Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Penny Black Stamp

Strange as it may seem, until 1840, persons receiving their mail from the postman had to pay for it upon delivery each day, or else face it being returned to sender.

Then Sir Rowland Hill's idea to charge the sender rather than the recipient was implemented, and a paper adhesive stamp was used as proof that payment had been received.

And from that day, stamp collecting was born.

Just days after the Penny Black came the Two Penny Blue. Whereas the Penny Black allowed for mail to be sent anywhere in Britain with a weight of under a half ounce, the Two Penny Blue was good for a full ounce.

Although the Penny Black was in use for only a little over a year - it was replaced by the Penny Red in order to better show a postmark - it is not a rare stamp. The custom of the day was to place the address and stamp on the outside of the folded letter itself; therefore, any saved correspondence from this period bears the stamp. Curiously, Hill also invented the envelope, out of a similar brainstorming attempt to improve the postal service. Once the envelope became popular, people would often save the letter but throw the envelope away, leading to harder-to-find philatelic specimens.

Even now, as then, British stamps are the only ones on the planet that do not mention their country of origin.

Meanwhile, in the United States, individual postmasters were inspired by the example set back home in England, and a few experimented with the idea of postage stamps strictly on a random local basis. The first official U.S. postage stamp, however, came in 1847 with a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and a 10-cent George Washington. With America still being a very young country and lacking the infrastructure of Great Britain, our stamps were costly from the getgo. Regardless of weight, the 10 cent stamp was used for mailings involving over 300 miles.

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