History of the Black Penny Stamp
The Black Penny stamp, also known as the Penny Black, was the first adhesive stamp to be used in the postal system. It was introduced to the postal system of the United Kingdom and Ireland on May 1, 1840 as part of the reforms suggested by Rowland Hill. All London post offices received official stamps to affix to the mail that went through them, but the practice of using the Penny Black did not immediately take hold throughout the country. Post offices in other parts of the country continued with their usual method of paying for mail, which often meant that the recipient was responsible for paying the postage.
The Penny Black was the brainchild of Sir Rowland Hill in an attempt to reform the postal system. His idea of affixing a prepaid stamp to each piece of mail was seen to have merit and so he was given a two year contract to run the new system in 1840. He ran a contest for a new stamp design, but none of the entries he received were deemed worthy of being the winner. His initial design had been that of a rough engraving of Queen Victoria as a young girl. Hill believed that it would be extremely difficult for forgers to duplicate this design. The stamp contained the word postage?and the denomination of the stamp, but there was no indication of the country name. At that time, this was the first time anyone used postage stamps and therefore it was unique to the United Kingdom.
The Penny Black was only in circulation for about a year. This was because the cancelled stamp of the postmaster was red and was very hard to see against the black background. This meant that many people were reusing the stamps and basically sending mail for free. The result was that the Treasury switched to the Penny Red and changed the colour of the cancellation mark to black.
The printing process of the Black Penny postage stamp required eleven plates. There were 240 stamps printed on a sheet and since perforation had not yet been invented, the stamps had to be cut apart using scissors. Although it is a collector item, the Penny Black stamp is not a rare stamp. There were almost seventy million stamps printed in its short lifespan and many of these are still around today. It is readily available in collectors?circles with a used stamp in generally poor condition costing as little as $ 10. A stamp in mint condition, however, is much more costly at about $ 3000.
In addition to the stamp used for regular mail, there was an edition of the Black Penny printed for official use only. Such a stamp contains the letters V and R instead of the stars in the top corners, which are on the regular stamps. All government officials and offices received large numbers of these stamps, of which only a few exist, this making this form of the stamp a rare one.