Little Bits of History

May 1

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 1, 2017

1840: The world’s first adhesive postage stamp is issued. It came from Great Britain and featured a profile of Queen Victoria. While issued on this day, it was not to be officially used until May 6. On February 13, 1837 the British government began an investigation regarding the use of a prepaid stamp or a prepaid envelope which would be a special piece of paper to be folded around correspondence. Sir Rowland Hill led was given a two-year contract to run the new system. He and Henry Cole asked for designs for the proposed stamp and there were about 2,600 entries. None of them were considered suitable. Instead, a design which was thought to be difficult to forge and bearing a profile of Victoria was selected.

The engraving for the stamp was made by Charles Heath and his son, Frederick. The engraving was based on a sketch by Henry Corbould which was in turn based on cameo type drawings done by William Wyon in 1834. The stamp, called a Penny Black, was up for sale on this day and the image remained on British stamps until the queen’s death in 1901. All British stamps still contain a portrait or silhouette of the monarch somewhere in the design and they are the only postage stamps in the world without some printed indication of the country of origin because the monarch’s image symbolizes the United Kingdom.

The initial sizing for the new postage stamp was to be ¾ of an inch square, but the dimensions were altered to ¾” x ⅞” to accommodate writing at the bottom. The original drawing had the word POSTAGE at the top in order to keep it separate from a revenue stamp, but another line at the bottom was added to indicate the worth of the stamp so ONE PENNY was added. The background is basically black with a distinct pattern and side edges. The two upper corners contain Maltese crosses and the lower corners each hold a letter which would tell where on the printed sheet the stamp was originally located meaning the letters could range from A A at the top left to T L on the bottom right of the printed sheet.

The stamps were printed by Perkins Bacon. There were twenty rows of twelve columns or 240 stamps on a full sheet. That would have cost exactly one British pound while each row of twelve stamps cost a shilling. The cost of the prepaid stamp allowed British citizens to mail a standard letter. On May 8, 1850 a two penny stamp was added. This blue stamp was, as the name indicated, twice the cost and allowed for a double letter or up to one ounce of mailing weight. The stamps were available in London post offices by May 6 even though some early adopters had them as early as May 1. They were not available throughout the kingdom and so payments for postage in cash were still accepted for a short time.

The most interesting thing about a postage stamp is the persistence with which it sticks to its job. – Napoleon Hill

Designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors on national taste. – William Butler Yeats

I love the rebelliousness of snail mail, and I love anything that can arrive with a postage stamp. There’s something about that person’s breath and hands on the letter. – Diane Lane

Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there. – Josh Billings

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