This Day in History (6-May-1840) – 1st postage stamps (Penny Black) issued (Great Britain)

Before the use of adhesive paper stamps, letters were hand stamped or postmarked with ink. Postmarks were the invention of Henry Bishop and were at first called ‘Bishop mark’ after the inventor. Bishop marks were first used in 1661 at the London General Post Office. They marked the day and month the letter was mailed. A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837, an act for which he was knighted. Through his efforts the first stamp in the world was issued in England in 1840. Roland Hill also created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight rather than size.

Earlier the charge was for each sheet of paper that a letter comprised, and for the distance covered. The receiver had to pay and not the sender! So a letter of two pages travelling one hundred miles would cost 18 pence or one shilling and six pence. From 1840 the same letter if it weighed under half an ounce cost the sender just one penny. The  introduction of uniform penny postage resulted in increased trade and prosperity, with more people sending letters, postcards and Christmas cards than ever before.Though uniform rates began in January, the introduction of prepaid stamps and stationery took nearly four more months, becoming valid for postage on May 6, 1840.

Hill chose a printer, the leading security printing firm of Perkins, Bacon & Petch. He also selected a simple design that showed Queen Victoria’s profile. Perkins, Bacon commissioned the artist Henry Corbould to draw her image, basing his work on a medal by William Wyon. Hill chose black ink for the penny stamp, which became known as the Penny Black. For letters just over half an ounce, a two pence value was needed. Hill changed only the stamp color and lettering, creating the Twopenny Blue. The profile of Queen Victoria’s head, remained on all British stamps for the next sixty years. Hill’s stamps made the prepayment of mail postage possible and practical.



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