Penny Black 175th Anniversary

2015 = Penny Black 175th Anniversary




In his new book on ‘The World’s First Postage Stamp’, published in May 2013 by the Royal Philatelic Society London, Alan Holyoake brings up to date the fascinating story of how the industrial revolution of the 19th century produced a huge demand in Britain for modern improved communications. The need for messages to be transmitted rapidly and at affordable cost inspired a revolution in the postal service led by Sir Rowland Hill.

Hill and his colleagues led a campaign in the late 1830s to abolish the old system where postal charges were normally paid by the recipient, and to slash the cost of posting a letter. As a result the pre-paid Uniform One Penny Post was introduced in the UK on 10 January 1840. It was an immediate success as the volume of mail rose rapidly. To show the postage had been paid, Hill introduced adhesive postage stamps that could be stuck on the front of a letter, using the skills of Perkins Bacon & Co who were leading printers of cheques and banknotes at the time. This proved to be such a simple and useful innovation that it spread round the world. Despite all the changes that have taken place in communications technology since, it remains in general use today – 175 years later. What the fathers of the postage stamp probably did not foresee was the postage stamp revolution would also create objects of beauty and intricacy that – from the early 1860s, and possibly earlier – would fascinate collectors and lead to a whole new science and industry of philately.

The world’s first postage stamps, printed by Perkins Bacon, were the 1d “Penny Black” and 2d “Twopenny Blue”. The design was produced by Henry Corbould based on the Wyon medal of 1837 showing the head of Queen Victoria. The design was then passed to the engravers Charles and Frederick Heath to produce a die which included as background a design used by Perkins Bacon on financial paper. Printing of the stamps in sheets of 240 began in April 1840 and the first official day of use was 6 May 1840.

The Penny Black has become a world famous iconic symbol of Philately. The London exhibition in May 2015 will commemorate and celebrate this landmark achievement that marked the beginning of the modern communications era and has brought so much pleasure to so many collectors ever since.