Monday, May 25, 2015

The 175th Anniversary of the Penny Black – Royal Mail First Day Cover

The new Royal Mail First Day Cover is dedicated to the 175th Anniversary of the Penny Black. Before 1840, postage rates in the UK were very high and postage was normally paid by the recipient. Charges were based on the distance a letter travelled and the number of sheets in contained, and there were also numerous extra fees. As a result, few people could afford to send letters. At the same time, a lot of mail was carried free. Members of both houses of parliament had franking privileges, and newspapers were also carried without a charge. With a mixture of paid, unpaid and free letters, the system was complicated and expensive.

In 1837, teacher and innovator Rowland Hill proposed sweeping changes: he recommended that postage should be reduced to a uniform one penny, based on weight rather than distance, and that it should be prepaid. Merchants supported Hill’s ideas and set up a committee to campaign for cheap postage. They were successful, with an Act passed in 1839 to introduce Hill’s reform.

One of Hill’s ideas for implementation of the reforms which was agreed after a public competition organised by the Treasury was that of adhesive labels to indicate prepayment. These eventually came to be known as postage stamps. For the design, Henry Corbould was commissioned to draw the Queen’s head based on the ‘City’ medal by William Wyon, which commemorated Queen Victoria’s first visit to the City of London in November 1837. The Penny Black, as it came to be known, became valid for postage on 6 May 1840. 

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