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POSTAGE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 191 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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POSTAGE STAMPS For all practical purposes the history of postage stamps begins in the United Kingdom. A post-paid envelope was in common use in Paris in the year 1653. Stamped postal letter-paper (carta postale bollata) was issued to the public by the government of the Sardinian States in November 1818, and stamped postal envelopes were issued by the same government from 182o until 1836.1 Stamped wrappers for newspapers were made experimentally in London by Charles Whiting, under the name of " go-frees," in 183o. Four years later (June 1834), and in ignorance of what Whiting had already done, Charles Knight, the well-known publisher, in a letter addressed to Lord Althorp, then chancellor of the exchequer, recommended similar wrappers for adoption. From this suggestion apparently Rowland Hill, who is justly regarded as the originator of postage stamps, got his idea. Meanwhile, however, the adhesive stamp was made experimentally by James Chalmers in his printing-office at Dundee in August 1834.2 These experimental stamps were printed from ordinary type, and were made adhesive by a wash of gum. Chalmers had already won local distinction by his successful efforts in 1822, for the acceleration of the Scottish mails from London. Those efforts resulted in a saving of forty-eight hours on the double mail journey, and were highly appreciated in Scotland. Rowland Hill brought the adhesive stamp under the notice of the commissioners of post office inquiry on the 13th of February 1837. Chalmers made no public mention of his stamp of 1834 until November 1837. Rowland Hill's pamphlet led to the appointment of a committee of the House of Commons on the 22nd of November 1837, " to inquire into the rates and modes of charging postage, with a view to such a reduction thereof as may be made without injury to the revenue." This committee reported in favour of Hill's proposals; and an act was passed in 1839, authorizing the treasury to fix the rates of postage, and regulate the mode of their collection, whether by prepayment or otherwise. A premium of £200 was offered for the best, and boo for the next best, proposal for bringing stamps into use, having regard to i Stamp-Collector's Magazine, v. 161 seq.; J. E. Gray, Illustrated Catalogue of Postage Stamps, 6th ed., 167. 2 Patrick Chalmers, Sir Rowland Hill and James Chalmers, Inventor of the Adhesive Stamp (London, 1882), passim. See also the same writer's pamphlet, entitled The Position of Sir Rowland Hill made plain (1882), and his The Adhesive Stamp: a Fresh Chapter in the History of Post-Office Reform (1881). Compare Pearson Hill's tract, A Paper on Postage Stamps, in reply to Chalmers, reprinted from the Philatelic Record of November 1881. Pearson Hill has therein shown conclusively the priority of publication by Sir Rowland Hill. He has also given proof of James Chalmers's express acknowledgment of that priority. But he has not weakened the evidence of the priority of invention by Chalmers. " (r) the convenience as regards the public use; (2) the security against forgery; (3) the facility of being checked and distinguished at the post office, which must of necessity be rapid; and (4) the expense of the production and circulation of the stamps." To this invitation 2600 replies were received, but no improvement was made upon Rowland Hill's suggestions. A further Minute, of the 26th of December 1839, announced that the treasury had decided to require that, as far as practicable, the postage of letters should be prepaid, and such prepayment effected by means of stamps. Stamped covers or wrappers, stamped envelopes, and adhesive stamps were to be issued by government. The stamps were engraved by Messrs Perkins, Bacon & Petch, of Fleet Street, from Hill's designs, and the Mulready envelopes and covers by Messrs Clowes & Son, of Blackfriars. The stamps were appointed to be brought into use on the 6th of May 184o, but they appear to have been issued to the public as early as the 1st of May. The penny stamp, bearing a profile of Queen Victoria, was coloured black, and the twopenny stamp blue, with check-letters in the lower angles (in all four angles from April 1858). Up to the 28th of January 18 J4 the stamps were not officially perforated, except in the session of 1851, when stamps, perforated by a Mr Archer, were issued at the House of Commons post office. In 1853 the government purchased Archer's patent for £4000. The stamps were first water-marked in April 184o. The canton of Zurich was the first foreign state to adopt postage stamps, in 1843. The stamps reached America in the same year, being introduced by the government of Brazil. That of the United States did not adopt them until 1847; but a tentative issue was made by the post office of New York in 1845. An adhesive stamp was also issued at St Louis in the same year, and in Rhode Island in the next. In Europe the Swiss cantons of Geneva (1844) and of Basel (1845) soon followed the example set by Zurich. In the Russian Empire the use of postage stamps became general in 1848 (after preliminary issues at St Petersburg and in Finland in 1845). France issued them in 1849. The same year witnessed their introduction into Tuscany, Belgium and Bavaria, and also into New South Wales. Austria, Prussia, Saxony, Spain, Italy, followed in 185o. The use of postage stamps seems to have extended to the Hawaiian Islands (1851?) a year before it reached the Dutch Netherlands (1852). Within twenty-five years of the first issue of a postage stamp in London, the known varieties, issued in all parts of the world, amounted to 1391. Of these 841 were of European origin, 333 were American, 59 Asiatic, 55 African. The varieties of stamp issued in the several countries of Oceania were 103. Of the whole 1391 stamps no less than 811 were already obsolete in 1865, leaving 58o still in currency.
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