Date of Issue : 2 May 2015
Malta Post issued a beautiful Miniature Sheet on 2nd May 2015 to commemorate 175th anniversary of Penny Black, world’s first postage stamp.
Commemorating the 175th Anniversary of the World's First Postage Stamp
The 6th May 1840, marks the introduction of the first pre-paid adhesive postage stamp - the Penny Black of Great Britain.
Prior to this date, adhesive postage stamps and envelopes did not exist. When sending a letter, it was the recipient who was to pay for postage rather than the sender. Since postal rates were very high at the time, many people refused to accept letters and would develop secret codes by which they could cheat the postal services. The secret code would be written on the outside of the letter and all the addressee had to do was read the secret message and simply refuse the letter so as not to pay for its delivery!
The issue of the first stamp was a result of a postal reform that was introduced by Sir Rowland Hill, the British Postmaster General, in 1837. He introduced a system whereby mail could go anywhere within the British Isles at the same rate and that the postage was to be paid by the sender by placing a small piece of coloured paper on the outside of the letter - the postage stamp. Before this, the recipient was charged for each sheet of paper that a letter contained and the distance the letter covered until it arrived at its final destination. Hill's proposal was challenged for a couple of years but he managed to garner enough support from other like-minded individuals, such as Henry Cole, founding director of the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as larger, powerful organisations who together convinced Parliament to implement the system. The reform was finally enacted and instituted in 1840.
The design of the first pre-paid postage stamp was the product of a competition held in 1839. The winning entry depicting the young Queen Victoria's profile came from William Wyon, who based the design on a medal he had created to celebrate her first visit to London earlier that year. Hill worked with artist Henry Corbould to refine the portrait and define the stamp's intricate background pattern. After deciding to produce the stamp through the process of line engraving, engravers George Rushall and Charles and Frederick Heath prepared the design for printing. As the stamp was printed in black, the one penny stamp soon became known as the 'Penny Black'.
When the Penny Black went on sale, it was an immediate hit - suddenly Britain seemed a lot smaller to its citizens and over the year that followed 70 million letters were sent. Two years later, the number had more than tripled. The stamp was initially cancelled with a red Maltese Cross, however the red ink was hard to see on a black background and was easy to remove, making it possible to re-use the stamps.
The Penny Black's design was so well received, it remained in use for forty years. It underwent colour changes in 1841, adopted perforation in 1848 and acquired check letters in all four corners in 1858. Most of these designs were retained for Victoria's successor, Edward VII (1901) with his profile being substituted.
The introduction of a uniform penny postage resulted in increased trade and prosperity, with more people sending letters, postcards and Christmas cards than ever before. Following its success other countries followed suit.
For introducing the first stamp Hill was knighted. He also created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight rather than size. The practice of affixing stamps on the upper right corner of envelopes arose from the fact that over 80 percent of London's male population was right-handed and it was therefore believed that such a practice would would help expedite the cancellation process.