The History of the First Postal Stamp

The History of the First Postal Stamp

by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM                                Ireland                       27.11.2023

Did you know that MMM collects used postage stamps? We have a small team of dedicated Sisters who trim and sort the stamps and they are sold to collectors. The money earned goes straight out to one of our needy missions in Kenya.

Great Britain was the first country to issue adhesive postage stamps, the famous “Penny Black”. It was issued on May 6th, 1840. Before that time, the letters were taken to the Post Office and the fee for the transit paid over the counter in cash. The letters were then postmarked with a “paid” mark. In those days, letters were carried by a post-boy on horseback or in the mail coaches, which sometimes took several days over journeys from London to towns in the north.

In 1839, a competition was organised by the British Government, asking the public to send in ideas for the pre-payment of letters. Over 2500 entries were received, but none of them were satisfactory. It was then Sir Rowland Hill, with the help of a printer, produced the first postage stamps, the “Penny Black” and the “Two-Penny Blue”.

The “Penny Black” was changed to red in 1841, as it was found the postmark did not show well on the black stamp. At that time, perforating machines were not invented, and although the stamps were printed in sheets of 240, they had to be cut apart with scissors. The first perforated stamp did not appear until about twelve years later.

Other countries began to follow with stamps of their own. Brazil was the first to follow and its first issue appeared in 1843, and within ten years stamps were in use in nearly all the countries in the world.

What is the value of a “Penny Black” today? In 2008, a Penny Black in poor condition can cost as little as £15. A reasonable looking Penny Black will cost you £25. A better-quality specimen might cost £60 to £100. A stamp with unusual attributes can cost up to £250. Mint examples are considerably more valuable – expect to pay anything from £1800 upwards.

So, the moral of the story is – don’t throw your stamps away, send them to us in Drogheda!