Postage stamps and postal history of Great Britain surveys postal history from the United Kingdom and the postage stamps issued by that country and its various historical territories until the present day.
The postal history of the United Kingdom is notable in at least two respects: first, for the introduction of postage stamps in 1840, and secondly for the establishment of an efficient postal system throughout the British Empire, laying the foundation of many national systems still in existence today.
The story begins in the 12th century with Henry I, who appointed messengers to carry letters for the government. It is estimated that between 1100 and 1135, 4,500 letters were carried by these messengers.During this time, private individuals had to make their own arrangements. Henry III provided uniforms for the messengers, and Edward I instituted posting houses where the messengers could change horses. The reign of Edward II saw the first postal marking; handwritten notations saying "Haste. Post haste". Later, during the reign of Elizabeth 1 to express an extreme degree of urgency of delivery, gallows were drawn on the letter, known as Gallows letters and may additionally have a version of "haste, post haste" added.
Henry VIII created the Royal Mail in 1516, appointing Brian Tuke as "Master of the Postes", while Elizabeth I appointed Thomas Randolph as "Chief Postmaster". Under Thomas Witherings, chief postmaster under Charles I, the Royal Mail was made available to the public (1635),with a regular system of post roads, houses, and staff. From this time through to the postal reforms of 1839 – 1840 it was most common for the recipient to pay the postage, although it was possible to prepay the charge at the time of sending.
In 1661, Charles II made Henry Bishop the first Postmaster General.In answer to customer complaints about delayed letters, Bishop introduced the Bishop mark, a small circle with month and day inside, applied at London, in the General Post office and the Foreign section, and soon after adopted in Scotland, (Edinburgh), and Ireland, (Dublin). In subsequent years, the postal system expanded from six roads to a network covering the country, and post offices were set up in both large and small towns, each of which had its own postmark.
In 1680 William Dockwra established the London Penny Post, a mail delivery system that delivered letters and parcels weighing up to one pound within the city of London and some of its immediate suburbs for the sum of one penny.
The Great Post Office Reform of 1839 and 1840 was championed by Rowland Hill, often credited with the invention of the postage stamp, as a way to reverse the steady financial losses of the Post Office. Hill convinced Parliament to adopt the Uniform Fourpenny Post whereby a flat 4d per half ounce rate (equivalent to 10s 8d per pound for heavier items) was charged regardless of distance.
From December 1839, letters could arrive at any address in the United Kingdom. The flat postage rate went into effect on 5 December 1839 but only lasted for 36 days.This was immediately successful, and on 10 January 1840 the Uniform Penny Post started, charging only 1d for prepaid letters and 2d if the fee was collected from the recipient. Fixed rates meant that it was practical to avoid handling money to send a letter by using an "adhesive label", and accordingly, on 6 May, the Penny Black became the world's first postage stamp in use.
After more than 2,000 suggestions were submitted, Rowland Hill chose the method and printer, and worked by trial and error to achieve the required result. He decided to go with Perkins, Bacon & Petch, "a firm of bank-note printers, to carry out the work by the process of steel engraving, and the head of the Queen as engraved by William Wyon for a special medal struck to celebrate Her Majesty's official visit to the City of London in the year of her Coronation."
The stamp was originally for use only within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as such was, in effect, a local stamp. For this reason the name of the country was not included within the design, a situation which continued by agreement with foreign post offices, provided the sovereign's effigy appeared on the stamp. Envelopes sold with postage paid did not include this, so were marked with the country's name. In 1951, the special commemorative issue for the Festival of Britain included the name "Britain" incidentally. It could therefore be said that the name of the country then appeared for the first time on a stamp of the UK, although the word "British" had appeared on British Empire Exhibition commemorative stamps of 1924.
After the stamp was circulating, it became obvious that black was not a good choice of stamp colour, since any cancellation marks were hard to see. So, from 1841, the stamps were printed in a brick-red colour. The Penny Reds continued in use for decades with about 21 billion being produced.
The Victorian age saw an explosion of experimentation. The inefficiency of using scissors to cut stamps from the sheet inspired trials with rouletting (the Archer Roulette), and then with perforation, which became standard practice in 1854. In 1847, the (octagonal) 1 shilling (£0.05) became the first of the British embossed postage stamps to be issued, followed by 10d stamps the following year, and 6d (£0.025) values in 1854.
Surface-printed stamps first appeared in the form of a 4d stamp in 1855, printed by De La Rue, and subsequently became the standard type. 1⁄2d (halfpenny) and 1 1⁄2d (penny halfpenny – pronounced pennyhaypny or threehaypence) engraved stamps issued in 1870 were the last engraved types of Queen Victoria; the next would not appear until 1913. Surface-printed stamps of the 1860s and 1870s all used the same profile of Victoria, but a variety of frames, watermarks, and corner lettering.
A 5-shilling (abbreviated as 5/- or 5s) (£0.25) stamp first appeared in 1867, followed by 10 shilling (£0.50) and £1 values in 1878, culminating in a £5 stamp in 1882.
Meanwhile, the age of the Penny Reds had come to an end along with the Perkins Bacon printing contract. The new low values were also surface-printed: first was a penny stamp coloured Venetian red in a square frame, issued in 1880. However, the passage of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act 1881 necessitated new stamps valid also as revenue stamps, and so the Penny Lilac was issued in that year, inscribed "POSTAGE AND INLAND REVENUE". This stamp remained the standard letter stamp for the remainder of Victoria's reign, and vast quantities were printed. Later issues were inscribed POSTAGE & REVENUE which became the more familiar POSTAGE REVENUE.
1883 and 1884 saw experimentation with stamps using fugitive inks with the 'Lilac and Green Issue'. These were rather plain designs, low values in lilac and high values in green, because those were the only colours available. They succeeded in their purpose – relatively few of the stamps survived usage, their colours fading away when soaked from the envelope – but they were not liked by the public.
The last major issue of Victoria was the "Jubilee issue" of 1887, a set of twelve designs ranging from 1⁄2d to 1s, most printed in two colours or on coloured paper. (Although issued during the Jubilee year, they were not issued specifically for the occasion, and are thus not commemoratives.)
When Edward VII succeeded to the throne, new stamps became necessary. The approach was very conservative, however most of the Jubilee frames were reused and the image of the King was still a single profile. Edward's reign was fairly short and there were no major changes of design as a result. Chalk-surfaced paper was introduced during this time (this type of paper can be detected by rubbing the surface with silver, which leaves a black mark).
By contrast, the stamps of George V were innovative from the very first. The first issue made was of the 1⁄2d and 1d values, which were in the same colours as used in the previous reign. Although the main design feature remained the same – a central ellipse for the portrait, an ornamental frame, value tablet at the base and a crown at the top – a three quarter portrait was used for the first time. However, subsequent designs reverted to the standard profile.
The UK's first commemorative stamps were issued for the British Empire Exhibition in 1924. The pair of large-format stamps featured a lion in an imposing stance; they were issued twice, in 1924 and then in 1925, the stamps of each year being inscribed with the year of issue.A second set of commemoratives in 1929 marked the 9th Congress of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), held in London that year.
Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, responsibility for posts and telegraphs transferred to the new Provisional Government. Upon the formal independence of the Irish Free State in December 1922, and then transferred to the Free State Government. A Postmaster General was initially appointed by the Free State Government, being replaced by the office of Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in 1924. An early visible manifestation was the repainting of all post boxes green instead of red, plus the overprinting of British postage stamps prior to the introduction of Irish stamps.
A set of four stamps was issued in 1936 for Edward VIII before he abdicated.George VI's coronation was marked with a commemorative: part of an omnibus issue which included every colony in the Empire. New definitives featured a profile of the King on a solid colour background, based on a plaster cast by Edmund Dulac. This was a precursor of the Machins three decades later: see below.
The century of the postage stamp was celebrated in 1940 with a set of six stamps depicting Victoria and George VI side-by-side. By the following year, wartime exigencies affected stamp printing, with the 1937 stamps being printed with less ink, resulting in significantly lighter shades. Post-war issues included commemoratives for the return of peace, the Silver Jubilee and the 1948 Summer Olympics in 1948, and the 75th anniversary of the UPU, in 1949.
In 1950 the colours of all the low values were changed. 1951 saw a new series of high values (2s 6d, 5s, 10s, £1), and two commemoratives for the Festival of Britain.
When Elizabeth II succeeded her father in 1952, new stamps were needed. A collection of variations on a theme that came to be known as the Wilding issues, based on a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II was the result. This portrait was by photographer Dorothy Wilding.
Wildings were used until 1967, when the Machin issues were introduced on 5 June.The Machin design is very simple, a profile of the Queen on a solid colour background, and very popular, still being the standard British stamp. They have been printed in scores of different colours; in addition, decimalisation required new denominations, and there have technical improvements in the printing process, resulting in literally hundreds of varieties known to specialists.
Today, the postage stamp is used in many countries and once colonies of Great Britain. Once colonised countries of Great Britain at one point all used the Penny Black portrait of Queen Victoria, such as Barbados, Nevis, Fiji, Trinidad, British Guiana, and India. Many formerly colonised countries still support a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, although some have branched out to stamps depicting scenery, birds or beasts.
Up to the 1950s, British commemorative stamps were few and far between; most of the stamps were definitive issues in which the portrait of the reigning monarch was the dominant element. Even after commemorative stamps began to appear more often during the 1950s and early 1960s, the monarch's effigy was prominent, usually taking up a quarter to a third of the stamp's design, which limited flexibility and creativity. A change came in 1965 when the then Postmaster General Tony Benn issued new criteria for what could appear on stamps. Designer David Gentleman wrote to Benn about alternative design approaches, suggesting the monarch's head be replaced by another national symbol, such as a Crown or the country name; "Great Britain" or "United Kingdom". A compromise, a small silhouette of the Queen based on the coinage head of Mary Gillick, was accepted and this has been the standard ever since for commemorative stamps.When the monarch's portrait is part of the stamp's main design (as for example in the case of issues commemorating the Queen's birthday), then the silhouette is not needed and usually does not appear.
Another trend is the growing use of stamps to commemorate events related to the present Royal Family. Up to Elizabeth II's accession in 1952 the only commemorative stamps to have been issued related to royal events were for George V's Silver Jubilee in 1935, George VI's coronation in 1937, and a 1948 issue to commemorate George VI's 25th wedding anniversary. Since 1952, however, stamps have been issued to commemorate many royal occasions. In addition, memorial stamps have been issued after the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales (in 1998) and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (in 2002).
With regard to previous monarchs, stamps were issued in 1987 to mark the 150th anniversary of Queen Victoria's accession, and in 1997 to mark the 450th anniversary of King Henry VIII's death. From 2008 to 2011 stamps were issued featuring all of England's kings and queens and also the Scottish House of Stewart.
Beginning in 1958, regional issues were introduced in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales.While these issues are only sold at post offices in the respective countries, the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh issues are valid throughout the United Kingdom. The Channel Islands (since 1969) and Isle of Man (since 1973) now issue their own stamps which are not valid anywhere else.
The United Kingdom has introduced postal services throughout the world and has often made use of British definitives bearing local overprints.
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper issued by a post office, postal administration, or other authorized vendors to customers who pay postage, who then affix the stamp to the face or address-side of any item of mail—an envelope or other postal cover —that they wish to send. The item is then processed by the postal system, where a postmark or cancellation mark—in modern usage indicating date and point of origin of mailing—is applied to the stamp and its left and right sides to prevent its reuse. The item is then delivered to its addressee.
Stamp collecting is the collecting of postage stamps and related objects. It is related to philately, which is the study of stamps. It has been one of the world's most popular hobbies since the late nineteenth century with the rapid growth of the postal service, as a never-ending stream of new stamps was produced by countries that sought to advertise their distinctiveness through their stamps.
A postmark is a postal marking made on a letter, package, postcard or the like indicating the date and time that the item was delivered into the care of the postal service. Modern postmarks are often applied simultaneously with the cancellation or killer that marks the postage stamp(s) as having been used, and the two terms are often used interchangeably, if incorrectly. Postmarks may be applied by hand or by machines, using methods such as rollers or inkjets, while digital postmarks are a recent innovation. The local post Hawai'i Post had a rubber-stamp postmark, parts of which were hand-painted. At Hideaway Island, Vanuatu, the Underwater Post Office has an embossed postmark.
A first day of issue cover or first day cover (FDC) is a postage stamp on a cover, postal card or stamped envelope franked on the first day the issue is authorized for use within the country or territory of the stamp-issuing authority. Sometimes the issue is made from a temporary or permanent foreign or overseas office. Covers that are postmarked at sea or their next port of call will carry a Paquebot postmark. There will usually be a first day of issue postmark, frequently a pictorial cancellation, indicating the city and date where the item was first issued, and "first day of issue" is often used to refer to this postmark. Depending on the policy of the nation issuing the stamp, official first day postmarks may sometimes be applied to covers weeks or months after the date indicated.
A cancellation is a postal marking applied on a postage stamp or postal stationery to deface the stamp and to prevent its reuse. Cancellations come in a huge variety of designs, shapes, sizes, and colors. Modern cancellations commonly include the date and post office location where the stamps were mailed, in addition to lines or bars designed to cover the stamp itself. The term "postal marking" sometimes is used to refer specifically to the part that contains the date and posting location, but the term is often used interchangeably with "cancellation." The portion of a cancellation that is designed to deface the stamp and does not contain writing is also called the "obliteration" or killer. Some stamps are issued pre-cancelled with a printed or stamped cancellation and do not need to have a cancellation added. P Cancellations can affect the value of stamps to collectors, positively or negatively. Cancellations of some countries have been extensively studied by philatelists, and many stamp collectors and postal history collectors collect cancellations in addition to the stamps themselves.
The Penny Black was the world's first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system. It was first issued in the United Kingdom, on 1 May 1840, but was not valid for use until 6 May. The stamp features a profile of Queen Victoria.
The postal and philatelic history of Canada concerns the territories which have formed Canada. Before Canadian confederation, the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland issued stamps in their own names. The postal history falls into four major periods: French control (1604–1763), British control (1763–1841), colonial government control (1841–1867), and Canada, since 1867.
The Two Penny Blue or The Two Pence Blue was the world's second official postage stamp, produced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and issued after the Penny Black.
This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Hong Kong.
The Mauritius "Post Office" stamps were issued by the British Colony Mauritius in September 1847, in two denominations: an orange-red one penny (1d) and a deep blue two pence (2d). Their name comes from the wording on the stamps reading "Post Office", which was soon changed in the next issue to "Post Paid". They are among the rarest postage stamps in the world.
The postage stamps of Ireland are issued by the postal operator of the independent Irish state. Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland when the world's first postage stamps were issued in 1840. These stamps, and all subsequent British issues, were used in Ireland until the new Irish Government assumed power in 1922. Beginning on 17 February 1922, existing British stamps were overprinted with Irish text to provide some definitives until separate Irish issues became available. Following the overprints, a regular series of definitive stamps was produced by the new Department of Posts and Telegraphs, using domestic designs. These definitives were issued on 6 December 1922; the first was a 2d stamp, depicting a map of Ireland. Since then new images, and additional values as needed, have produced of nine definitive series of different designs.
The postal history of Malta began in the early modern period, when pre-adhesive mail was delivered to foreign destinations by privately owned ships for a fee. The earliest known letter from Malta, sent during the rule of the Order of St John, is dated 1532. The first formal postal service on the islands was established by the Order in 1708, with the post office being located at the Casa del Commun Tesoro in Valletta. The first postal markings on mail appeared later on in the 18th century.
This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Jamaica.
Mauritius, a small island in the southwest Indian Ocean, is of towering importance in the world of philately for a number of reasons. Its first two postage stamps issued in 1847, called the "Post Office" stamps, are of legendary rarity and value. They were the first stamps issued in any part of the British Empire outside of Great Britain. The unique cover bearing both “Post Office” stamps has been called "la pièce de résistance de toute la philatélie" or "the greatest item in all philately". The cover was sold at auction, in Zurich, on 3 November 1993, for 5.75 million Swiss francs, the equivalent of about $4 million – the highest price ever paid for a single philatelic item up to that time. In addition, Mauritius is well known for the subsequent locally produced issues known as "primitives," also prized by collectors.
This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Gibraltar.
Antigua was discovered by Christopher Columbus, in 1493, and was named after the church of Santa Maria la Antigua in Seville. It was first settled in 1632. By the Treaty of Breda in 1667 it became a British Possession.
Bermuda, a group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, was previously uninhabited when the British established a settlement in 1612.
The British Library Philatelic Collections is the national philatelic collection of the United Kingdom with over 8 million items from around the world. It was established in 1891 as part of the British Museum Library, later to become the British Library, with the collection of Thomas Tapling. In addition to bequests and continuing donations, the library received consistent deposits by the Crown Agency and has become a primary research collection for British Empire and international history. The collections contain a wide range of artefacts in addition to postage stamps, from newspaper stamps to a press used to print the first British postage stamps.
The Crown Agents Philatelic and Security Printing Archive was deposited with the British Museum from the 1960s, though the first recorded deposit from the Crown Agents was in 1900. The archive consists of a range of philatelic and written material which were the Crown Agents' working records. It is the most comprehensive record of British Colonial and Commonwealth stamp issues of the last 100 years.
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