Q5 5c Parcel Post Stamp, 1913, Shanghai China Darrah overprint, PF Certified


1913 Unofficial Darrah Overprints of the US Postal Agency, Shanghai, China

During 1848-1849 at the time of the California gold rush, regular New York-to-San Francisco service was established by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. The transcontinental telegraph was completed, and the Central Pacific Railroad incorporated in 1861. With communications to the west obviously greatly improved, President Lincoln authorized a mail steamship service to China on 17 February 1865. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company received a contract to provide this service.

The following year, in 1867, the first mail delivery to Shanghai was effected, and the operation of the Shanghai Postal Agency began. It remained under the direction of the consul general in Shanghai until 1907. On 25 September 1907, the Postmaster General ordered that John M. Darrah “is hereby appointed United States Postal Agent at Shanghai, in China, and his compensation is fixed at twenty-three hundred dollars ($2,300) per annum, United States gold.” Now, for the first time, a full-time agent devoted his efforts to managing and improving the service at Shanghai. John Darrah served as Shanghai office Postal Agent until the agency was closed in 1922.

John Darrah from all accounts was a very patriotic civil servant. When he saw other countries issue or overpint stamps destined for use in China, he believed the United States was missing an opportunity. In December 1913, he had a local French newspaper publisher overprint US stamps. About 40 different designs from the post office stock were overprinted “SHANGHAI CHINA” with 2 different types of overprints for sale in the post office: black overprints on 13c 1902 issue (#308), 1c to 8c 1910 issue (#374-380), 10c and 50c 1912 issue (#416,422), 2c Postage Due (#J39), 10c Secial Delivery (E8), 10c Registry (#F1), black and blue overprints on 1c to 25c Parcel Post (#Q1-Q9) and red overprints on 1c to 25c Parcel Post Postage Due (#JQ1-JQ5). One sheet of each were reportedly overprinted. Certification is recommended as there are currently forgeries in the market coming out of Romania and being sold on eBay.

Some of the unauthorized stamps were used, with just a few covers being known to exist. Since the stamps were unauthorized, they are not be in the usual catalogs, however they do appear in the Chan Catalog of Chinese stamps. An inverted overprint was done on purpose to add another collectible variety and is not an error. Many of the stamps went to collectors & a few were used in the local mails or cancelled as hand back souvenirs. At least one cover went via UPU treaty to Paris and exists today. That means it was accepted as postally paid and valid by the various countries that carried the cover from China to Paris.

Within a week, when the postal authorities in Washington, DC got wind of this they wrote a stern letter to Darrah demanding him to cease issuing the overprints and demanding an explanation. Apparently he claimed they were precancels which he had the authority to issue. The practice ceased in any event and it is not known if Darrah was subject to any disciplinary action.

On May 24, 1919, the USPOD began overprinting the third Bureau regular issue for US mail despatched from the US Postal Agency in Shanghai (Scott #s K1 – K18). The purpose for the official overprints was purely economical. At first, the U.S. Postal Agency accepted payment in U.S. currency only, which was inconvenient for many customers. By not accepting Chinese currency, the Postal Agency was also hurting its revenue. That changed in 1919, when the Shanghai office finally decided to accept Chinese currency. By that time, the value of the Chinese tael was equal to half a U.S. dollar. New stamps were printed with the exchange rate, which was double the stamp’s face value. So the 1¢ stamp was overprinted 2¢, the 2¢ stamp was overprinted 4¢ and so on. While the official overpints are generally well-known, Darrah Shanghai overprints are scarce.

Additional information

Catalog Number



F, used, short perf at corner


white wove


5 cent


Shanghai China, Black type III


Black oval

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