Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

16 Feb, 2012

UN Postal Union Acquires World’s First Postage Stamp Issued In 1840

Feb 15 2012 (UN News Centre) – The United Nations postal union reported today that it has acquired what is probably the world’s best-known stamp – the Penny Black – which was issued 172 years ago and shows a profile image of United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria on a black background.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) now also owns two other Victorian stamps, the Penny Red and the Two Pence Blue, as well as an envelope bearing the Penny Black and cancelled on 22 July 1840, only two months after the famous stamp was officially issued on 6 May 1840.

The Penny Black will add to UPU’s vast stamp collection, which contains more than 800,000 stamps. The historic philatelic items were purchased for a total of 1,800 Swiss francs ($1,965), the agency said in a press release.

The Penny Black shows a profile image of Queen Victoria looking to the left. Although it is known as the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black is not considered rare.

More than 70 million copies of the stamp were issued and it can easily be purchased. The other particular feature of the famous Penny Black are the Roman letters that are printed at the bottom two corners to identify the stamp’s line and column position on the printed sheet. The technique was also designed to discourage counterfeiters.

“The Penny Black is unique and its creation is one of the great moments in world postal history,” said UPU Director General Edouard Dayan. “The postage stamp has a certain magic; each stamp is a tiny ambassador that informs about the history, the art, the culture and the national heritage of our member countries.”

The acquisition of the Penny Black was the idea of Jean-François Logette, the manager of the philatelic programme at UPU’s International Bureau.

“The stamps in the collection are a testimony to great moments in the history of our member countries and the world and constitute an important philatelic heritage,” said Mr. Logette.

Before stamps existed, the recipient of a letter paid for the delivery cost, based on a complex tariff scheme. The postage-paid letter bearing a stamp was the brainchild of Rowland Hill, who initiated a reform of the British postal system and was knighted for his services. He apparently proposed the postage stamp’s creation after noticing that the postal service was losing significant mailing revenues because recipients could refuse to take delivery of an item.

Switzerland and Brazil followed in the United Kingdom’s footsteps by issuing their own stamps in 1843. Stamps appeared in the United States in 1847 and in France and Belgium in 1849.

Today, all countries issue their own. Even the UN Postal Administration issues stamps, 80 per cent of which are sold to collectors, while the rest are used on mail leaving UN offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna. UPU Member States are expected to send a copy of each postage stamp they issue to the International Bureau in Berne.

The newly acquired stamps and envelope have been framed and will be displayed in the International Bureau conference room named after Rowland Hill.