Royal Mail celebrates 175th anniversary of the Penny Black and the origin of the one-price-goes-anywhere Universal Service

Large image of the Penny Black Stamp Cards (3 in set)May 4, 2015-Royal Mail celebrates 175th anniversary of the Penny Black and the origin of the one-price-goes-anywhere Universal Service

Royal Mail is celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp by issuing a miniature sheet containing reprints of two Penny Black and two Twopenny Blue stamps. Each of the four stamps has a First Class value.

The first Penny Black stamps went on sale on 1 May 1840, but were not valid for use for another five days – 6 May.

The Penny Black stamp prepaid postage up to half an ounce in weight to addressees anywhere in the United Kingdom. The Twopenny Blue stamp was used for items from half an ounce to one ounce. The one penny stamp of 1840 would cost £3.07 in today’s terms

The Penny Black ultimately was part of the radical changes in postage as a result of the major postal reforms that introduced charging by weight for a letter to go to any destination in the UK. Before 1840, postal charges were based on distance and number of sheets in the letter, and the recipient usually paid for the post, not the sender.

Philip Parker, Royal Mail said: “Royal Mail has a long and rich heritage which includes issuing the Penny Black, the world’s first and arguably most famous, postage stamp.

“The Penny Black also signified a communication revolution, enabling people to send letters anywhere in the country for the same price. It was the internet of its day as mail became accessible for more people than ever before. The Universal Service is still the principle that underpins Royal Mail’s service today and helps us to connect people and businesses together for a uniform price, wherever they are in the UK.”

The stamps are available in a miniature sheet and the Penny Black stamps are also available in a stamp book. Both will be on sale from 6 May 2015 at, and from Royal Mail Tallents House, 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh EH12 9PB, tel: 03457 641 641 and from 8,000 Post Office branches across the United Kingdom. The origin of uniform penny postage

The proposal for postal reform and the recommendation that postage should be reduced to a uniform, prepaid one penny, based on weight rather than the distance the item would travel, came from teacher and social reformer Rowland Hill in 1837. His proposals were published in his pamphlet, ‘Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability’, and were initially met with opposition by the Post Office, as people were not convinced by Hill’s arguments that the lower revenues generated by a 1d postage rate would be offset by an increase in mail volumes.

Over the following two and a half years, Hill’s proposal for postal reform gradually became a powerful cause. The cause was promoted across the country and was supported by the leading newspapers, who took up the campaign for cheap postage. The campaign was successful and an Act to introduce Hill’s reforms was passed by Parliament in 1839.

In later years Rowland Hill became the Secretary to the Postmaster General and then the Post Office. He was knighted for his services and is buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

In September 1839, the Treasury invited the public to submit ideas in a competition to implement Rowland Hill’s reforms. There were some 2,600 entries. Prevention of forgery was an important consideration. Hill also thought that “a specimen of fine art” should be used for the design and the head of the Queen would be best as minute differences in reproductions would be readily detected.

The final design was based on the ‘City’ medal by William Wyon. Surrounding the Queen’s head was a pattern made by engine-turning, used for security backgrounds of banknotes. The bottom corners of the stamp had two blank spaces for the insertion of variable letters to create added anti-counterfeiting measures. The same image of Queen Victoria was to remain in use on postage stamps throughout her reign. A communication revolution

The introduction of uniform penny postage, represented by the Penny Black, created a communication revolution. It became cheaper to send letters to anywhere in the country and regardless of where the recipient lived, the cost remained the same. From 1849 onwards, on the recommendation of the General Post Office, letter boxes were introduced to front doors. This made the delivery of letters easier for postmen as previously letters were handed directly to someone in the house. A few years later, in 1852, postboxes were introduced to the UK. These changes, together with the introduction of envelopes, provided greater privacy and discretion to both the sender and recipients of letters. This afforded increased independence to women in particular to send and receive letters, in an era when men were very much ‘head of the household’,

These factors helped to generate a significant increase in letter volumes. In the year before the launch of the Penny Black, people sent 76 million letters a year. Ten years later, letter volumes had grown to 347 million letters a year.

By the end of 1840, many letters were also starting to be posted in envelopes, which until then had been relatively rare. Envelopes grew in popularity during the 1840s but only really increased in use after a way was invented of automatically folding them and applying glue to the back of the flap.

The one-price-goes-anywhere continues to be the bedrock of Royal Mail’s service today. This ensures that wherever our customers live and work, they are not excluded from the postal service. By sustaining this Universal Service, which is enshrined in legislation, Royal Mail meets the needs of individual consumers and households and businesses.

The only known complete sheet of Penny Blacks is held safely by The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA). These will be on display at The Postal Museum which is due to open at the end of 2016.