‘Penny Black’ was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system. It was issued in Great Britain on 1 May 1840, for official use from 6 May of that year. It features a profile of Queen Victoria. The stamp marks its 178th anniversary on May 6 (Sunday).
In 1837, British postal rates were high, complex and anomalous. To simplify matters, Sir Rowland Hill proposed an adhesive stamp to indicate pre-payment of postage. At the time it was normal for the recipient to pay postage on delivery, charged by the sheet and on the distance travelled.
The picture in the stamp features Queen Victoria, based on a sketch of her by William Wyon when she visited London in 1837. The Penny Black stamp was only used for one year because the red cancellation mark was hard to spot on its black background. As a result, nine months later, the stamp was reprinted as a red stamp, so that the black cancellation marks were easily visible and harder to remove.
A special postmark was also introduced to cancel the stamps. This was popularly known as the Maltese Cross. It was to begin with in black. But since it was difficult to spot a black postmark on a black stamp the color was changed to red. The postal authorities were clearly worried that people might ‘clean’ the stamp so that it could be used again. The colour of Penny Black was later changed to red for this very reason.
The stamps were printed on sheets of 240, from engraved steel plates, on gummed paper with a single small crown watermark on each stamp. They were imperforated and had to be cut out
The stamps were printed on sheets of 240 (20×12) and they had corner letters (bottom left and right of the stamp) corresponding to its position on the plate. Starting with AA, AB, AC…to AL for the top row, the second row goes from BA to BL and the twentieth row from TA to TL. Four different alphabets were used in the course of time to form the corner letters. A penny black with the corner letters «SG» is shown below, as well as its position on the sheet.
Main factors affecting value
1- The condition grading and centering. An unused or mint stamp is generally worth more than a used one. The number, size, and regularity of the margins make a big difference to the value. The stamps were not perforated, and had to be separated using scissors. As there is only about 1mm between one stamp and another, it is very easy to wander off just a little and cut into the printed design of the stamp.
2- The plate the stamp was printed from
3- The overall appearance of the stamp. Any fault such as a thin, tear, crease, or stain will reduce the value