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Claimants to the title of the "Inventor of the Postage Stamp"

The Claim for James Chalmers

James ChalmersJames Chalmers was born on 2 February 1782 in Arbroath and died on 26 August 1853 in Dundee where he is buried.  The memorial tombstone, erected by his son Patrick Chalmers, reads "Originator of the adhesive postage stamp which saved the penny postage scheme of 1840 from collapse. Rendering it an unqualified success and which has since been adopted throughout the postal systems of the world."

He trained as a weaver, before he moved to Dundee in 1809 on the recommendation of his brother. He established himself as a bookseller, printer and newspaper publisher on Castle Street. He is known to have been the publisher of "The Caledonian" as early as 1822. Later he served as a Burgh Councillor and became a Convener of the Nine Incorporated Trades.

The claim that James Chalmers was the inventor of the postage stamp first surfaced in 1881 (27 years after the death of James Chalmers) 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 or in any of the other numerous publications on the subject. Patrick Chalmers continued to campaign to gain recognition for his father as the inventor of the postage stamp, until his death in 1891.

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 from what James Chalmers wrote that he was aware of Rowland Hill’s proposals, but it is not clear if he had read the full report or just the edited version from the Times. It does very much appear 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 in known to have organized petitions "for a low and uniform rate of postage". The first such petition was presented in the House of Commons on 4 December 1837. Three further petitions organised by him were presented in 1838 and 1839. In this period of time, other groups organized petitions and presented them to Parliament. All these petitions were after the publication of Hill's proposals.

There is nothing in all the numerous writings on the subject to show that Chalmers made any suggestions or was involved in the movemnt for postal reform prior to Hill's proposal being published.

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


1839 Competion
A competition was organisedby Rowland Hill, in 1839, to suggest the best plan to prepay postage and some 2,600 entries were sent in.
This is the essay for a stamp submitted by James Chalmers on 30 September 1839. For someone who it has been claimed first came up with an idea for a stamp in 1834 this design looks very primitive and looks more like his first attempt.

James Chalmers Essay  of 1839


BOOKS

Books by Partick Chalmers
Patrick Chalmers (born 26 July 1819 – died 3 October 1891), wrote numerous articles, pamphlets and booklets  that attempted to evince his father's share in the work of postal reform and as inventor of the adhesive postage stamp.

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
by 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

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

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?
by 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
by 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

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 Patrick Chalmers, Effingham Wilson,1884, 39pp

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

Book by Leah Chalmers
Leah Chalmers was Patrick's daughter.

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

Book  by William Joffre Smith & John Ernest Metcalfe
The co-author William J Smith was a director of David Winter & Sons Ltd (successor to the James Chalmers printing company). Charles Chalmers had succeeded his father James in the printing business in 1853. Charles took David Winter into partnership in 1868 and left him the business on his death in 1872. The printing company was renamed to David Winter & Son.

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

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