Today, the famous Penny Black stamp marks it’s 175th anniversary. It gained fame as the first self adhesive postage stamp in the World, although there has been speculation that parts of Europe were already using adhesive stamps prior to the Penny Black.The stamp featured the profile face of Queen Victoria. It was introduced by Sir Rowland Hill in 1837 as a way to denote pre-payment of postage. Until then, postage was always paid once the letter had been delivered. As part of his proposals for an overhaul of the postal system which he called “Post Office reform; Its Importance and Practicality”, he also recommended using folded paper to enclose the letters that were being delivered – or envelopes.
When questioned by Parliament about his reform ideas, Sir Rowland is said to have described the stamp as “A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash”.
Three years later and the first issue of the Penny Black was sent out to post offices around the country with instructions to begin using them on May 6th, 1840. That didn’t stop one or two post offices using them early, though.
It’s estimated over 68 million stamps were issued until they were ended due to the red cancellation ink being difficult to see on the black background. It could also be wiped off and the stamp used again. Essentially it took less than a year for fraudsters to work out how to send free mail.
In 1841 the Penny Black was replaced with the Penny Red and post offices were reissued with black cancellations which made them a lot easier to see and more difficult to forge.