I have been doing a bit of research into the history of old postage stamps and wanted to share what I have found so far. I am going to look at this from a British history viewpoint as that is where the majority of my stamps originate. This is not in anyway a claim to be the complete history but I think it covers the main points.
There has been a postal service around, in variety of forms, for hundreds of years but the first postage stamp wasn’t first used until 1840.
Incidentally if you are interested in postal history I urge you to read about the postal service that Genghis Khan introduced to the Mongolian Empire. His postal routes stretched his entire Empire and that Empire reached about 5,000 miles. Impressive stuff…
Back the British Old Postage Stamps
So the fist stamps were introduced in 1840. Apparently it was to help solve the financial issues of the post office. Well that doesn’t seem to have been particularly successful as our post offices are still making losses to this day and the government is always seeking ways to privatise an element of it.
The first postage stamp was the ‘Penny Black’ probably the most well known stamp around the world. At the time this was worth one old British penny, i.e. before Britain went metric.
The stamp was very simple in nature with a portrait of Queen Victoria and the words ‘Postage’ and ‘One Penny’. Nowhere did it say Britain and there only a few instances the British old postage stamps have actually used the word British or Britain.
The stamp was black and this caused a problem. The colour of the cancellation marks were also black which meant it was difficult to see it on the stamp and the cunning individual may be able to reuse. (Even to this day it appears that the post office struggle with cancellation marks and often miss them completely!)
Well the black stamp changed colour to red in 1841 and was appropriately called Penny Reds.
Over the years of the Victorian reign in British Old Postage Stamps became successful very quickly and stamps for more denominations appeared.
The wording on the stamps changed from ‘Postage’ to ‘Postage and Inland Revenue’ to ‘Postage & Revenue’ to ‘Postage Revenue’.
When Queen Victoria died and Edward the VII came to the thrown, the stamps had to be changed to show his portrait and soon after they were changed again to George VI (The farther of Queen Elizabeth II).
It was in 1940 that a century of old postage stamps was celebrated with six stamps of George VI and Queen Victoria both appearing on them side by side.
The war then brought about a further change to the old postage stamps. Hard times meant there was less ink around to be used for the stamps. Less ink meant that paler stamps were issued.
When Queen Elizabeth II came to power in 1952 the stamps were changed again. It was during her reign in 1967 the first Machins were issued. My Grandad has a lot of Machins in his collection.
From the 1950s onwards creativity reigned in British stamps as more commemorative stamps were issued and we moved away from stamps that just featured the portrait the monarch.
While the stamps now may not have the portrait of the Queen on, they will show a silhouette of her in the corner.
Old Postage Stamps have had a fascinating history and it is not surprising that it led to the rise of the stamp collector. I want to learn about the history of stamps to help me in my pursuit of learning about my Grandad’s passion and his collection.
I would like to hear about the history of stamps from other countries so please post your comments.
So now I will move to researching the history of the stamp collector…