Love them or hate them, Indian States are familiar to King George VI collectors. However it is possibly not so surprising just how many people are unsure exactly what they are and how they came to be called thus. The following is an abbreviated history and simple explanation of the two groups.
It struck me that reading the Stanley Gibbons catalogue did not shed much light on the status of the two types. If we deal first with the Convention States, there were six Convention States in all - Chamba, Faridkot, Gwalior, Jind, Nabha, and Patiala. All but Faridkot are familiar with KG VI collectors, as although this State signed a Postal Convention with the Imperial Government in 1887, they did not issue overprinted stamps of India after 1901. Hence the Convention States derived their name as a result of entering into Postal Conventions with the British administration in India, and not because of any political stance.
The Feudatory States had the same political status as the Convention States, in that they were subject to the authority of the British Administration, so in effect both groups are 'Feudatory'. Although this particular group are sometimes known by the collective title of Native States to collectors, they are possibly more correctly called the Princely States today. So in summary, the Stanley Gibbons catalogue refers to Convention and Feudatory States; Scott catalogue refers to Convention and Native States (although the term Native is very outmoded, being abandoned by the Imperial British Government after World War 1). In political circles even the term Feudatory refers back to a pre-capitalist, pre-modern society, but is understood by collectors as those States that maintained their own postage system and did not sign up to Postal Conventions. Any mail going out of one of these States required not only their locally produced stamps but also those of the Imperial government. Internal postage could be satisfied by local issues. The vast majority (some 629 States) accepted the push for postal unity, the six Convention States joining them on condition they were allowed to overprint the Indian stamps with their unique names.
You must remember at the time the East India Company appeared on the scene there were in excess of six hundred 'states' governed by Maharajas and Maharanis, Nawabs, Rajas, Sultans, Princes and Princesses. These States had emerged in a haphazard fashion, either established by a warlord or a tribal leader from the collapsing Mogul empire that preceded the days of the East India Company. There were still over 500 of these States in 1940 which varied in size from a few hectares (many acres) to 82,000 square miles (Hyderabad, the largest, with a population of 16 million in 1940). So piecemeal were these territories that each one was not necessarily a single unit of land. Gwalior, for example, comprised one large area and several smaller individual scattered parts. Politically, no State was allowed international relations thus the whole of India appeared 'British'. At the same time there was no uniformity in the relationship between the different States and the British administration. These developed on an individual basis, which sometimes involved formal treaties. These centres of power disappeared in an instant on Independence. However, administratively, there are still Union States today, twenty eight in all, with the last three only be added as recently as 2000.
Acknowledgements: R.Solly Indian Postal Notes - P.Order News.
Published in Sixth Sense No. 67