The world’s first adhesive postage stamp, known as the Penny Black, went on sale on 1 May 1840 (becoming valid five days later, on 6 May). The stamp cost a penny and prepaid postage up to half an ounce in weight to anywhere in the UK. A higher-denomination stamp, costing two pence, which became known as the Twopenny Blue, was used for items from half an ounce to one ounce.
Their introduction ultimately was part of sweeping postal reforms that introduced charging by weight (rather than distance) for a letter to go to any destination in the UK.
Royal Mail celebrated the 175th anniversary of the world’s first stamps by issuing a miniature sheet featuring the two stamps, both appearing twice, with first class values. The miniature sheet border features a photograph of the printing presses at Perkins, Bacon & Petch, where the original stamps were printed.Next: Fact file >
Design Sedley Place
Stamp Format/size Portrait 20mm x 24mm
Miniature Sheet Size 144mm x 74mm
Printer International Security Printers
Print Process Lithography
Perforation 15 x 14
Phosphor Bars as appropriate
The Presentation Pack, designed by Godfrey Design and written by Douglas Muir, Curator of Philately at the British Postal Museum & Archive, puts the story of the Penny Black within the wider context of the postal reform of 1840.
First Day Cover
The First Day Cover, designed by Godfrey Design, features a photograph of the ‘Old Original’ die and the title of the issue.
The first postmark, made available as a handstamp at Tallents House, Edinburgh, features the Maltese Cross, used to cancel the Penny Black. To reflect the original colour of the cancellation, the handstamp is printed using red ink.
The alternate location is Bath, where the handstamp design mirrors a surviving postmark that was used to cancel the Penny Black in Bath on 2 May 1840, prior to the stamp being valid. This handstamp is also printed in red ink.
Unlike the Tallents House and alternative postmarks, the non-pictorial postmark is printed using black ink.