Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine

Inflation, by gum


Penny for ’em... John Vincent looks at the history of the world’s most famous stamp – and one that might fetch £6m at auction next month.

Perhaps it’s because fewer youngsters even use stamps now; perhaps it’s because they spend all their spare time “messaging” people or with their heads buried in a smartphone. Whatever the reason, stamp collecting doesn’t seem as popular as it was when I was a lad.

In those days, children treasured their fathers’ old albums while lovingly accumulati­ng specimens from countries with exotic long-vanished names such as Basutoland, Siam, Abyssinia, Persia, Tanganyika and Bohemia.

One boy was able to boast a Penny Black, then, as now, the world’s most famous stamp. He assumed it was worth a fortune and kept it locked away in his tuck box. He may eventually have been disappoint­ed about its worth as, with more than 68 million produced during a one-year print run, it was not exactly rare.

Much depends on the condition, whether it is used or unused, and on such arcane details as cancellati­ons, size and regularity of white margins, guideline flaws and the individual­ly punched corner letters. Even now, 180 years after its introducti­on, specimens in poor condition can be picked up for as little as £30. But unused or mint Penny Blacks and those posted with a May 1840 date (particular­ly the first official day of issue, May 6) are worth the most.

Now Sotheby’s is about to offer the earliest securely dated example of the Penny Black – a pristine, unused specimen from the first printed sheet, lettered A1. The little stamp, bearing an image of a very young Queen Victoria in profile, is estimated to fetch £4m to £6m in London on December 7 as part of a unique document from the archive of postal reformer and MP Robert Wallace (1773-1855).

It is seen as the most important piece of philatelic history in existence. The world’s first adhesive postage stamp, indicating prepayment, was the brainchild of Sir Rowland Hill (1795-1879) and made sending letters affordable, unified the price of sending mail and encouraged people to read and write.

A few more details about the stamp that changed the world... Some 287,000 sheets were printed and about 1.3 million have survived. Despite its fame, the Penny Black was considered a relative failure because thrifty and ingenious Victorians quickly came up with ways to reuse the stamps by washing off the cancellati­on (red ink was easy to remove so the Treasury changed to black when the Penny Red was introduced in 1841).

Victoria’s image was based on a sketch of her aged 15 – but it remained on stamps until she died in January

1901. Because Penny Blacks were not perforated, and needed separating using scissors or a knife, irregular margins were not uncommon and collectors pay higher prices for examples with four regular, wide and even margins.

Although May 6, 1840 was the official launch date, there are a few covers postmarked May 2, due to postmaster­s selling the stamps early. A single example is known on a prepaid Mulready envelope dated May 1.

 ?? ?? FIRST-CLASS MAIL: Inset below, the world’s first Penny Black and, above, another example stuck to a prepaid Mulready envelope.
FIRST-CLASS MAIL: Inset below, the world’s first Penny Black and, above, another example stuck to a prepaid Mulready envelope.
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