Like many stamp experts I’ve been asked about the “Penny Black” many times! Often I will be jokingly asked if I have any and I tend to answer “I have quite a few actually, it’s not the most valuable stamp in the world, it’s famous because it was the world’s first stamp!” and then I get to talk about my favourite stamp, whether they want to hear about it or not! Back in 1840, just after a young Queen Victoria ascended the throne her Subjects in Great Britain could suddenly communicate with each other over long distances, quickly and cheaply whilst the rest of the world languished with poorly organised and expensive stampless-mails.
The social reformer Rowland Hill had proposed a Universal Penny Post to cover the entire country, delivering mail for just a penny per item. Despite strong resistance from the Post Office the public appetite was so strong, including perhaps the most signed petition in British history that a penny postage rate per ½ oz passed through Parliament. How was this to be paid for? Expensive postage charges were bourn by the receiver, the postman standing on the doorstep waiting for the hapless homeowner to find the 'correct' money! The answer was to ensure that the sender paid up front, the best way to ensure this was to sell them gummed labels for a penny each which they could then affix to each letter! A design competition was held and to cut a long story short… the winning design became our beloved Penny Black!