This article originally appeared in the Stamp Collectors' Review, in two parts, on 15 November 1863 and 15 December 1863.
This article was written less than 24 years after the introduction of the Penny Black. This would have allowed the author to obtain much first hand information
from people who were actually alive in 1840 and could remember events clearly. This is probably one of the earliest articles which was written on the subject.
From this article one can see that Rowland Hill first suggested a "stamped letter-paper", then a "stamped envelope" and finally an "adhesive postage label".
The author tells us that in 1830 Charles Whiting suggested to the post office authorities what he called go-frees; something which does not appear in more recent articles on the subject.
Also mentioned is a Mr. Stead of Yarmouth who "at a later period, counselled the employment of stamped paper in lieu of money payment to the post".
The author of this article is no given, but is believed to be Edward Loines Pemberton.
Edward Loines Pemberton was editor of the Stamp Collectors' Review from January 1864.
Origin of Postage Stamps
Four-and-twenty years ago penny postage was unknown; but the propriety and
practicability of the plan was being freely discussed, and chemical and artistic ingenuity,
as well as the ingenuity of the financier, was busily occupied in devising
labels which should recommend themselves to adoption by artistic beauty, and
baffle the nefarious manufacturers of counterfeits by changes of colour under
chemical tests, rigidly kept secret from all but the initiated. These experiments
arose soon after Mr. (afterwards Sir) Rowland Hill proposed, in 1837, the penny
postage system. A royal commission was appointed, but nothing came of the result
of its deliberations; then the House of Commons was besieged with petitions — 320 in number,
bearing 38,709 signatures; then a committee was appointed to examine
the merits of the question, and reported favourably on the change proposed; then a London mercantile postage
association was formed, and subscriptions poured in; then came meetings and the
issue of tracts and pamphlets, and the getting up of 2,007 petitions, bearing
262,809 signatures; and finally, Parliament declared in favour of the scheme.
But it must not be supposed that Rowland Hill was the only man who ever
contemplated cheap postage labels. In 1830, Mr. Charles Whiting, a printer,
suggested to the post office authorities what he called go-frees, which should frank
letters passing through the post, after the same style as is done by our modern
postage stamp. Mr. Stead, of Yarmouth, at a later period, counselled the employment
of stamped paper in lieu of money payment to the post.
Rowland Hill's original proposition was that of stamped letter-paper; this was
succeeded by a stamped envelope; the third suggestion being the adhesive
postage label now so commonly in use.
The first stamped cover was presented to Parliament by Mr. Hill, on the 7th of
February, 1838. It was proposed that two sorts of envelopes should be used.
The first was that of a printed design, bearing the post office stamp, and printed
on the half-sheet of letter-paper, so as to admit of the paper being folded with the
printed design outside, space being left for the name and address. The second
was the envelope, commonly so called the paper being cut and gummed together
to a convenient size to contain the inclosure.
After the covers of Mr. Rowland Hill, those of Mr. Whiting were submitted to
the committee of the House of Commons. The paper bore the impression of an
engraved vignette, printed in colours. The inscription which one of these covers
bore was, "Post-office, printed matter under one ounce, price 1d."; another,
"Post-office, written matter under one drachm, price 2d". Mr. Whiting recommended
the use, in printing, of two or more colours.
Mr. Whiting subsequently suggested a moveable stamp. This was a square label,
printed in blue, on white paper, and covered in parts by four red rays, forming a
Maltese cross, and four others forming a St. Andrew's Cross. In the centre was
royal crown; to the left and right the initals, "V. R."; in the upper portion of
the surrounding circle, "Principle suggested"; below, "Beaufort House"; and at
the corners, "A 3" and "C. W."
An anonymous author circulated in 1838 or 1839 a printed note, without either address
or date, in which he declared that envelopes were unnecessary; that letters
should be written on a sheet of stamped paper, or that a stamp should be used
having an adhesive reverse, which should be attached to the letter, and should be
obliterated in passing through the Post Office. The stamps were to be square;
to be printed in black on white paper. Four were suggested, bearing respectively
the following inscription:—
"Post Office, under half oz. weight. 1d."; "Post Office,
under one oz. weight. 2d."; "Post Office, under two oz. weight. 4d."; "Post Office,
under three oz. weight. 6d."
While the proposition of stamped paper was under discussion, the paper makers
very naturally became alarmed. Under Rowland Hill's original plan, a large part
of the trade would have become the monopoly of Government. The paper was
to be prepared and sold by the Government; everybody who wrote must write
on Government paper. This was the occasion of serious opposition; and it is
obvious that the plan of cheap postage would have failed if this monopoly had
been permitted. Moveable adhesive stamp were the remedy, and to the adoption of
these public attention was directed. Various designs were suggested as appropriate
for these labels; among the rest the following:—
Within the square is enclosed an oval, crossed by six red rays; on the bordering,
are the words, "Post Office permit, to carry matter not exceeding in weight" and
in the centre, "½ ounce, 1d."
Another is printed in colours on a white ground. We are acquainted with four
examples of this stamp. 1d, red ground blue letters; 2, black ground, red letters;
3, blue ground, red letters; 4, green ground, red letters. The design is waved
or engine-turned, and comprises an oval contained in a square; the inscription,
"Not to exceed half ounce"; in the centre, "1 penny." At the four corners the numeral
"1d"; to the right and left, "V.R."
The system of the penny post having been finally adopted, the Lords of the
Treasury offered premiums for the best methods of carrying out the plan, and
about three thousand competitors entered the field. Each of these, or nearly so,
submitted designs for postage labels. The following examples are among those submitted:—
Printed in green on white paper, intended as the stamp for a cover of 1d postage. Printed in black on white paper, bears in an oval the effigy of the Queen
crowned, the head turned to the left. In the bordering above, is the inscription,
"Postage, 1d., half oz.;" and below is a small bouquet, formed of the rose, thistle
and shamrock. An example of this stamp is in existence, printed in sky-blue on white paper.
Printed in marone on white paper. It bears the effigy of the Queen, crowned, the
head turned to the left; on the bordering is the inscription, "Postage, one penny."
Examples of this stamp are to be had printed in red-brown.
In the various propositions laid before Parliament for the working of the penny
postage system, that of the employment of "covers" was, at the outset, the most
generally approved. Mr. Whiting recommended that the covers used should be
printed in two or three different colours, and that the design and execution should
be especially directed against the possibility of fraudulent imitations. An engine,
turning machine, producing effects similar to those on engine-turned watches, was
suggested, and a complicated but graceful design was published by Mr. Whiting as
a sample of what he proposed. The vignette, which appeared in the "Post
Circular," April 30, 1839, was printed in lilac, and others in bright green. The
interior of this cover contained a warm appeal in favour of postal reform. The
designs bore in the centre of the upper part the initials "V. R."; to the left, the
words "Post Office" and to the right, "Permit"; below the inscription, "Price
One Penny; matter not to exceed in weight half an ounce."
The cover suggested by Mr. Wyld (1838-9) consisted of half a sheet of paper,
made up in the form of a letter; one face was left white, the other presented in the
centre an engraved vignette, printed in chamois colour, or clear bistre. The space
reserved for the address was enclosed within a double framework; the first
formed by foliage, the second by a vineleaf, upon which were represented four
female figures; above, in white embossed letters, "Postage prepaid." A postage
stamp, adhesive, was to be applied to that portion of the cover on which were the
words, "Postage prepaid." This label, circular in form, had in the centre the
royal initials, and around it, "Cancelled, post-paid." The letter written on this
stamped cover was to be labelled by the Post-office authorities, and pass free.
Various other samples were submitted, some of them remarkable for beauty of
design, and others conspicuous only by the absence of everything approaching
artistic grace; the main object in both instances being to baffle the forger, as it
was expected that diligent delinquency would be turning a dishonest penny by
the postal alterations. These apprehensions were groundless. With the introduction
of the simple postal label — the profile portrait of the Queen, — the dread
of imitation apparently disappeared, and the circulation of letters increased enormously.
The number of letters circulated in 1839 was 75,908,000; in 1840 it rose to
160,708,000; 1841 to 1850, 277,392,000; from 1850 to 1860, to 409,532,000; and
from 1860 to 1861, to 593,240,000. The increase in the decennial period,
1851 to 1860, over that of 1841 to 1850, is 69 in the 100; and 1861, compared with
1840, shows an increase of 250 on every 100. The population of the United Kingdom
in 1861 was 29,031,104; the average to each person of letters forwarded, 20 in
1861, and 16 in 1854. The proportion as to countries was, England and Wales
24; Scotland, 18; and Ireland, 9. Correspondence also marks the progress
of commercial and intellectual activity in different parts of the country. The
proportion of letters received by each person in London during the year, is 47;
Edinburgh, 43; Dublin, 40; Bristol, 33; Manchester, 31; Birmingham, 30; and Liverpool, 26.