The United Kingdom issued the world’s first adhesive stamp, the Penny Black, on May 1, 1840. It featured the profile of Queen Victoria but was not valid for public postal use until May 6 of the same year.
Starting in the 1840s, postage stamps have been utilized in letter and mail delivery. However, before the existence of adhesive postage stamps, ink and hand-stamps made of wood or cork were used. Thus, the term stamp. Both tools to mark the mail and indicate that postage payment has been made.
Truth to be told, when postal services first operated, stamps and even envelopes were not present yet. People were not fond of using envelopes as they were regarded as an additional sheet of paper that only increases the fees of sending their mail. Postage fees then were equal to a daily salary, and the charge also varied on how many sheets of paper were consumed plus the distance it had to travel. With that, people only had to fold their letters then seal it shut.
Moreover, the recipient of the letter will have to shoulder the postage fees. It was an expensive affair, forcing a lot of people to reject accepting their mails. They were also witty ones who wrote secret codes to avoid paying delivery charges. They would inscribe secret marks on the outside part of the mail. The receiver would only need to decode the secret message, reject the letter, and don’t pay anything for the postal services.
Due to the said issues and anomalies, the postal services had to devise a new system when postage fees must be paid first, and the sender would have to shoulder it.
On February 13, 1837, Sir Rowland Hill, an English teacher, inventor, and social reformer, submitted a proposal to the government to incorporate pre-paid stamp and pre-paid envelopes (as an enclosure for mailing letters) in the postal services. Luckily, Hill has been approved a two-year contract to reform and run a new system. Together with Henry Cole, a civil servant and inventor, Hill declared a design competition for the first-ever adhesive stamp. The contest was a success, garnering around 2,600 entries in total. However, even with that huge number, they thought nothing was suitable. Instead, they have chosen Hill’s rough design featuring a quickly recognizable profile of then Princess Victoria. They believed that the design was tough to forge. William Mulready, an Irish-genre painter, designed the Mulready stationery letter sheets, the first postage envelope issued.
The first postage stamps cost one penny. Plus, it was printed in black, making it renowned as the Penny Black. It allowed letters of up to 1⁄2 ounce or 14 grams to be mailed at a flat rate of a single penny, regardless of the distance it had to travel.
The Penny Black was sold to the public starting on May 1, 1840. However, it only became available for use on May 6, 1840, after its validation. The stamp does not have any perforations, as the first stamps issued were cut from their sheets manually using scissors.
However, it only stayed in circulation for a year. Postal service soon discovered that the red cancellation mark could be possibly removed, which allows people to re-use the stamp. With that, they decided to shift to the Penny Red and used black cancellation ink to prevent forgery.
What noticeable in the first stamp issued by the United Kingdom is that they did not include their country name on the postage stamps. In fact, they are the only country whose name is not inscribed on its stamps. Instead, they utilize their reigning royalty’s profile as a means of their identification. Thus, Queen Victoria’s head on the Penny Black.
After the issuance of the Penny Black and the introduction of other postage stamps after it, the utilization of the new pre-paid postage system had drastically increased the number of mails and items being sent in the country. It was surmised that 76 million letters were sent before 1839 and raised about five times in 1850 at around 350 million. The numbers of letters being sent continued to grow radically upwards since then. It was only at the end of the 20th century when the use of the postage-paid systems requiring postage stamps declined due to the introduction of modern methods of communication.
Penny Black (Wikipedia)
Penny Red (Wikipedia
Sir Rowland Hill (Wikipedia)
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