The International Reply Coupon (IRC) was introduced at the 1906 Universal Postal Union (UPU) Congress in
Collectors classify IRCs by design (or “frame”), with the design taking its name from the city where the UPU Congress was held that adopted the design. Table 1 summarizes the five basic designs that have appeared over the past 100 years:
The available information on
II. Rome Design (1907–1930)
During this nearly 23-year classic coupon period, Luxembourg issued five Rome-design IRCs. They paid four different tariffs. Moreover, when the tariff was increased, some of the coupons were uprated with the new value in manuscript. All of the Rome-frame coupons are very scarce.
January 11, 1910.
Roodt, December 26, 1919,
and uprated in manuscript to 55 centimes
III. London Design (1930 – 1965)
During the 35 years that the
Postmarked Luxembourg-Ville, September 1939
IV. Vienna Design (1965-1975)
The four different Vienna-design IRCs known for
V. Lausanne Design (1975-2002)
Varieties that I have not seen listed for Luxembourg include Lausanne printings with (i) “par voie aérienne” instead of “par voie de surface” on the front, and (ii) “CN01” instead of “C22” in the front upper right corner, and (iii) printings without the broken circle in the box on the right. The only known varieties are summarized in Table 6.
Horizontal UPU watermark
VI. Beijing Design: Models 1 & 2; Centenary Printing
2002 - 2007
Shown below are the two Beijing-model IRCs. The first appeared in 2002 and was valid for exchange until
In February 2007, a special printing of the Beijing Model 2 IRC appeared to commemorate a century of IRC use. The Centenary IRC has the inscription “1907 – 2007” added, as shown below in a cut from the specimen posted on the UPU website. Since February, only
Centenary Inscription “1907 – 2007”
on the Bejing Model 2 Special Printing
VII. IRCs & Ponzi Schemes
IRCs gained international attention early in 1920 when Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), a renowned international swindler, touted them as the inspiration for what is now commonly referred to as a “Ponzi scheme.” The phrase denotes an investment scheme in which the investor’s returns are paid not from profitable investments but rather from the inflow of cash from new investors.
In August 1919 a Spanish businessman enclosed an IRC with a request for a publication Ponzi had been promoting. Upon seeing the coupon, Ponzi realized that based on post-war exchange rates, IRCs bought in much of
In fact Ponzi never used his investors’ money to engage in IRC arbitrage. He quickly learned that the IRCs could only be exchanged for stamps, not cash, and that they were not intended for financial speculation. But by July 1920, Ponzi was taking in $250,000 a day in investments, and his success continued until Post magazine revealed that to cover the investments made with his company, 160,000,000 IRCs would have had to be in circulation—in fact, at that time only about 27,000 were actually circulating.
When federal agents shut down Ponzi’s company on
After a century of use, the IRC remains a viable means for writers to prepay the return postage for letters from their correspondents. And finding Luxembourg IRCs − particularly the various
Basien, Dieter & Hoffkamp, Fernand, Tarife der Briefpost in Luxemburg 1852-2002, (
Hurtré, André, website: “Postal Reply Coupons—International Reply Coupons,” http://www.couponreponse.fr/
Paul-August Koch, Wim V. M. Wiggers de Vries, and Auguste Wery, Die Internationalen Antwortscheine von Belgien und Luxemburg (Krefeld-Traar: Bund Deutscher Philatelisten e.V., 1984).