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


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”.

A half hundred weight is 56 pounds or about 25 kilograms. If these were all foolscap size and assuming they were printed on both sides then this would amount to at least 17,500 pages.

Hill commenced a detailed study of these documents and this led him to the publication two years later, 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 available 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.

Post Office Reform its Importance and Practicability 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. A third edition of the booklet was published in late 1837.

The Times newspaper reported on Hill's proposals on two occasions on 25 March 1837 and again on 20 December 1837

In the House of Lords the Postmaster, Lord Lichfield, a Whig, denounced Hill's "wild and visionary schemes." William Leader Maberly, Secretary to the Post Office, also a Whig, denounced Hill's study: "This plan appears to be a preposterous one, utterly unsupported by facts and resting entirely on assumption". But merchants, traders and bankers viewed the existing system as corrupt and a restraint of trade. They formed a "Mercantile Committee" to advocate for Hill's plan and pushed for its adoption.

Despite the opposition in Parliament, in 1839 Hill was given a two-year contract to run the new system.

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 Penny Post revolutionary who transformed how we send letters
by Tim Harford
"Rowland Hill was a former schoolmaster, whose only experience of the Post Office in the 1830s was as a disgruntled user."

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

The original was published in 2 volumes in 1880, it is available for download from
Volume 1 - download pdf copy
Volume 2 - downloadpdf copy

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

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