The Early Postal System and First Stamp

Sep 6 18:36 2008 Mathieu Deprez Print This Article

This article delves into the history of the first stamps and early postal history.

The very first stamp,Guest Posting the penny black, was issued on May 6, 1840 in Great Britain. The invention of the postage stamp is attributed to Sir Rowland Hill. The idea of a stamp as a prepaid method for sending mail is actually older than that: “Cavallini" were used as soon as 1819 by the  Sardinian post.

Before 1840, the recipient had to bear the cost of postage: the recipient was thus showing he/she valued the letter sent to him or her. Transportation was likely not very reliable as well for somebody willing to agree to pay upfront for shipping. Calculation of the cost of postage was complicated: weight was taken into account of course, so was the precise distance between sender and receiver.

It is said that Rowland Hill witnessed the following scene : a servant receives a letter from her lover, the postman gives it to her but after inspecting it for a few seconds she refuses to pay the tax. Mr Hill then offers to pay for the letter but she refuses.

The servant lets Mr Hill on her little secret: her lover scribbles a few light signs on the letter and by looking at them, she knows the global situation of her fiancé.

Hill wants to do the following to reform the postal system:
·    Make the sender pay for sending mail.
·    Lower the cost for sending letters to promote their use.
·    Simplify prices. A single price to be paid for sending letter in the country.

The first measure enables makes it so that the post is always paid for its service. The second also has for purpose to stimulate commerce. The last measure is necessary if we want the sender to know easily the amount to be paid.

All this prompted the creation of the postage stamp : a convenient way to prepay a letter without having to go each time to the post office. On May 6 1840, the public had the choice between the Penny Black Stamp and the "Mulready" prepaid envelope. The stamp is preferred by the public, envelopes being still foreign to people at the time as the common practice was to fold the letters and seal them.

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Mathieu Deprez
Mathieu Deprez


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