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The first stamp

The first stamp

The emergence of a stamp

The payment of postal services in the general public was relatively complicated at the beginning. The payment was purchased somewhere by recipient, elsewhere by sender or else both half. The problem was also in determining the amount. It depended on the weight of the shipment, the distance of the addressee and the number of boundaries that had consignment exceed. In England the fees were paied in half and businesses and merchants complained about the slowness and excessive amount of mail. Thus they began to write messages for multiple destinations on one sheet of paper on which the addressee cut off communication, which belonged to him, and the rest transmited to the other recipient. It was because they had to pay for every single sheet of paper, therefore the envelope and also the letter embedded in it. This is also the reason why the use of envelopes was rising very slowly. Therefore the illegal transport services was created in industrialized and populated areas.


The first attempts to pay postage in advance were mostly unsuccessful. For the first ancestor of a stickable stamps can be considered so called "Billet de port paye". It was acknowledgment of payment a postage, which was fastened to the letter before throwing it to the mailbox. Renouard de Villayer introduced it in Paris between 1653 and 1660. It was possible to attach this paid acknowledgemet to the letter blank, it was a sort of letter-paid response. In 1680 Robert Murray founded a private city post office in London, which had a single postage (one penny) for shipments weighing up to one pound (454 g) in the territory of United Kingdom. It was called "penny post". William Dockwra took the introduction of it. He introduced a special triangular stamp, showing that the consignment was paid in advance.

The first experiments of stamps

It is known several attempts to introduce postage stamps (in Sweden 1823, in the Austrian province of Lombardy-Illyrian 1835), but so far unsuccessful. Former rural teacher Rowlandd Hill, later the general postmaster of Great Britain, found himself on one of his journeys in a small Irish town and noticed that a postman had delivered a letter to a young girl. This girl sadly turned this letter from her groom in hands and then gave it back to the postman. Hill wanted to give her a shilling to pay for postage, but the girl thanking refused his help. Then she confided him that she learned all about her groom from signs on the envelope without having to pay for shipping. This incident allegedly led Hill to the idea of postal reformation.

Postal reformation

On the 6th of January in 1837 Hill issued a pamphlet entitled "Postal reformation: its importance and feasibility" .A fee of one penny for a letter weighing up to 0.5 ounce (about 14 g) regardless distance, where the letter conveys, was suggested there (therefore it was a rapid reduction of postage in the UK). This fee shall be levied from the sender using pieces of paper as large as it could be stamped by postmark and bearing a gum on the back for sticking it throug moistening to the letter. This is the oldest description of the stamp, which was called mailing label (Post Office Label). After many meetings and debates Hill's proposal was presented to Queen Victoria for signature and on the 10th of January 1840 the reformation entered into force.

The first stamp

According to Hill's view, it was necessary to print pieces of paper with strong drawing, whose forgery would be as difficult as banknotes. The newspaper "Times" announced a competition for the best design of a stamp. This competition has brought several hundred proposals, but the result does not satisfy neither the jury nor the Hill. Finally, the model for the black onepenny stamp has become a medal with a portrait of Queen Victoria, whose creator was William Wyona. Grafik copied the Queen's portrait for engravers of the first stamps, which were Charles and Frederic Heath. Print tasked a London firm Perkins, Bacon and Petch, which was engaged in printing of securities. At that time it was used the most widely used method - steelprinting from engraving. The printer had to overcome a number of difficulties (forms of printing, paper, paint and coating gum on paper). The black onepenny stamp went on sale on the 1st of May 1840 (however officially it was not given in circulation until May 6) and a journal entry of Rowland Hill from the first day in May was: I got up at eight in the morning. The first stamps were issued today in London for the population. Fearful of confusion at the post office!

A few days later it was put up for sale a twopenny blue stamp, whose printing plate was made directly from the original plate onepenny stamp. The stamps were issued in sheets of 240 stamps (20 horizontal rows of 12 stamps), which thus became one pound. The signs have not mentioned name of the issuing state. Stamps weren't serrated and paper, on which they were printed, was provided by transparencies in the form of small crown. The Queen ordered that her portrait on stamps can't be change, and so until 1900 Queen Victoria didn't aged on these stamps. The exceptions were some stamps of self-governing colonies (Canada, Newfoundland and New South Wales), issued at the end of the 90s of the 19th century, where the queen was depicted as an old woman with a widow's veil.

The first issue of stamps is also related to the emergence of one of the greatest philatelic rarities. The first stamps were sent on time to all post offices in England, and so few of them received also the postmaster in Bath. Either from ignorance or negligence he stuck the first stamp from the sheet to the letter already on the 2nd of May (so before the official release), stamped it and sent. The letter is preserved.

08. 05. 2014
Petra Toboříková