Scinde Dawk: The Ancient Postal System of Sindh

Scinde Dawk was an ancient postal system of runners that served the region of Indus Valley of Sindh, an area of current-day Pakistan. The word also refers to the 1st adhesive postage stamps in the region of Asia, the forerunners of the adhesive stamps utilized throughout the states of India, Burma, the Straits Settlements and other areas controlled by the British East India Company. The term derives from the words “Scinde”, the British spelling of the name of the province of Sindh, and “Dawk”, the anglicized spelling of the Hindustani word “Dak” or Post.

Bckground of Scinde Dawk

The Scinde Dawk was a very historical postal system of runners. The runners were paid in accordance with their distance of travel and the weight of their letters. This was a regional Indus Valley system, inefficient and inadequate for the military and commercial requirements of the British East India Company after their conquest of Sindh province in the year of February, 1843, following the Battle of Miani.

Reform of the postal system

Sir Bartle Frere of the East India Company became the Chief Commissioner of Sindh province in the year of 1850. Following the English example set by Rowland Hill, Frere improved upon the postal system of Sindh province by launching a cheap and uniform rate for postage, independent of distance travelled. In the year of 1851, the runners were replaced with an efficient system using horses and camels, following routes via Scinde province, basically along the valley of the Indus River. The mail was carried quickly and efficiently, linking government offices and post offices from Karachi city through Kotri and Hyderabad city up to Sukkur in the north.

The stamps

Stamps were needed for the prepayment of postage, a basic characteristic of the new system. These stamps, first released on the day of July 1, 1852, bore the Merchants’ Mark of the British East India Company in a design embossed on wafers of red sealing wax impressed on paper. Because they cracked and disintegrated, they were soon replaced by a colourless design embossed on white paper which was diiifcult to see in a dim light. The last stamps were a blue embossing on white paper. All of these had a value of only one-half anna each, but today they rank among the rare classics of philately.

Forgeries

Forgeries of these rare stamps are plentiful. The most simply detected fakes aren’t embossed on paper. Other crude fakes show a misalignment of the second letter ‘A’ of ANNA with the ‘K’ of DAWK; and in other fakes the ‘1/2’ is not separated from the central heart shaped emblem.

Later developments

After the Scinde Dawk, Colonel Forbes of the Calcutta Mint came up with an essay for a postage stamp depicting a lion and palm tree. This, and several other essays, was never printed because Forbes couldn’t ensure an adequate supply with the restricted machinery at hand. Soon after, new, lithographed stamps printed by the Survey Office appeared in various denominations valid for use throughout British India as part of sweeping postal reforms.

The British East India Company’s posts are significant, because the “Great Company” held sway over so much of the world’s commerce in those days, extending across Asia and East Africa. It had its own armies, coinage, and postal service; built railways and public works; and acted like an imperial force long before the Empire was developed.

 

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