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Postage stamp - Invented by Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill-Postage stamp
: 1840
: United Kingdom
: Everyday Life

About Invention

A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are printed on special custom-made paper, show a national designation and a denomination (value) on the front, and have a gum adhesive on the back. Postage stamps are purchased from a postal administration or other authorized vendor, and are used to pay for the costs involved in moving mail, as well as other business necessities such as insurance and registration. They are sometimes a source of net profit to the issuing agency, especially when sold to collectors who will not actually use them for postage.


Throughout modern history, various innovations were used to apply or indicate that postage has been paid on a mailed item, hence the invention of the postage stamp has been accredited to several different people.

Rowland Hill

The Englishman Sir Rowland Hill began interest in postal reform in 1835.In 1836, a Member of Parliament, Robert Wallace, provided Hill with numerous books and documents, which Hill described as a "half hundred weight of material".Hill commenced a detailed study of these documents, leading him to the 1837 publication of a pamphlet entitled "Post Office Reform its Importance and Practicability". He submitted a copy of this to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring-Rice, on 4 January 1837.This first edition was marked "private and confidential," and was not released to the general public. The Chancellor summoned Hill to a meeting during which the Chancellor suggested improvements and changes to be presented in a supplement, which Hill duly produced and supplied on 28 January 1837.

Rowland Hill then received a summons to give evidence before the Commission for Post Office Enquiry on 13 February 1837. During his evidence, he read from the letter he wrote to the Chancellor, including a statement the notation of paid postage could be created " using a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash...".This is the first publication of an unambiguous description of a modern adhesive postage stamp (though the term "postage stamp" did not yet exist at that time). Shortly afterward, the second edition of Hill’s booklet, dated 22 February 1837, was published, and made available to the general public. This booklet, containing some 28,000 words, incorporated the supplement given to the Chancellor, and statements he made to the Commission.

Hansard records that on 15 December 1837, Benjamin Hawes inquired to the Chancellor of the Exchequer "whether it was the intention of the Government to give effect to the recommendation of the Commissioners of the Post-office, contained in their ninth report relating to the reduction of the rates of postage, and the issuing of penny stamps?"

Hill’s ideas for postage stamps and charging paid-postage based upon weight soon took hold, and were adopted in many countries throughout the world. With the new policy of charging by weight, using envelopes for mailing documents became the norm. Hill’s brother Edwin Hill invented a prototype envelope-making machine that folded paper into envelopes quickly enough to match the pace of the growing demand for postage stamps.

Rowland Hill and the postal reforms he introduced to the UK postal system are commemorated on several commemorative postage issues of the United Kingdom.


Although a number of people laid claim to the concept of the postage stamp, it is well documented that stamps were first introduced in the United Kingdom on 1 May 1840 as a part of postal reforms promoted by Sir Rowland Hill. With its introduction, the postage fee was then to be paid by the sender and not the recipient, though it was still possible to send mail without prepaying. Postmarks have been applied over stamps, "obliterating" them from further usage, since the first postage stamps came into use.

The first stamp, the penny black, became available for purchase 1 May 1840, to be valid as of 6 May 1840. Two days later, 8 May 1840, the two pence blue was introduced. Both stamps exhibit an engraving of the young Queen Victoria, neither bearing perforations, as the first stamps were separated from their sheets by cutting mechanisms (e.g. scissors). At the time of issuance, given no need for indication of origin, no country name was included on the postage stamps. The UK remains the only country to omit itself by name on postal stamps,using the reigning monarch’s head as implicit identification. Following the introduction of the postage stamp in the UK, the use of this prepaid postage innovation drastically accelerated the number of postal-sent. Prior to 1839, the number of letters sent was 76 million. By 1850 this volume increased five-fold to 350 million, continuing to grow rapidly thereafter,until the end of the 20th century when newer methods of indicating postage-paid drastically reduced the use of delivery systems requiring stamps.

Other countries soon followed in example the United Kingdom with their own stamps. The Canton of Zürich in Switzerland issued the Zurich 4 and 6 rappen on 1 March 1843. Although the Penny Black could be used to send a letter less than half an ounce anywhere within the United Kingdom, the Swiss did not initially adopt that system, instead continuing to calculate mail rates based on distance to be delivered. Brazil issued the Bull’s Eye stamp on 1 August 1843. Using the same printer as for the Penny Black, Brazil opted for an abstract design instead of portrait of Emperor Pedro II, so his image would be not be disfigured by a postmark. In 1845 some postmasters in the United States issued their own stamps, but it was not until 1847 that the first official U.S. stamps were created: 5 and 10 cent issues depicting Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. A few other countries issued stamps in the late 1840s. Many others, such as India, initiated their use in the 1850s, and by the 1860s most countries issued stamps.

Perforation of postage stamps began January 1854.The first officially perforated stamps were issued in February 1854. Stamps from Henry Archer's perforation trials were issued the last few months of 1850; during the 1851 parliamentary session at the House of Commons, and finally in 1853/54 after the government paid Mr. Archer £4,000 for his machine and the patent.


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