Early Postal System
The postal service began in England during the sixteenth century as a messenger service. The service made use of a simple method by collecting payment upon delivery. The cost was based on the distance travelled and number of sheets delivered. It was tedious, slow and expensive. By the early nineteenth century, Great Britain has become a leading industrial nation. Business and the expansion of commerce demanded a more reliable and cost effective postal system. The old system of payment on delivery had to be changed and it had to come up with a uniform postal rate.
A former school teacher named Rowland Hill (who later became Sir Rowland Hill) came up with the idea of pre-payment for delivery services. This was to be indicated on a small piece of paper to be attached to the documents delivered. This small piece of adhesive paper was called the postal stamp, which lived on to become an important part of postal services worldwide.
Birth of the Postage Stamp
On 6 May 1840, history was made – the world’s first prepaid adhesive postage stamp became valid for use. It was imprinted with an engraved portrait of young Queen Victoria. This small piece of postage stamp was called the Penny Black.
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The Penny Black was used for letters weighing less than half an ounce while the Two-Penny Blue was used for letters of heavier weight.
Faults of the Penny Black
By early 1841, the postal service discovered a problem with the Penny Black. The black postmarks imprinted on the Penny Black stamps were failing to stand out from the black design of the stamp. As a result, many of the used stamps were often being re-used repeatedly. To resolve this problem, the penny stamp had to be printed using a different colour ink. Thus, the Penny Red was the solution to the problem and it went into production to replace the Penny Black.
All the first Penny Blacks, Two-Penny Blues and Penny Reds were imperforate and the stamps were separated by cutting with a pair of scissors. The introduction of perforations was only introduced in 1850 and we still see perforations in today’s postage stamps.
Even though the Penny Black is the world’s first stamp, it is not a very rare stamp. Over 68 million stamps had been issued since it had been introduced. A substantial number of the Penny Black stamps had survived to this day and they are easily available on the stamp collectors’ market today. The current values of these stamps are listed in the Scott Catalogue.