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First issued in the first of May, 1840, it was the world's first adhesive postal stamp and revolutionized postal history in an era where postage was the main form of communication. Before the Penny Black, the postal duty was paid by the recipient, who could have chosen not to receive it, causing losses for the postal authorities. The Penny Black introduced pre-payment in the postal system at a time letters were folded and the stamp glued on the outside - what also contributed that many of these stamps survived today (who kept the letter, kept the stamp).
The postal reform did not only secure payment for the postal authorities, but also brought down costs to send a letter, on the public’s side. Variables such as the number of sheets sent or the distance traveled would no longer constitute a main pricing measure, weight would rather be used to bring down prices. These ideas were brought about by Sir Rowland Hill, pointed as the main driver of the reform. The impact of this reform can be grasped when one notices that one year after the first stamp issue, the number of letters sent doubled, and continued to grow in the subsequent years.
So, contrary to what many believe, the Penny Black is not actually a scarce (almost 69 million copies were printed), expensive stamp, although a perfect piece could cost considerably more. Among other things, its price varies greatly according to the printing plate (plate 11 being the rarest) – and these are very recognizable by specific faults each plate left on the stamps, including by the position of the letters in the bottom corners.
The Penny Black used line engraving, like all stamps until 1854. The design was cut by hand on the metal plates, and later gummed. The issues are imperforated and carry a simple crown as a watermark. The watermark changed in issues post-1855 when a larger crown was presented.
The first issue of Britain depicts Queen Victoria when she was 15 years old – before she actually became queen. One interesting fact is that she never aged in British stamps, which always used this same image on the issues. The Penny Black was later replaced by the Penny Red to avoid the re-use of stamps. Black cancels were hard to be seen against the black background of the stamp and red cancels could be relatively easily erased. For this reason, the inverse combination of stamp and cancel colour was adopted. Still on the cancellation subject, the famous Maltese Cross was commonly used, heavily cancelled stamps selling for lower prices.
The Penny Black was engraved steel plates, in sheets of 240 (20×12). The lower right and left corner letters indicate their position in the plate. On the top left, the rows start at the combination AA, followed to the right by AB, AC and so on until AL. The second row on the left starts at BA, then BB, BC, and in succession until BL. The final bottom row on the left starts at TA and would also end at TL. Furthermore, a series of the penny black with the letter VR in the place of the upper left and right stars in the corner were also created for official mail. V.R. stands for Victoria Regina – Queen Victoria.
For all the details and historical importance of this stamp, it is one of the top studied and collected items in philately. Even though most collectors heard and saw a huge amount of information on the stamp, it still is a fascinating topic and definitely the key introductions in the study of postal history and its development.
Catalogue Value: Unused *****, Used ***
* 0.1 - 49 USD
** 50 - 99 USD
*** 100 - 499 USD
**** 500 - 999 USD
***** 1'000 - 9'999 USD
****** + 10'0000 USD
The First Issues Blog is a place to discuss about the stamp number 1 of each country, territory, district, etc. Each additional item to my new collection shall receive a small description about the item, its history and curiosities.
Note that I may add more than 1 'number one' stamp to a place. This happens as I judge that in the case of independence or any other political issue that changed the postal history or when I deemed interesting to do so. This will be noted on the posts when it happens.