved in all countries.

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