The Ultimate Guide To Penny Black

Illustrative Image - Ultimate Guide To Penny Black

Hello Fellow Philatelists!

I hope you liked my last post. The Ultimate Guide To Penny Black talks about the first postage stamp world has known. I hope I will be able to delight you all with this one and the other articles that I plan to come up within the near future. Happy Philately and Reading!!

Brief Story: –


The world was introduced to its first adhesive postage stamp Penny Black on 1st May 1840. It was released for commercial use five days later on 6th May 1840. The profile on the stamp is that of Queen Victoria. It is undoubtedly the most famous and sought-after piece of philatelic history.

Sir Rowland Hill and his colleague Sir Henry Cole were given a contract of two years to validate their new ideas and successfully implement them into the postal system. They ran a competition to design the new stamps.

A total of 2600 entries came in but none of them was successful. Alternatively, Sir Cole came up with a rough design having a profile of Princess Victoria when she was fifteen years old. The inspiration came from a City Medal. It is a coin that was designed in commemoration of the Queen’s visit in 1837 to Guildhall. The profile remained on the stamps till her death in 1901.

Letters weighing up to half an ounce (14g) could be delivered, irrespective of the distance for a flat rate of one penny. Unfortunately, it remained in circulation only for a year, as it was revealed that it is possible to remove the red ink used for cancellation and can be easily reused. Hence the treasury switched to 2d Penny Red and black ink for cancellation. Another variant in blue two penny was issued on 8th May 1840. It was to carry one ounce (28g).

It contributed to an increase in the postal traffic from 75 million to 410 million in the decade of its introduction.

In the next few sections of this Ultimate Guide to Penny Black, we will explore some other interesting aspects of this piece of philatelic and historical value.

Design: –

The stamp is in a combination of black and white colors. 20×24 mm as dimensions. At the top of the letters “POSTAGE” is inscribed so as to distinguish it from a revenue stamp. At the bottom “ONE PENNY” is mentioned which indicates the prepaid amount of the postage. In the background of the portrait finely engraved geometric patterns termed as “Engine Turnings” are to be seen.

At the top left and top right corners “Maltese Crosses” having radiant solar discs at their center are printed. The letters imprinted at the lower left and lower right indicate the position of the stamp in the printing sheet as explained later. These sheets were printed by Perkins Bacon having a total of 240 stamps spread across 12 columns x 20 rows.

Printing: –         

The stamp was printed using engraved steel plates and line engraved printing methods. Each stamp had a small crown watermarked embossed at the back to prevent forgery. The sheet on which these stamps were printed were imperforate or unperforated. Scissors were used to carefully cut the stamp for sale. The plates had letter combinations initiating with AA from the top left corner and ending with TL at the bottom right corner as shown below.

Illustrative Image - Ultimate Guide To Penny Black
The Jacob Perkins’ Press Used For Printing The Penny Black and 2d Blue

A total of twelve plates was used to print these stamp sheets. Due to excessive demand, they started to wear out. Plates number 1a and 1b were the most exhausted and were extensively renovated. The British Postal Museum in London is the only known owner of a complete sheet of Penny Blacks.

Illustrative Example - Ultimate Guide To Penny Black

Circulation: – 

A total of 286,700 sheets were printed which contained 68,808,000 were published. An estimated 1.3 million still exist within the collector fraternity. It can be ascertained from the table below that the stamps printed using plate 11 are rare and are actually worth a fortune. This plate was supposed to be used to print the Penny Reds, but the ink was not ready, so the black ink was used to print the 700 sheets.

VR Official: –

It was variant of the Penny Black and was confined for use only by the official government departments. The difference was that the Maltese Crosses at the top were replaced by the letters V and R respectively. However, the idea of using it was abandoned and hence it was discontinued. On 25th January 1843, nearly all of the sheets barring twenty-one were destroyed. No wonder its possession became a rare find and prized possession. In 2015 a block of four was sold for £31,860, a pair for £17,100, and a single one sold for £5,800.

Infographic –  Ultimate Guide To Penny Black: –

Illustrative infographic - Ultimate Guide To Penny Black

Conclusion: –

There are no doubts that this wonderful piece of postal history and innovation is considered as a British Cultural Icon and its design features in the innovations section of British inventions. In 2015 Google celebrated the 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp by dedicating a Penny Black Google Doodle. With this “Ultimate Guide To Penny Black” comes to an end and I hope I have been able to deliver justice with this post.

Rohit Mittal

Self Taught Techie, Father to a budding philatelist son and a Global Business Professional Having Traveled across four continents. I have helped European and Indian Businesses to turn around and realize business objectives in 180 to 270 days. Reading & Writing is my second nature. I rekindled my childhood passion for stamps after forty years and love to collect European Pre 1960s MNH OG stamps majorly from France, Germany, and Italy.
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White Label SEO
1 year ago

Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂

Abnash Singh
Abnash Singh
1 year ago


It is a treatise to go through the topic.
Without going any further I would like you to kindly change the year of Queen’s visit in 1937 to Guildhall to 1837 at the age of 15 years ….. Instead of 1937. It is a typo but it attracted my eye instantly before I proceeded to read further.

I am a Penny Black, Red and Two Penny Blue enthusiast.

Thank you.

Abnash Singh
Founder Member & President Chandigarh Philatelic Club
Established in 1967
Various Philatelic Groups on WhatsApp & Facebook
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