dienst

Official mail - dienst brief

As most stamp-issuing territories, the Netherlands Indies has a history of special cancellations and stamps for the use on official mail sent free of charge to and from administrative departments.


In the British interim administration, 1811-1816, letters are found with the word ‘service’ written on the front of letters sent free of charge (as stipulated by the ‘Regulations for the Postestablishments on the Isle of Java’, issued in 1811). In the Dutch period that followed, letters most often carry the hand-written notation ‘dienst’.


It is in the Dutch colonial period that we find the oval official mail cancels, similar in shape to the usual town cancellations. The ‘dienst brief’ cancels are known from Buitenzorg, Ceram, Djokjokarta, Magelang, Malang, Passaroeang, Pattie, Poerwodadie, Samarang, Soerakarta, Sourabaya. In addition, we have a handful of negative-impression cancellations that appear to have been used only for official mail. These are very scarce indeed and are recorded with the following texts: ‘Generaal Postkantoor te Batavia’,  ‘Generaal Postkantoor te Soerabaya’, ‘Hoofdpostkantoor te Batavia’, ‘Postkantoor te Samarang’, ‘Postkantoor Residentie Tagal’.


(information from Wolff de Beer, De Poststempels in Gebruik in Nederlands Oost-Indie van 1789 tot 1864, pp. 70-72.)


Undated official lettersheet from the British administration period marked ‘services’ upper right and sent from Tagal to Mr P. Langewagen, assistant to the resident at Samarang. The letter shows the ink corrosion so common with old mail from the tropical regions but it is a very rare survival of official mail from the early colonial period.


Normally, a tariff marking was added in pen at the bottom inside the red Tagal cancel, but as this letter was sent free of charge, the cancel remains unannotated.

The oval ''Dienst Brief' cancel (left), is known to have been used by postoffices in 11 of the major cities in Java. The much rarer negative cancel (right), which doesn't state official mail explicitly, is known from five major postoffices in Batavia, Soerabaya, Semarang, and Tagal.

Postkantoor te Samarang red negative postmark on official mail to the Hague from around 1825. Arrival in Dutch port Hellevoetsluis. The letter was taxed 12 cent on arrival but this rate was crossed out as this was an official mail.

Undated cover from Buitenzorg to the Batavia Society for Arts and Sciences. Marked 'Dienst' and signed by the sender bottom left.

A written report on vessels passing through the Sunda Strait that runs between Java and Sumatra in the final week of October 1850. The official letter is dated Anjer 1 November, 1850 and is cancelled with the blue ‘Dienst Brief Ceram’ known to be used in 1849 and 1850. Ceram was later named Serang and is in Banten province, the westernmost province on Java, next to the Sunda Strait.


The letter provides detailed information of ships sailing through the Sunda Strait from Batavia (bound for Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Trieste, London), Shanghai (for New York), Manila (for New York), Canton (for Boston), and Hong Kong (for England).

Dated Serang 2. June 1845 and sent to Batavia. The 'Dienst Brief Ceram' postmark in red is much rarer than the blue and is only known from the year 1845.

A large fragment with a rare and crisp blue ‘Dienst Brief Samarang’ which, according to de Beer, has only been recorded in use in 1840. The sender was ‘de Kontroleur bij de Landelijke Inkomsten en kultures’ in Semarang. The title of ‘Kontroleur’ was instituted in Java in 1827 and denoted personnel that ranked below the ‘assistant-resident’ in the colonial administrative hierarchy.

Malang 'dienst brief' to Batavia. Undated wrapper. The Malang official mail cancel is only found in red ink and has been recorded in use between 1851-1861, according to Wolff de Beer’s catalogue.

The 'Dienst Brief Sourabaya' postmark is recorded in red and blue. It is quite scarce and no more than five copies are recorded in blue. Official letter of 1843 to the Resident in Passeroean. This postmark is only known in use in 1843.

On this undated letter, the un-prepaid cancel (‘Passaroeang Ongefrankeerd’) was first applied in error and on top of it was placed the ‘Dienst Brief Passaroeang’. The letter is marked ‘Dienst’ and ‘Agenten Pasoeroewan’ and was sent to Soerabaya. The recorded use of the Passaroeang official cancel is 1852-1864. Both of the two oval cancels have a notable dent top right.

This letter was previously in the collection of Mr Wolff de Beer. It is the only recorded use of the framed SOLOK postmark from the pre-philatelic period and it was used here as an arrivel mark. The framed SINGKARA mark is known only on official mail. This is an incomplete letter unfortunately undated. Sent from Singkara to the Magistrate in Solok in Sumatra.


The administrative mark bottom left says KONTROLEUR DER XX KOTTAS; as far as I have been able to find out, a kotta is an administrative region on Sumatra's west coast, and the controller of this kotta number XX was resident in Singkara.

A sizeable official letter sent from Batavia (the official handstamp on the front is illegible) 17/11 1869 to Bawean by Sourabaya. The letter contains a 'Process verbaal', a detailed authenticated account drawn up by a lawyer or magistrate.