10 facts about the Penny Black stamp

“… A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash” – Rowland Hill 

Rowland Hill calculated that it made more financial sense to price deliveries by weight. Until then, the cost of delivery of a letter was paid by the recipient – and the price was dependent on the number of miles travelled and the size of the letter. As a result of Hill’s actions, Great Britain subsequently became the first county to produce an adhesive postage stamp.

1. The 1D. Penny Black stamp was the world’s first official adhesive postage stamp.

2. The Penny Black went on sale to the public on the 1st of May 1840, although it was not valid for use until the 6th of May 1840.

3.The Penny Black stamp features an interpretation of William Wyon’s young head portrait of Queen Victoria. His portrait is said to be one of the most perfect likenesses ever engraved.

4. The stamps were printed on large sheets, each sheet would have 240 stamps that were cut by hand using scissors, meaning the margins of each stamp can vary.

5. 286,700 sheets and 68,808,000 stamps were printed!

6. The stamp was printed using the line engraved printing method, using 11 plates numbered 1 to 11.

7. To prevent forgery, the stamps had small crown watermarks on the back and check letters in the bottom corners, that were were impressed by hand with a punch.

8. The Penny Black was initially cancelled by a Maltese Cross cancellation using red ink however, the red was very difficult to see and easily removed; (allowing for the stamp to be illegally reused) this prompted the introduction of the Penny Red stamp and the cancellation was changed to black.

9. To this day, British stamps do not feature the name of the country (unlike other stamps) and the monarch’s face appears facing to the left, as per the penny black.

10. The Penny Black was only in use for just over a year! But remains as one of the most iconic and sought-after designs.

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