Official issuer of New Zealand stamps & commemorative coins
Call: 06 262 7262

History of New Zealand stamps

History of New Zealand stamps

New Zealand first issued postal stamps on 18 July 1855, 15 years after the British.

New Zealand's first stamps

New Zealand's first stamps were called the Full Face Queens because the picture on them was a front view of the head and shoulders of Queen Victoria. There were three stamps in the Full Face Queen set. They cost 1 penny (1d), 2 penny (2d), and 1 shilling (1s) and were printed in Britain.

The first New Zealand stamp that was designed in New Zealand was a half penny stamp issued on 1 January 1873. This stamp is called the Newspaper stamp, as it was used to pay for newspapers being sent through the post. The stamp design shows a sideview of Queen Victoria's head and because of this it is one of the early New Zealand stamps known as Sidefaces.

New Zealand was the first country in the world to put advertising on the back of stamps. A number of Sideface stamps had advertising messages printed on the back (gummed side) in 1893. But people complained because they thought that licking the ink was unhealthy, so the NZ Post stopped using advertising on the back of stamps.

New Zealand was also one of the first countries to introduce a Penny Universal stamp. The idea of the Penny Universal was that all countries should charge a standard amount for postage as this would make it easier sending letters from one country to another. New Zealand's Penny Universal stamp was issued on the first day of the 20th century.


New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to put pictures of the countryside, birds, and animals on its stamps. These stamps became known as Pictorials, and the first pictorials were issued on 5 April 1898.

These first pictorial stamps featured pictures of New Zealand mountains, lakes, a Māori war canoe, and native birds. One of these stamps, the 2½d stamp showing Lake Wakatipu, is quite famous as a mistake was made during the design of the stamp and, on the stamp, the lake was called Lake Wakitipu. Many of the stamps with the spelling mistake were purchased and kept by collectors. Today unused 2½d Lake Wakatipu stamps are more rare than the incorrect version of the stamp with the lake spelt Wakitipu.

Stamps that have pictures of birds on them have always been popular, and New Zealand has a large number of birds such as kiwi which are unique. Between 1985 and 1989 Janet Marshall, an artist well known for her drawings of birds, designed a series of ten stamps with birds on them which were very popular.

Kings and Queens

Pictures of the King or Queen have been on a number of New Zealand stamps over the years. When the King or Queen died, a new stamp showing the new King or Queen was usually issued. For example, when Queen Victoria died, a new King of New Zealand, King Edward VII, was crowned. New Zealand stamps with his picture were issued in 1909.

When King Edward died suddenly in 1910, the next King was King George V. However, because the NZ Post still had ample supply King Edward stamps, it was not until 1915 that New Zealand stamps showing King George's picture were issued.

On 7 May 1935, a set of three stamps was issued to mark the fact that King George had been King for 25 years, and with the coronation of King George VI in 1937, the New Zealand Post Office issued three stamps that carried the King’s picture.

After the death of King George VI his daughter Elizabeth became New Zealand's Queen. On 25 May 1953 stamps were issued to mark Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

The first visit to New Zealand by a British Sovereign took place when Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1953 and the NZ Post issued two special stamps to mark the event. The 3d stamp, had a picture of the Queen on it and the 4d stamp showed the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip. In 1954, the NZ Post issued a large set of Queen Elizabeth II stamps.

New Zealand stamps have also pictured other members of the Royal family. To name just a few, on the 1946 Peace stamp was a picture of the King and Queen with Princesses Margaret and Elizabeth, while the 1952 New Zealand health stamps had a picture of Prince Charles on the 2d stamp and Princess Anne on the 1½d stamp.

In 1981, the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was marked by the issue of two stamps. Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and their children were also featured on the 1985 New Zealand health stamps.

In 1990 a special miniature sheet was produced to commemorate 150 years of postage stamps. The five stamps depicted all the monarchs of New Zealand From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II, including Edward VIII who abdicated the throne.

Exhibition stamps

Over the years many stamps have been issued to mark the opening of important exhibitions.

A set of four stamps was issued in 1906 to mark the opening of a big international industrial exhibition in Christchurch. One of these stamps was a 1d stamp printed in the colour claret. However the Post Office decided that this colour was too dark and the stamp was reprinted in the colour vermillion. Through a mix up, one sheet of 60 claret-coloured stamps was sold at the Exhibition Post Office and these stamps are now very rare and very valuable.

War stamps

New Zealand's first war stamp was issued to mark the fighting of New Zealand troops in the Boer War in South Africa. This stamp was issued on 7 December 1900.

When World War I started, the NZ Post over-printed a number of ½d stamps bearing a picture of King George V with the words 'War Stamp'. Many countries overprinted their stamps like this in wartime, either to get the people's support for the war or to raise money to pay some of the costs of fighting the war. At the end of World War I the New Zealand Government decided that a special stamp set should be issued to celebrate the end of the war. These were called the Victory Stamps and on the 1½d was a picture of a Māori warrior, Māori carving and some native plants. Strangely, people in Great Britain were able to buy this before New Zealanders as the stamps were sold in London in November 1919 but were not sold in New Zealand until January 1920.

The next war stamps to be sold in New Zealand were ANZAC stamps issued in 1936 to mark the 21st anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey in April 1915. The stamps were sold for double their face value with the extra being used to help soldiers returning from the war.

Then, with the ending of World War II, a special Peace issue of 11 stamps designed by famous New Zealand stamp designer James Berry was issued on 24 October 1946. These stamps included a tribute to the Army, the Navy and Merchant Navy, the Air Force, and to people who helped the war effort at home. Also included were stamps showing Parliament Buildings, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Royal Family.

Commemorative stamps

Over the years, many stamps have been issued in New Zealand to mark special events or dates. One of the first was a set of five stamps issued on 1 October 1936 to mark the Empire Conference of the Chamber of Commerce which was held in Wellington that year. The stamps included scenes showing New Zealand's main exports in the 1930's, such as wool, butter, sheep, and apples. These stamps were so popular that many of the more expensive stamps in the set sold out after the first week.

In 1940 it was New Zealand's centennial - 100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, between the Māori chiefs and Queen Victoria’s representatives. The centennial was marked by the issue of a special set of 12 stamps. In the set were stamps that showed New Zealand's history. The stamps were: ½d, showing the arrival of the Māoris; 1d, showing Cook's re-discovery of New Zealand; 1½d, showing the Kings and Queens who had ruled New Zealand in the previous 100 years; 2d, showing Tasman's discovery of New Zealand; 2½d, showing the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; 3d, showing immigrants arriving at Petone; 4d, picturing progress in transport over the years; 6d, marking the first shipment of frozen meat from New Zealand; 8d, showing the Māori Council; 9d, picturing goldmining in New Zealand; and 1 shilling, showing a giant Kauri tree.

The centennial of New Zealand provinces were also marked by the issue of stamps. In 1948 a set of four stamps was issued to mark the centennial of the Province of Otago and, in 1950, a set of five stamps marked the centennial of the Province of Canterbury. Over the years there have been many stamps issued to mark the centenary of many events and organisations.

Health stamps

The popular health stamp series had been issued every year since 1929. Part of the money from the sale of health stamps went towards the running of health camps. The first health stamps had the word CHARITY written on them but the word on the stamps was changed to HEALTH in 1932.

Except for 1929, 1930, 1939, 1940 and 1941, different designs had been used on the stamps each year. Some of the most well-known health stamps were the Red and Blue Boys which were the 1931 set. This set is quite rare because it was issued when New Zealand and the world economy were very low and, for this reason, not many of these stamps were sold. After 87 years, the health stamp series was discontinued due to declining mail volumes. 

Scenic stamps

Each year from 1972 the NZ Post has issued a scenic or tourist set of stamps to show the beauty of our country.

One of the most famous of these sets was issued in 1983. It was called Beautiful New Zealand and was very popular with overseas collectors.

Another very popular set was the set of stamps issued in a scenic booklet in 1992. The ten stamps when joined together showed a beautiful New Zealand scene but when separated, each stamp is a little picture of things like a waterfall, a glacier, hills, fern trees, the seashore, and a pōhutukawa tree.

Government Life stamps

When the NZ Post was first set up in New Zealand in 1840, Government departments were allowed to send their letters through the post without having to pay anything. Later, special stamps were issued to Government departments to put on their letters. These were simply ordinary stamps overprinted with the word 'Official'.

One Government Department that always had to pay postage was the Government Life Insurance Department. In 1891 special stamps were issued for this department and they showed a lighthouse with the words 'State Security' written on the rays from the lighthouse.

Then, in 1947, James Berry designed some new Government Life Insurance Department stamps which pictured New Zealand lighthouses and the famous Eddystone beacon off the Cornish coast in Great Britain.

New Zealand Government Life Insurance stamps were withdrawn from use on 30 September 1989 when Government Life became the Tower Corporation.

Christmas stamps

Since 1960, the NZ Post has released special Christmas stamp issues for the busy Christmas postal season. At first there was only one stamp in the Christmas issues but, from 1970 on Christmas issues have contained three to eight stamps.

Christmas stamps have featured Christmas scenes, churches in New Zealand, the flowering pōhutukawa tree at Christmas time, and the words of Christmas carols. The stamps have also shown the way New Zealanders celebrate Christmas such as at a Christmas Day picnic and surfing.

Other stamps

The first Air Mail stamp was issued on 10 November 1931 even though there was no regular airmail service at the time. These stamps showed a typical New Zealand scene with an aeroplane flying over a lake. A further stamp was soon overprinted with the words FIVE PENCE to raise the value of the stamp to use on special Christmas airmail flights. Then, to mark the first official airmail flight from New Zealand to Australia on 17 February 1934, another stamp was overprinted TRANS-TASMAN AIR MAIL "FAITH IN AUSTRALIA". The NZ Post stopped issuing air mail stamps at the end of 1939.

Express Delivery stamps were issued on 9 February 1903. Express Delivery was a service where payment of a special fee would mean that your letter would be specially delivered as soon as possible. The same stamp was used for 36 years until, on 16 August 1939, a new design showing a speeding car went on sale. Because of World War II, the Express Delivery service was stopped from December 1941 but the stamps stayed on sale until 30 June 1948.

Postage Due stamps were issued on 1 December 1899 to put on letters that had been posted without the correct postage on them. The design of the 1899 Postage Due stamps was a fancy green frame with the value of the stamp inside the frame in large red figures. This design was changed and new stamps issued in 1902 because the 1899 issue had been printed in a hurry and wasn't of very good quality. The NZ Post stopped issuing Postage Due stamps on 30 September 1951.

You have items in your cart