Notes from the Past

Great Britain Issues the Penny Red

Although the penny black is an elegant stamp, the choice of black for postal use soon became apparent.  The postmarks, even when applied in red, did not show up well against the black stamp.  In turn, this led to fears by the post office of stamps being reused.  This was particularly bad when the stamp was cancelled in black in some post offices.

Before the end of 1840 tests were underway to select a better color for the stamp.  In mid-December, 1840, the change to red was approved and about the 30th of December printing began.  This printing was interrupted after about three weeks when more black stamps were printed.  A shortage of stamps had arisen and officials were reluctant to issue the red stamps until all the post offices had been supplied with black ink for cancellation.  This emergency printing led to the rarest of all 1d. blacks, those printed from plate XI.

In addition to plate XI, six more of the plates used for black printing were also used for the reds: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, and 10.  In addition, plates from 12 to 170 and 175 were ultimately used for the penny reds.

One of the noticeable characteristics of the reds is the blueing of the paper.  This resulted from the reaction between the moisture used to dampen the paper and the ink.  The moisture caused the prussiate of potash in the ink to become prussian blue.  This often assumed a slightly greenish tint when the paper was gummed.  This effect was less in the area of the Queen's portrait because less ink was used.  This gave rise to the effect known as 'ivory head.'

The new stamps went on sale on February 10; however, earlier uses are known.  The issue remained in use unchanged until 1854 when perforation was introduced.  As noted, many plates were prepared to provide stamps for this long period of use.  Many plate varieties exist to add variety for the collector of these interesting stamps.

Posted August 21, 2000

Editor's Note:  I have willingly excerpted (almost plagiarized) this from Stamps Day By Day, L. N. and M Williams. Blandford Press Ltd, 1950.

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