Postage stamps of the 1800s

Written by ian brown
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Postage stamps of the 1800s
Early Austrian stamp. (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

The first postage stamp was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1840 by Rowland Hill as a result of post office reforms of 1837. Prior to this letters were simply hand-franked at post offices before being sent. The introduction of adhesive backed postage stamps allowed mail to be prepaid and gained Rowland Hill a knighthood. Later, others claimed to have invented postage stamps. Since then collectors have saved stamps as a hobby and speculators have purchased portfolios of stamps for investment purposes.

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The First Postage Stamps In The World.

The first postage stamp issued was the "Penny Black," so named because it cost 1d (an old penny), and featured a white head of Queen Victoria on a black background. A second stamp, the "Twopenny Blue" was released on the same date, May 06, 1840, but some Penny Blacks fell into use before their release date. The stamps were printed in unperforated sheets of 240 stamps, the stamps having to be individually cut by scissors before use. In total, 286,700 sheets were printed using a line-engraved process. When used, the stamps were franked with red dye, which could be removed. This led to the withdrawal of the Penny Black after a year, being replaced by the Penny Red.

Early United Kingdom Perforated Issues And Plate Numbers

In 1854 the perforated stamp was introduced in the United Kingdom. Early stamp perforations utilised 16 holes for every 2 centimetres, but after a year 14 holes became standard. The 1d red was perforated from 1854 and remained in use until 1879. Plate numbers appeared on the 1d red and some other stamps of Great Britain from 1861 as a means to prevent forgery. Some 1d red plate number stamps are worth cents, while plate 77 stamps are worth thousands of dollars.

Early Stamps On Mainland Europe.

The first European mainland country to issue postage stamps was Switzerland, in the Canton of Zurich. Stamps to the value of 4 and 6 rappen were issued from March 01, 1843. These were printed in sheets of 100. The first tricoloured stamp appeared in 1845 and was also issued in Switzerland by the Canton of Basel. A rare German half-stamp dating from 1872 sold at auction in November 2010 for more than £231,790. Owing to a shortage of stamps in 1872 these stamps were cut in half and used briefly. The first stamp issued by France in 1849 still exists on a first day cover.

Early Stamps In The U.S.

The first postage stamps to be issued in the U.S. were issued by local postmasters in 1845. However the first stamps issued by the U.S. government were not released until 1847. These were sold for 5 cents and 10 cents and depicted Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Perforations were introduced in the U.S. in 1857, again on stamps depicting Franklin and Washington. During the American Civil War the Union invalidated U.S. stamps. A black 15-cent stamp depicting Abraham Lincoln was issued in 1866 which is thought to be the first memorial stamp issued.

Early British Commonwealth Stamps.

Mauritius was the first British Colony to issue stamps on Sept. 21, 1847. Its first two stamps, a 1d orange and 2d blue were issued with a printing error, "Post Office" instead of "Post Paid." A cover including both stamps sold at auction in 1993 for about £2,600,000. The first triangular stamps were issued by the Cape of Good Hope on Sept. 01, 1853, for 1d and 4d. A British Guiana 1-cent magenta stamp of 1856 is considered to be the most valuable single stamp in the world with an estimated value of more than £650,000.

Early Stamps From The Rest Of The World.

Brazil was the third country to release stamps, or the second country to issue stamps valid over the whole country. Their first issues consisting of three stamps were released on Aug. 01, 1843 and were referred to as the "Bull's Eyes." By 1870 most countries issued their own stamps.

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