The History of Stamps

Did you know the first stamp was created on May 6th, 1840? Britain was actually the country that issued the first stamp, named the “Penny Black.” Take a journey through history and see the evolution of the stamp in its early days of existence.

Addressee Pays Postal Cost, Not Sender: Before 1840


Prior to 1840, the cost of mailing a letter was placed on the recipient rather than the sender. There were no stamps nor envelopes used, as the envelope would make the cost higher, being considered another sheet of paper. A significant number of recipients would refuse to accept letters, due to the cost.  The post office realized that they had to do something to improve the system in order to raise postage revenues.

Post Office Reforms: 1837

Postal Reforms

There was a post office reform in 1837, proposed by Sir Rowland Hill that changed the previous method:

  1. The sender was charged the postage fee, not the recipient
  2. The postage payment was receipted by placing a small piece of colored paper outside the letter, thus, came the invention of the Stamp.

The first stamp cost one penny and had an image of Queen Victoria on the surface. The black color and one penny cost gave way to the name “Penny Black.” These stamps did not come on perforated sheets so senders needed to cut them apart before using; not until 1857 were perforated stamps used.

The Penny Black was so successful that it remained in circulation for forty years. The first year after the stamp was invented, 70 million letters were sent around England and two years later the number tripled.

The Stamp comes to the United States: 1847-1863

United States

Stamps were first seen in the United States on February 1, 1842, when Alexander M. Grieg’s City Despatch Post, a private New York carrier, issued the first adhesive stamp. The Post Office bought Grieg’s business and continued to use the adhesive stamps as a means to prepay postage.

The stamp came across the Atlantic to the U.S. in 1847. The first printed stamps were five cents with a picture of Benjamin Franklin and ten cents with a picture of George Washington. Before the stamp was created in the United States, the postmaster would take note of the postage in the upper right hand corner on the front of the letter. The postage cost was based on the number of sheets in the letter as well as the distance it was traveling. In 1856, a five cent stamp depicting Thomas Jefferson was created; additionally, in 1863 a two cent Andrew Jackson stamp was added to the mix. George Washington has been depicted through stamps in the United States more than any other person.

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