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Franking comprises all devices, markings, or combinations thereof ("franks") applied to mails of any class which qualifies them to be postally serviced. Types of franks include uncanceled and precanceled postage stamps (both adhesive and printed on postal stationery), impressions applied via postage meter (via so-called "postage evidencing systems"), official use "Penalty" franks, Business Reply Mail (BRM), and other permit Imprints (Indicia), manuscript and facsimile "franking privilege" signatures, "soldier's mail" markings, and any other forms authorized by the 192 postal administrations that are members of the Universal Postal Union. [1]


Types and methods

An 1832 stampless single-sheet "Liverpool Ship Letter" pen franked "Paid 5" by a U.S. postal clerk in Philadelphia, PA Liverpool Ship Letter Phila 1832.jpg
An 1832 stampless single-sheet "Liverpool Ship Letter" pen franked "Paid 5" by a U.S. postal clerk in Philadelphia, PA

While all affixed postage stamps and other markings applied to mail to qualify it for postal service is franking, not all types and methods are used to frank all types or classes of mails. Each of the world's national and other postal administrations establishes and regulates the specific methods and standards of franking as they apply to domestic operations within their own postal systems. [2] Although there are differences in the manner that the postal systems of the 192 nations [3] that belong to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) apply and regulate the way their mails are franked, most mails fall under one (and sometimes more) of four major types and/or methods of franking: postage (stamps, etc.), privilege, official business, and business reply mail.

Modern postal clerk script franking with CDS (Ukraine) Ukraine PO Script Franking with CDS.jpg
Modern postal clerk script franking with CDS (Ukraine)

Any and all conflicts that might arise affecting the franking of mails serviced by multiple administrations which result from differences in these various postal regulations and/or practices are mediated by the UPU, a specialized agency of the United Nations which sets the rules and technical standards for international mail exchanges. [4] [5] The UPU co-ordinates the application of the regulations of postal systems of its member nations, including as they relate to franking, to permit the servicing and exchange of international mails. [6] Prior to the establishment of the UPU in 1874, international mails sometimes bore mixed franking (the application of franking of more than one country) before the world's postal services universally agreed to deliver international mails bearing only the franking of the country of origin.

Postage (stamps, etc)

1840 (UK) Penny black.jpg
1840 (UK)
Postally franked German Air Mail cover (Berlin-Buenos Aires via D-LZ127 Graf Zeppelin (1934)) D-LZ127 First South America Flight 1934.jpg
Postally franked German Air Mail cover (Berlin-Buenos Aires via D-LZ127 Graf Zeppelin (1934))

"Postage" franking is the physical application and presence of postage stamps, or any other markings recognized and accepted by the postal system or systems providing service, which indicate the payment of sufficient fees for the class of service which the item of mail is to be or had been afforded. Prior to the introduction to the world's first postage stamps in Britain in 1840 ("Penny Black") and 1841 ("Penny Red"), pre-paid franking was applied exclusively by a manuscript or handstamped "Paid" marking and the amount of the fee collected. [7] The first US postage stamp was the red brown Five cent Franklin (SC-1) issued in 1847.

1847 (US) Franklin SC1 1847.jpg
1847 (US)
Machine printed postal frank (India) Freimachung-IND.jpg
Machine printed postal frank (India)

In addition to stamps, postage franking can be in the form of printed or stamped impressions made in an authorized format and applied directly by a franking machine, postage meter, computer generated franking labels or other similar methods ("Postage Evidencing Systems"), [8] any form of preprinted "postage paid" notice authorized by a postal service permit ("Indicia"), [9] or any other marking method accepted by the postal service and specified by its regulations, as proof of the prepayment of the appropriate fees. Postal franking also includes "Postage Due" stamps or markings affixed by a postal service which designate any amount of insufficient or omitted postage fees to be collected on delivery. [10]

Franking privilege

Machine cancelled U.S. Congressional frank Congressional Frank 1921 T.S. Butler.jpg
Machine cancelled U.S. Congressional frank

"Privilege" franking is a personally pen-signed or printed facsimile signature of a person [11] with a "franking privilege" such as certain government officials (especially legislators) and others designated by law or Postal Regulations. This allows the letter or other parcel to be sent without the application of a postage stamp. In the United States this is called the "Congressional frank" which can only be used for "Official Business" mail. [12] [13]

WWI pen franked "Soldier Mail" WWI Pen Franked "Soldier Mail" Cover.jpg
WWI pen franked "Soldier Mail"

In addition to this type of franking privilege, from time to time (especially during wartimes) governments and/or postal administrations also authorize active duty service members and other designated individuals to send mails for free by writing "Free" or "Soldier's Mail" (or equivalent) on the item of mail in lieu of paid postal franking, or by using appropriate free franked postal stationery. In the United States, unless otherwise designated, such mails are serviced by both the military and civil postal systems that accept them as First Class letter mail. [14]

"Official Business"

"Penalty Mail Stamp" US Penalty Mail Stamp.jpg
"Penalty Mail Stamp"
"Official Business" franking from Great Britain (c. 1978) Official Paid Scan.jpg
"Official Business" franking from Great Britain (c. 1978)

"Official Business" franking is any frank printed on or affixed to mails which are designated as being for official business of national governments (i.e. governments which also have postal administrations) and thus qualify for postal servicing without any additional paid franking. [15] In Commonwealth countries the printed frank reads "Official Paid" and is used by government departments on postmarks, stationery, adhesive labels, official stamps, and handstruck or machine stamps.

In Canada, the monarch, the Governor General, members of the Senate of Canada, members of the House of Commons, the Clerk of the House of Commons, Parliamentary Librarian, Associate Parliamentary Librarian, officers of parliament, and the Senate Ethics Officer all have franking privilege and mails sent to or from these people are sent free of charge. Bulk mail from members of the House of Commons is limited to four mailings per year and to the member's own electoral district. Individuals may send letters to any of the above office-holders without charge. [16]

US "Penalty" frank Penalty Franking.jpg
US "Penalty" frank

In the United States such mails are sent using postal stationery or address labels that include a "Penalty" frank ("Penalty For Private Use To Avoid Payment of Postage $300") [17] printed on the piece of mail, and/or is franked with Penalty Mail Stamps (PMS) of appropriate value. [18] Such mails are generally serviced as First Class Mail (or equivalent) unless otherwise designated (such as "bulk" mailings).

"Business Reply Mail"

BRM franking (US) Business Reply Mail.svg
BRM franking (US)

"Business Reply Mail" (BRM) franking is a preprinted frank with a Permit number which authorizes items so marked to be posted as First Class Mail with the authorizing postal service without advance payment by the person posting the item. (International Reply Mail may specify Air Mail as the class of service.) Postage fees for BRM are paid by the permit holder upon its delivery to the specified address authorized by the permit and preprinted on the item of business reply mail. Governments also use BRM to permit replies associated with official business purposes. [19] [20]

History of the "franking privilege"

A limited form of franking privilege originated in the British Parliament in 1660, with the passage of an act authorizing the formation of the General Post Office. By 1772, the abundance of franked letters represented lost revenue of more than one third the total collections of the Post Office. [21] In the 19th century, as use of the post office [22] increased significantly in Britain, it was expected that anybody with a Parliament connection would get his friends' mail franked.

In the United States, the franking privilege predates the establishment of the republic itself, as the Continental Congress bestowed it on its members in 1775. The First United States Congress enacted a franking law in 1789 during its very first session. Congress members would spend much time "inscribing their names on the upper right-hand corner of official letters and packages" until the 1860s for the purpose of sending out postage free mail. Yet, on January 31, 1873, the Senate abolished "the congressional franking privilege after rejecting a House-passed provision that would have provided special stamps for the free mailing of printed Senate and House documents." Within two years, however, Congress began to make exceptions to this ban, including free mailing of the Congressional Record, seeds, and agricultural reports. Finally, in 1891, noting that its members were the only government officials required to pay postage, Congress restored full franking privileges. Since then, the franking of congressional mail has been subject to ongoing review and regulation.

The phrase franking is derived from the Latin word "francus" meaning free. Another use of that term is speaking "frankly", i.e. "freely". Because Benjamin Franklin was an early United States Postmaster General, satirist Richard Armour referred to free congressional mailings as the "Franklin privilege."

A U.S. Congressional franked mailing Franked.jpg
A U.S. Congressional franked mailing

The use of a franking privilege is not absolute but is generally limited to official business, constituent bulk mails, and other uses as prescribed by law, such as the "Congressional Frank" afforded to Members of Congress in the United States. This is not "free" franking, however, as the USPS is compensated for the servicing of these mails by annual tax-funded appropriations against which each Member is given a budgeted amount upon which he or she may draw.

A six-member bipartisan Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, colloquially known as the "Franking Commission," is responsible for oversight and regulation of the franking privilege in the Congress. [23] Among the Commission's responsibilities is to establish the "Official Mail Allowance" for each Member based proportionally on the number of constituents they serve. Certain other persons are also accorded the privilege such as Members-elect and former presidents and their spouse or widow as well. A president who is convicted in the Senate as a result of an impeachment trial would not have a franking privilege after being forced to leave office. [24] The sitting president does not have personal franking privileges but the vice president, who is also President of the Senate, does.

In Italy, mail sent to the President was free of charge until this franking privilege was abolished in 1999. [25]

In New Zealand, individuals (though not organisations) writing to a Member of Parliament can do so without paying for postage. [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

An international reply coupon (IRC) is a coupon that can be exchanged for one or more postage stamps representing the minimum postage for an unregistered priority airmail letter of up to twenty grams sent to another Universal Postal Union (UPU) member country. IRCs are accepted by all UPU member countries.

Universal Postal Union Specialised agency of the United Nations

The Universal Postal Union, established by the Treaty of Bern of 1874, is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration (CA), the Postal Operations Council (POC) and the International Bureau (IB). It also oversees the Telematics and Express Mail Service (EMS) cooperatives. Each member agrees to the same terms for conducting international postal duties. The UPU's headquarters are located in Bern, Switzerland.

United States Postal Service Independent agency of the United States federal government

The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the executive branch of the United States federal government responsible for providing postal service in the United States, including its insular areas and associated states. It is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution.

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The mail or post is a system for physically transporting postcards, letters, and parcels. A postal service can be private or public, though many governments place restrictions on private systems. Since the mid-19th century, national postal systems have generally been established as a government monopoly, with a fee on the article prepaid. Proof of payment is usually in the form of an adhesive postage stamp, but a postage meter is also used for bulk mailing.


An envelope is a common packaging item, usually made of thin, flat material. It is designed to contain a flat object, such as a letter or card.


An overprint is an additional layer of text or graphics added to the face of a postage stamp, banknote or postal stationery after it has been printed. Post offices most often use overprints for internal administrative purposes such as accounting but they are also employed in public mail. The most well-recognized varieties are commemorative overprints which are produced for their public appeal and command significant interest in the field of philately.

The Private Express Statutes (PES) are a group of United States federal civil and criminal laws placing various restrictions on the carriage and delivery of letters by all organizations other than the United States Postal Service.

Postage stamps and postal history of the United States Began with the delivery of stampless letters

The history of postal service of the United States began with the delivery of stampless letters, whose cost was borne by the receiving person, later also encompassed pre-paid letters carried by private mail carriers and provisional post offices, and culminated in a system of universal prepayment that required all letters to bear nationally issued adhesive postage stamps.

This is a list of philatelic topics.

A personalized stamp is a postage stamp or rubber stamp or dry stamp, with an adjoining label on the left, on which, for a fee, an image and/or text of the purchaser's choosing may be placed. The stamps vary from country to country, and while some are normal stamps with a personalised label on the left attached by perforations, elsewhere the stamps are more properly regarded as one-piece personalized meter stamps with a colourful design next to the indicia. Stamps produced by for the United States, for instance, are one-piece, self-adhesive with die cut margins to emulate perforations, and visually very similar to normal United States postage stamps, except for the addition of an IBI along one edge. Also, a numeric serial number appears next to IBI. Also produced in rubber by around the world with creative designs for different porpuses.

History of United States postage rates

The system for mail delivery in the United States has developed with the nation. Rates were based on the distance between sender and receiver in the early years of the nation. In the middle of the 19th century, rates stabilized to one price regardless of distance. Rates were relatively unchanged until 1968, when the price was increased every few years by a small amount. Comparing the increases with a price index, the price of a first class stamp has been steady. The logo for the Post Office showed a man on a running horse, even as the railroads and then motorized trucks moved mail. In 1970, the Post Office became the Postal Service, with rates set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, and some oversight by the Congress. Air mail became standard in 1975. In the 21st century, prices were segmented to match the sorting machinery in use; letters too large for the machines required slightly higher postage.

Postage meter

A postage meter or franking machine is a mechanical device used to create and apply physical evidence of postage to mailed items. Postage meters are regulated by a country's postal authority. A postage meter imprints an amount of postage, functioning as a postage stamp, a cancellation and a dated postmark all in one. The meter stamp serves as proof of payment and eliminates the need for adhesive stamps.

Postal order

A postal order, postal note or money order is a financial instrument usually intended for sending money through the mail. It is purchased at a post office and is payable at another post office to the named recipient. A small fee for the service, known as poundage, is paid by the purchaser. In the United States, this is known as a postal money order. Postal orders are not legal tender, but a type of promissory note, similar to a cheque.


Freepost is a postal service provided by various postal administrations, whereby a person sends mail without affixing postage, and the recipient pays the postage when collecting the mail. Freepost differs from self-addressed stamped envelopes, courtesy reply mail, and metered reply mail in that the recipient of the freepost pays only for those items that are actually received, rather than for all that are distributed.

Facing Identification Mark

The Facing Identification Mark, or FIM, is a bar code designed by the United States Postal Service to assist in the automated processing of mail. The FIM is a set of vertical bars printed on the envelope or postcard near the upper edge, just to the left of the postage area. The FIM is intended for use primarily on preprinted envelopes and postcards and is applied by the company printing the envelopes or postcards, not by the USPS.

Metered reply mail, or MRM, is a type of mail in which a business sends pre-printed, self-addressed envelopes or postcards to customers, with postage prepaid on the envelopes or postcards with a postage meter. It is thus similar to courtesy reply mail with a postage stamp already affixed.

Hrvatska pošta

Croatian Post Inc., founded in 1999, is a business corporation in ownership of the Republic of Croatia. Croatian Post is a national postal operator of the Republic of Croatia. Post offices of the Croatian Post form one of the widest services and retail networks in the country. Apart from postal services Croatian Post offers also payment services, retail services and digital TV service in the whole territory of Croatia. Croatian Post is also one of the founders and a full member of the Association of European Public Postal Operators (PostEurop), while Croatia is a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Croatian Post also issues postage stamps of Croatia.

Official mail

Official mail is mail sent from, or by, an authorized department of government, governmental agency or international organization and normally has some indication that it is official; a certifying cachet, return address or other means of identity, indicating its user. In some countries, postage stamps have been issued specifically for official mail.

Free Frank

A Free Frank was a mark applied by means of a hand-stamp to parliamentary mail in Britain to indicate that the mailed item did not require postage. The privilege of free franking was granted to four different classes: Members of Parliament; peers sitting in the House of Lords; office-holders, largely as stipulated by Acts of Parliament; and to archbishops and bishops sitting in the House of Lords. Requirement for free franking were that the mailed cover had to be signed by the official sender. As a result, free franks were avidly sought during the first three decades of the nineteenth century for autograph collections. This was accomplished by cutting out the front panels of the envelope which carried the inscriptions which were required under the use of this privilege. These panels are referred to by collectors as free fronts.

This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Yemen.


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  13. 39 U.S.C.   § 3210
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