Introduction to Stamp Collecting

A Brief History

By Jim Watson

The first adhesive* postage stamp was used in Great Britain in 1840. At the time, the British post office was having trouble collecting revenue. The comparatively high rates for mailing caused people to use alternate services; members of Parliament had a franking privilege (a service allowing them free mail services); and non-Parliamentary mail users were few. Since postage was not prepaid and was collected on delivery, a lot of mail was refused, so the post office lost revenue.

Mr. Rowland Hill, a retired schoolteacher, proposed an overhaul of the entire postal system. His proposal was to end the franking privilege; to establish uniform rates, regardless of distance but dependent on weight; and to require the prepayment of postage or to collect double rates on mail sent collect. His conclusions were based on an analysis of the high cost of bookkeeping and other administrative overhead for the collect-on-delivery system. Actual delivery costs were only a small fraction of the total cost of running the post office. His proposals led to revolutionary postal reform.

The adhesive postage stamp was created to signify the prepayment of postage by attaching it to the mail. The stamps were then cancelled by defacing them with an inked hand stamp to prevent re-use.The firstPrnny Black stamps are called the Penny Black. Since postage stamps had the aura of a security or currency, the first stamps were printed by the firm of Perkins, Bacon & Perch, who were bank-note engravers. The scrolled engraving and the use of letters in the corners of the stamp were intended to make forgery difficult. The first stamps were sold on May 6, 1840, and were successful almost immediately.

At the same time, stationery imprinted with stamps was also sold. The first were ornate envelopes and wrappers (used to wrap items like newspapers). Such items are called "Mulreadies" after their designer, William Mulready. The Mulreadies did not meet with the success that greeted the adhesive stamps and were soon discontinued.

Mulready Envelope

Stamp collecting began almost immediately. The earliest citation is an advertisement in the London Times in 1841 by a young woman seeking help in finding enough stamps to paper her dressing room! Later, after a greater variety of stamps had been issued, stamp collecting became very popular. One of the great collectors, J.B. Moens, began collecting in Belgium in 1848. By the 1860s, collectors could be found throughout the civilized world. Moen's collection reached 10,400 different items by the start of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It was believed to be within 50 items of being complete with all stamps ever produced.

* Words in red are defined in the Glossary section - see link under Outline at right.



A Brief History
Why People Collect Stamps
Major Stamp Categories
Factors Influencing Value
Tips for Finding and Buying
Tips for Listing and Selling
Displaying or Storing
Stamp Collecting Tools
Caring for Stamps
Insuring Your Collection
Books and Other Sources
Building a Collection
Describing Stamp Condition
I Have This Stamp Collection...
Appendix I: Tips for Finding
   and Buying Stamps on eBay

Appendix II: Tips for Listing
   and Selling Stamps on eBay

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