Why Are These Postage Stamps Cut in Half?

Feb 8, 2018 0 comments

Would you cut a ten dollar bill in half and use as two five dollar bills? Of course not. It's silly to even suggest something like that. Likewise, cutting a postage stamp in half would invalidate it immediately and the stamp would cease to be legal. But there was time, not very long ago, when the post office used to honor bisected stamps.

Unless you are into philately, you might not have heard about or seen a bisected stamp. These are stamps that are cut mostly diagonally across and used in post to pay half its face value. For example, a ten cent stamp could be cut in half and used as two five cent stamps. Some went even further and cut stamps in thirds and other fractions.


A bisected stamp used in the Island of Guernsey during World War 2.

The practice was permitted only in extreme cases when stocks of a certain stamp ran dry and the postmaster resorted to cutting higher denomination stamps in half, vertically or diagonally, thus producing two stamps each representing half of the original face value. At times even the public got into this act. This happened mostly in the early years of stamps and the postal system, in the late 1840's and early 1850's, when the procedures and mechanisms for distribution of stamps had not yet been developed.

The United States of America, the British, the Germans, and many other European and Asian countries used bisected stamps at some point in history. Mexico was known to have used stamps cut in half, three-quarters, quarters and even eighths.

Bisected stamps are valuable to collectors today because of their rarity, but only when the cut portion is still affixed to the envelope and shows the postmark proving that they were accepted as postage. Otherwise, anybody can cut a stamp in half.


A bisected stamp and full regular stamp of 1868 on a cover from Matanzas to Guanajay, La Habana Province, Cuba. The bisected stamp was 20 céntimos before cutting it in two for use as 10 céntimos de escudo.


A 10 cent Mexican stamp cut in half and used as a 5 cent stamp in 1916.


A 12 cent United States postage stamp bisected with a January 12, 1852 Sonora, California cancellation


A 1 cent United States postage stamp bisect with an intact 1 cent stamp to pay 1.5 cents in 1925.


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