The Printed History Of Postage

In previous articles on the FMS Blog, we have discussed the long and illustrious history of printing that goes back centuries from woodblock printing to the printing of the first modern book with the Gutenberg Bible.

We’re always interested in looking into different aspects of printing history and today’s article will look at the close links between the history of postage and printing with an article focused on the innovative Penny Black stamp. Introduced into Great Britain in 1840, it was the first adhesive postage stamp to be used in a postal system that was public and revolutionised the postal industry.

The Penny Black Stamp

Why was this small postage stamp, something that we all take for granted now, so revolutionary in the early 19th century? It was because at the time, recipients normally paid for their postage on delivery, instead of today paying for the postage when sending the item or letter. Rates were charged by the distance travelled and on the number of sheets sent.

The Penny Black cost, as its name suggests, just a penny and allowed any letters up to ½ ounce in weight to be sent at a flat rate. This price wasn’t affected by the distance, making postage far more affordable for everyone and ensuring that the postal service was no longer something that only the rich could afford.

Penny Black stamps were printed from 11 plates and were created to be as complicated as possible. This was in an effort to try and reduce the amount of forgeries that could be created.  The finished stamps were printed onto unperforated sheets which meant that they had to be cut with scissors to be sold and used.

A Lasting Legacy For Postage

The Penny Black stamp today is readily collected by philatelists and The Postal Museum contains the world’s first day cover of the Penny Black as well a complete proof sheet with check letters that had not been inserted into each stamp. They are still valuable stamps with a Penny Black 1d fetching £348,000 in June 2011 at an auction. The better the condition of the stamp, the higher the value it will have.

As well as this, something that you may note when you receive stamps from other countries is that these stamps always have their name on them to identify where they came from. Stamps from the United Kingdom however, are exempt from this due to being the creator of the postage stamp. As such, only a silhouette of the Queen’s head is used.

Sarah Jubb