1840: The Penny Black

1840: The Penny Black

It was 1840 and we really needed postage stamps. If nothing more than in order to start collecting them finally 😊 Today we’ll talk about the first postal stamp in the World. The Penny Black was issued on 1st of May 1840 and went into official use on the 6th of May 1840.


Smart & innovative

People were always smart and innovative. Especially in cases when they needed to be wiser than the government and earn some extra cash for themselves. We can also call that stealing or corruption. It’s nothing new, it existed before as it also exists today and it seems it will be around for some time. As the song says – “principle stays the same, everything else is just shades”.


The Queen

Same was the case with the postal service in the Great Britain of that age. Queen Victoria just started her regency in 1837 (lasted until her death in 1901). Yup, that’s the famous Victorian era. At that time, paying for letters was charged by mailman to the recipient and not to the sender. And the recipient could refuse the delivery and of course not to pay for it. The price was calculated accordingly number of sheets sent and a distance letter traveled. Just imagine how innovative can people become in such situations. And the cash was directly involved. The idea of reform of the Royal Mail existed for some time. There was a need to come up with new concepts in order to optimize the postage delivery system and make it more accessible to the masses (lowering the service price) as well to reduce the amount of corruption and abuse of the current system.


This is where Sir Rowland Hill jumps in.  He came with concepts, pamphlets and proposals (maybe the most important is – Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability) that later became the central part of the Uniform Penny Post, that was a part of the 19th century Royal Mail reform. The most important part of this reform was – one penny charge for mail delivery between any two places in the UK (Great Britain and Ireland). The penny rate “went live” on 10th of January 1840.

After that prepaid letter sheets were introduced and finally on 1st of May 1840 the first postal stamp was ever issued.


The Penny Black (1840)

Penny Black

Copyright© 1840 Royal Mail. All Rights Reserved.


Denomination: 1 Penny


As already mentioned, the Penny Black was issued on 1st of May 1840 and went into official use on the 6th of May 1840. It might look as a pretty simple design these days, but at the time it was very innovative.

First of all, you had to go with the motif. It was the first stamp ever so you should choose wisely. I guess they went with the safest choice they could, the current monarch. The central motif is the silhouette of Queen Victoria. It’s interesting that she was 21 when the stamp was issued and the silhouette represented her at age of 15. William Wyon, one of the most respected engravers at the time, was responsible for the motif of the Queen Victoria silhouette on the Wyon City Medal issued in 1837 in order to commemorate the Queen’s visit to the London. That motif was scathed by Henry Corbould who used it as a central motif for the stamp.

We can also notice the word “POSTAGE” above the head of the monarch.  This was important in order to distinguish postal stamps from e.g. revenue stamps. Below the head of the monarch is the denomination written in words “ONE PENNY”. This one is pretty obvious.


No country name, no perforation…

It’s important to mention that nowhere on the stamp can the name of the country be found. This was and still is specific to the UK. It’s the only country in the World that had a silhouette of the monarch on the stamp (as a motif or in corners) instead of the country name.

It was issued in sheets of 240 stamps each. Introducing the stamp played a crucial role in the development of postal services. Now you could simply walk into the post office, pay for your letter and the postal officer would use scissors to cut the stamp from the sheet.

And yes, there was no perforation these days, so we had “smooth edges”. Oh, good, old, simple days 😊

It was issued in a little more than 68 million pieces so it’s not the rarest stamp in the World and not too expensive. Still, it’s a nice piece to add to your private collection, if possible.

There were certain limitations related to the Penny Black that led to new stamps and new stamp designs. We’ll talk about them in the next article.


We’ve seen the Penny Black today. Stay tuned for more stories coming soon.

Sincerely yours,



Continue reading: The Penny Red and The Two Pence Blue

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