Did Rowland Hill Really Invent The Penny Black Stamp?
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Did Rowland Hill Really Invent The Penny Black Stamp?

A look at the world's first stick on postage stamp.

The Penny Black was the world's first postage stamp. It was a stamp that featured a picture of Queen Victoria's head and the words 'postage one penny'. Unlike future stamps from around the world it did not have the country of issue printed on it - there was no need for such a formality simply as it was the first ever stamp, and where else would it be from anyway!

The Penny Black was the result of an idea that came from Rowland Hill. One day in 1839 he formulated an idea to come up with a penny post but no matter how much he thought about it he just couldn't work out how his plan was feasible. Rowland Hill then decided to let the public decide.

Offering a prize of £200 - a substantial amount of money in those days - Rowland Hill was hopeful that someone, somewhere would be able to offer up a solution and when over 2,600 people responded to the competition things were looking promising. 

Having scoured through every single idea submitted, Rowland Hill could not find one individual idea that fitted in with his masterplan for a penny post. The prize of £200 was never paid out because Rowland Hill could not chose a winner, instead he took various ideas from various suggestions, mixed them with his own ideas, and then finally came up with the Penny Black stamp.

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It is true that Rowland Hill was the creator of the Penny Black stamp - which was a stick on stamp - but it wasn't Rowland Hill himself that came up with the idea of a stick on stamp. The honour for that goes to one of the entrants to the competition. Despite not winning the £200 (no one did!) James Chalmers, a bookseller from Dundee, Scotland, was the only one of the 2,600 entrants to suggest a stick on stamp.

On May 6th 1840 the Penny Black stamp went on general sale and the name of Rowland Hill was recognised as the inventor of the postage stamp. At the same time, somewhere in Dundee, James Chalmers may well have greeted the news with a shake of his head!

There was a slight problem with the Penny Black stamp that Rowland Hill did not originally envisage - the fact it was black! When the stamp was put on an envelope to be sent it had to be franked, and with the stamp being black the franking had to be done with red ink to show up and red ink was extremely expensive. With in a year of being in production, the problem was solved by changing the Penny Black in to a Penny Red stamp and thus the franking of the postmark could be done in black ink!

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