Collectibles penny_post (2)

Published on November 27th, 2013 | by Rob Stebbings

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The Postage Stamp – Where It All Began

As we live and breathe postage stamps we’re particularly excited about the Quintessential Penny Post Collection, which is a unique range of items depicting the Penny Black Stamp.

The Penny Black Stamp was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp in circulation, issued way back on 1st May 1840 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Life before postage stamps involved making a cash transaction for every posted item at a Post Office. However a revolutionary reform of the British postal system undertaken in 1837 changed the way mail was sent forever.

As surely the most famous, iconic stamp ever issued, it’s no surprise to find that the Penny Black postage stamp is making a comeback of sorts having inspired a collection of inspirational gift items including a scarf, tote bag and apron amongst others. So we thought this would be an opportune moment to delve back in time and explore the origins of the first postage stamp.

Featuring Queen Victoria’s head, the top of the Penny Black stamp included the word ‘POSTAGE’ and ‘ONE PENNY’ appeared at the bottom of the stamp indicating the amount that had been pre-paid for the delivery of the letter to which it had been fixed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Penny Black postage stamps, which were also known as the 1d black, were only in circulation for one year because the red cancellation mark was a challenge to see on the black background colour of the stamp meaning it was often possible to re-use these stamps. Following these problems, the Treasury reprinted the stamp in red to address the problem.

Perhaps you are a collector of special stamps and are in possession of a Penny Black Stamp? 68 million Penny Black Stamps were issued with estimates that more than one million are still in existence. This figure is more than one might expect which therefore helps to explain that, despite its iconic status, it is neither the world’s rarest, nor the world’s most valuable postage stamp.

The longevity of the iconic Penny Black Stamp is attributed to the fact that envelopes were rarely used in Victorian times as letters were folded and sealed with wax – the stamp being attached on the outside of the folded letter – hence the letter together with the stamp were both often kept and stored.

According to philatelic expert Adrian Keppel from Stamp Magazine: ‘The Penny Black has always been and will always be of special interest to stamp collectors and the general public alike because it was the first ever stamp issued worldwide.’

So, if you are in possession of a Penny Black Stamp today you might be wondering what it is now worth. To help you in that regard the three factors to be aware of are as follows:

  1. The physical condition of the stamp (tears, thins and creases all significantly influence the value)
  2. The plate used to print the stamp
  3. The appearance of the white margins

We asked Adrian about any standout versions of the Penny Black stamp, he said: ‘The Kirkcudbright Cover is the most spectacular Penny Black item. It is a cover sent to Kirkcudbright on the first day of issue of the Penny Black. The cover is franked with a block of no less than ten Penny Blacks, making it the largest known multiple on first day cover. The Queen bought it in 2001 for the royal sum of £250,000.’

The Penny Black Stamp is an imperforate stamp which means they were cut out of sheets of 240 and released from 11 different plates – the plate number of each Penny Black stamp dictates the value with Plate 11 stamps most sought after due to the fact that Plate 11 was the first plate produced solely for printing stamps in the new red shade. Last minute shortages of the black stamp before the red could be issued meant that for a limited time Plate 11 was also used to supply the late demand.

Depending how each Penny Black stamp fares using the above criteria, it could be worth anything from £15 to over £1000 with unusual attributes.

Judging by the fascination with the Penny Black stamp, it’s fair to say stamp collecting is set to continue to be a popular pastime for many years to come, even if stamps become less significant in our day to day lives.

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