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The Invention of the Postage Stamp

The claimants to the title of "Inventor of the Postage Stamp"

Rowland HillRowland Hill first started to take a serious interest in postal reforms in 1835. In 1836 the Robert Wallace MP, provided Hill with numerous books and documents, which Hill described as a “half hundred weight of material”. Hill commenced a detailed study of these documents and this led him to the publication, in early 1837, of a pamphlet entitled “Post Office Reform its Importance and Practicability”. He submitted a copy of this to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring-Rice, on 4 January 1837. This first edition was marked “private and confidential” and was not released to the general public. Hill was summoned by the Chancellor to a meeting at which the Chancellor made a number of suggestions and requested a supplement which Hill duly produced and supplied it to the Chancellor on 28 January 1837.

Rowland Hill then received a summons to give evidence, before the Commission for Post Office Enquiry, on 13 February 1837. During his evidence, Hill read from the letter he had written to the Chancellor which included the statement “…by using a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash…”. This was the first publication of a very clear description of an adhesive postage stamp. It must be remembered that the phrase postage stamp did not yet exist at that time. Shortly afterwards the second edition of Hill’s booklet, dated 22 February 1837, was published and this was made available to the general public. This booklet, containing some 28,000 words, incorporated the supplement he gave to the Chancellor and the statements he made to the Commission.

Rowland Hill 2004 postage stamp

The proposals made by Rowland Hill led directly to the reform of the postal system in Great Britain and the introduction of the first postage stamp, the Penny Black.

Rowland Hill GB 19p stamp
Biography of Sir Rowland Hill
told by his daughter. Eleanor Caroline Smyth
From the book, "Sir Rowland Hill, the Story of a Great Reform" by Eleanor Caroline Smyth, published in 1907.

Sir Rowland Hill, the Story of a Great Reform - Chapter VI
told by his daughter. Eleanor Caroline Smyth
Chapter VI reproduced from the book, by Eleanor Caroline Smyth, published in 1907.

Rowland Hill
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Times Report on Rowland Hill's 1837 Proposal for Post Office Reform
On 20 December 1837 "The Times" newspaper contained this report about Rowland Hill and his proposal for Post Office reform.


Sir Rowland Hill: A Biographical and Historical Sketch, with Records of the Family to Which He Belonged
by Eliezer Edwards, Kessinger Publishing, 2008, 124pp, ISBN 1437045758
Rowland Hill GB 25p stamp
The Life of Sir Rowland Hill ... and the History of the Penny Postage
by George Birkbeck Hill, BiblioBazaar, 2009, 530pp, ISBN 1115911368

Penny Postage Centenary An Account of Rowland Hill's Great Reform of 1840 and of the Introduction of Adhesive Postage Stamps with Chapters on the Birth of the Postal Service
The Postal History Society, 1940

Rowland Hill: Victorian Genius and Benefactor
by Colin G. Hey, Quiller Press, 1989, 192pp, ISBN 1870948327

Rowland Hill and the Fight for the Penny Post
by Col H W Hill, pub Frederick Warne, 1940, 205pp

Notice sur l'origine du prix uniforme de la taxe des lettres et sur la création des timbres-poste en Angleterre
by Arthur de Rothschild, Librairie Nouvelle, Paris, 1872
In French, on Rowland Hill's postal reforms in Great Britain 1839-40 and the introduction of adhesive postage stamps.

Rowland Hill 1979 FDC

On 3 March 1823 Curry Gabriel Treffenberg presented a bill to the Swedish parliament (Riksdag) outlining a proposal to introduce stamped papers as a means of prepaying postage. Three of the four divisions of the Riksdag voted against the bill without debate and so the prosposal was not adopted.

See Curry Gabriel Treffenberg's Proposal for Stamped Papers for full details

Lovrenc Kosir on Austrian Stamp 1979LOVRENC KOŠIR
Lovrenc Košir suggested, in a letter dated 31 December 1835, the introduction of "artificially affixed postal tax stamps". His suggestion was looked at in detail by his superiors and rejected. He did not make any further attempt to promote his proposal. The first official recognition was on 22 August 1948 when Yugoslavia issued a set of four stamps to honour him as the inventor of the postage stamp.

Lovrenc Košir's proposal had preceeded that of Rowland Hill by just over 12 months and remained just a rejected proposal in the files of the Austrian bureaucracy.

Lovrenc Košir and his Proposal for Stamps for full detail about Lovrenc Košir

James ChalmersThe claim that James Chalmers was the inventor of the postage stamp first surfaced in 1881 when the book “The Penny Postage Scheme of 1837”, written by his son, Patrick Chalmers, was published. In this book the son claims that James Chalmers first produced an essay for a stamp in August 1834 but no evidence for this is provided in the book.

The earliest documentary evidence for James Chalmers’ claim is the essay and proposal he submitted for adhesive postage stamps, to the General Post Office, dated 8 February 1838 and received by the Post Office on 17 February 1838. In this document, of some 800 words, about methods of franking letters he states “Therefore, if Mr Hill’s plan of a uniform rate of postage … I conceive that the most simple and economical mode … would be by Slips … in the hope that Mr Hill’s plan may soon be carried into operation I would suggest that sheets of Stamped Slips should be prepared … then be rubbed over on the back with a strong solution of gum …”. The original of this document is now in the National Postal Museum. The weights and postage amounts on these essays are identical to those that were proposed by Hill in February 1837.

It is clear that James Chalmers was aware of Rowland Hill’s proposals, but it appears that he had not obtained a copy of Hill’s booklet but just read about it in the Times. The Times had, on two occasions, on 25 March 1837 and on 20 December 1837 reported in great detail Hill’s proposals. In neither report was there any mention of “a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp”. So having only read the edited version of the proposals in the Times he would have been completely unaware that Hill had already made the proposal for “a bit of paper…”.

James Chalmers Essay of 1838
Scan of the original proposal by James Chalmers from the  National Postal Museam

The Adhesive Postage Stamp Decision of the Encyclopaedia Britannica also Papers on the Penny Postage Reform bequethed by the late Sir Henry Cole
by Patrick Chalmers,
Effingham Wilson, 1886, 64pp

The Adhesive Postage Stamp Decision of the Encyclopaedia Britannica
Patrick Chalmers, 2008 reprint of 1886 book, 68pp, ISBN 1409772543

The Adhesive Postage Stamp (Reissue of 3 Pamphlets)
by Patrick Chalmers, 2009 reprint, 122pp, ISBN 1150508736

The Adhesive Stamp: a fresh chapter in the history of post office reform
by Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 1881, 70pp

The Chalmers-Hill Controversy: Action of Her Majesty's Treasury, the Correspondence Called for and Refused
by Patrick Chalmers, 1881

The Chalmers-Hill Controversy: Action of Her Majesty's Treasury, the Correspondence Called for and Refused
by Patrick Chalmers, Kessinger Publishing, 2009 reprint, 48pp, ISBN 1120734657

How James Chalmers saved the penny postage scheme: Letter of the Dundee bankers and merchants to the Lords of Her Majesty's Treasury
by Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 1890, 71pp

How James Chalmers Saved the Penny Postage Scheme: Letter of the Dundee Bankers and Merchants to the Lords of Her Majesty's Treasury
by Patrick Chalmers, Richardson, 2009 reprint, 76pp, ISBN 1115607804

How the Adhesive Postage Stamp Was Born
by Leah Chalmers, P S King & Son Ltd, 1939, 45pp

James Chalmers, the inventor of the "adhesive stamp", not Sir Rowland Hill, with letter to H.M. Postmaster-General, and Declaration of the Treasury
by James Chalmers, Effingham Wilson,1884, 39pp

James Chalmers, the Inventor of the Adhesive Stamp, Not Sir Rowland Hill
by James Chalmers, Kessinger Publishing, 2009 reprint of 1884 edition, 44pp, ISBN 1120303087

James Chalmers, inventeur du timbre-poste adhésif: nouvelles recherches sur le projet de Sir Rowland Hill
by Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 1890

James Chalmers: Inventor of the Adhesive Postage Stamp
by William Joffre Smith & John Ernest Metcalfe, Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd, 1970, 148pp, ISBN 0715605585

Mr John Francis, of the Athenaeum, on the plan of Sir Rowland Hill
by Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 2nd edition, 1889, 48pp

Mr John Francis, of the Athenæum, on the Plan of Sir Rowland Hill
by Patrick Chalmers, BiblioBazaar, reprint 2009, 52pp, ISBN 1115069977

The Penny Postage Scheme of 1837: was it an invention or a copy?
Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 1881

The Position of Sir Rowland Hill made plain
by Patrick Chalmers, 1882

Robert Wallace, M.P., and James Chalmers, the Scottish Postal Reformers. Letters, Recent Press Articles, & Recognitions
by Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 1890, 75pp

Sequel to 'Concealment Unveiled', Submission of the Sir Rowland Hill Committee
by Patrick Chalmers, reprint 2009, 90pp, ISBN 0217670318

A Short Review of the Adhesive Stamp, etc. Claiming the invention for James Chalmers
by Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson, 1883, 35pp

Sir Rowland Hill and James Chalmers, the inventor of the adhesive stamp. A reply to Mr. Pearson Hill
James Chalmers, 1883

Submission of the Sir Rowland Hill Committee with a Decision of the Dictionary of National Biography in favour of James Chalmers
by Patrick Chalmers,
Effingham Wilson, 3rd Edition, 1887, 112pp

Submission of the Sir Rowland Hill Committee
by Patrick Chalmers, 2009 reprint, 88pp, ISBN 1151462640

Samuel RobertsSamuel Roberts (6 March 1800 - 24 September 1885) was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, advocates of postal reform. The Times newspaper, on 30 September 1885, in an obituary for Samuel Roberts, reported that "he had pleaded before many associations for a low and uniform rate of postage, both inland and foreign, addressing letters on the subject to the Welsh Cymreigyddion societies in 1824 and to the authorities of the General Post Office in 1829 and again in 1836". In 1883 he received a grant of £50 from the Royal Bounty Fund, on the recommendation of prime minister William Gladstone, as recognition for his pioneering work in the cause of social progress and postal reform.

James Mackay in the book "The Guinness book of Stamp Facts & Feats"
, page 74, simply states that "other claimants to the title of the adhesive postage stamp include: ....  Samuel Roberts of Llanbrynmair (claim dating from 1827)". No details are given of the source of this claim.

In the British Philatelic Bulletin, Vol 33, October 1995, page 54, Mackay mentions Roberts' claim. He wrote "Samuel Roberts .... claimed to have been engaged in postal reform since 1827and said that he had advocated adhesive stamps about seven years later, but here again, he published nothing at the time to support his claim." Mackay does not mention of the source of this information.

Glanmor Williams who wrote "Samuel Roberts Llanbrynmair", a biography about Samuel Roberts, only very briefly mentions Roberts' role in postal reform. On page 59 he writes that "S.R. pointed out that it was not the actual distance a letter was carried that caused the expense, and he argued that the people and the post office would gain tremendously if every letter within the country were carried for a penny. S.R. always claimed that he had suggested it in print some years before Sir Rowland Hill." Williams hestitated in giving Roberts credit for the proposal - he wrote "We cannot be sure whether it was S.R. or Sir Rowland Hill (who usually gets the credit) or someone else who was the first to think of the scheme." - this very brief mention suggests that Williams failed to find anything in print to substatiate Roberts' claim.

The Guinness Book of Stamps: Facts and Feats
by James Mackay, Abbeville Pr, 1992, ISBN 1558594329

Samuel Roberts Llanbrynmair
Glanmor Williams, University of Wales Press, 1950

A Forgotten Pioneer, by Leah Chalmers
in Postal History Society Bulletin, No 43, March 1948, page 21 - 25

In January 1877 Francis Worrell Stevens first made known his claim, through the medium of the New Zealand press, to have been the inventor of the postage stamp. In June 1877 Stevens published a pamphlet entitled “Rowland Hill not the originator of the Penny Postage Stamp, but Francis Worrell Stevens is the inventor and originator of the adhesive and universal Penny Postage Stamp”. There is no evidence to back up his claim; Stevens gives very little detail about his actual proposal; on investigating Stevens and his claim it becomes very clear that his claim was a fabrication.

Full details of the claim and the story about Francis Stevens can be seen on
Francis Worrell Stevens and his claim to be the Inventor of the Stamp

Dr John Gray of the British Museum
Samuel Forrester, a Scottish tax official
Charles Whiting, a London stationer
Ferdinand Egarter of Spittal, Austria

Before the Penny Black (1st Series) by Ken Lawrence

Before the Penny Black Revisited (2nd Series)  by Ken Lawrence

The Genesis of Adhesive Postage Stamps, by James Mackay, British Philatelic Bulletin, Vol 33, October 1995, pp 52-55

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