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The Invention of the Postage Stamp


"To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
~ Thomas A. Edison

"Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself."
~ Alexander Graham Bell


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

RENOUARD DE VÉLAYER
By a decree dated 19 July 1653, Renouard de Vélayer and Count Nogent were granted the right of collecting and delivering letters, notes and document within the city of Paris. The decree, signed by King Louis XIV and countersigned by de Guénégaud, granted de Vélayer and Nogent this privilege for a period of forty years. Boxes were placed in different parts of the city for the reception of the post. The mail had to have a strip of paper, produced by de Vélayer, showing that payment had been made. From contemporary descriptions it would appear that these strips just had plain text printed on them. These paper strips were called billet de port payé and their price was one sou. The venture appears not to have been very successful; it ceased just after two years. None of these paper strip are known to exist today.


CURRY GABRIEL TREFFENBERG
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.

For full details on Treffenberg's proposal see Curry Gabriel Treffenberg's Proposal for Stamped Papers


LOVRENC KOŠIRLovrenc Kosir on Austrian Stamp 1979
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 proposal buried  in the files of the Austrian bureaucracy.

For full detail about Lovrenc Košir and his proposal see Lovrenc Košir and his Proposal for Stamps


ROWLAND HILL
Rowland Hill Rowland 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 this 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.

See Rowland Hill for more details


JAMES CHALMERS
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 given 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…”.

See James Chalmers and his claim for more details.


SAMUEL ROBERTS
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 inventor 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 or any details.

Glanmor Williams who wrote "Samuel Roberts Llanbrynmair", a very comprehensive 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 or any document to substatiate Roberts' claim.

BIBLIOGRAPHY on Samuel Roberts
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


FRANCIS WORRELL STEVENS
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 reading about 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


OTHER CLAIMANTS
The following have also been noted  by James Mackay in the book "The Guinness book of Stamp Facts & Feats" as having a claim to have been the inventor of the postage stamp, I have not been able to find out any more details of their claim to date.
Dr John Gray, of the British Museum
Samuel Forrester, a Scottish tax official
Charles Whiting, a London stationer
Ferdinand Egarter, of Spittal, Austria


OTHER SELECTED PAGES ON THE SUBJECT OF THE INVENTION OF THE POSTAGE STAMP
Before the Penny Black (1st Series)
by Ken Lawrence

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


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

© 2015 Jan Kosniowski - 



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