Notes from the Past

Great Britain's First 2½d. Stamp

Great Britain had not issued a 2½d. stamp until the Postal Union Congress (forerunner of the Union Postale Universelle) decided in Berne in October, 1874, that the rate for ½ oz. letters sent between member countries of the Union should be 2½d.  On October 20, the British Postmaster-General wrote the Inland Revenue Department to notify them of the need for a new stamp and requesting designs for approval.

De la Rue & Co., then printer of middle and high value British stamps, was given the task and submitted several essays on December 17.  The selected design was engraved and an electro for the plate was prepared.  As each stamp bore check letters, the master die had holes punched in each corner in which steel plugs bearing the check letters were placed.  The check letters were changed as each position in the plate was made.

The sheet arrangement was 192 stamps in two panes of 96 arranged in eight rows of twelve.  The check letters run from AA-AA to LP-PL.  There were also marginal inscriptions.

The paper used for this issue was intended for fiscal stamps and was watermarked with small anchors arranged so that one fell on each stamp.  In the margin the watermark showed the facsimile signature of Sir W. H. Stephenson, the words 'Inland Revenue' in script, and 'Mark' in double -lined capitals.

The sheets were perforated by a comb machine gauging 14.  The paper sometimes assumed a blue tint caused by prussiate of potash mixed with the pulp to safeguard against removal of cancellations.

Twelve color trials were submitted and the color the Postmaster-General chose was called 'maroon' but philatelists called it 'rosy mauve.'

Printing of the stamp began in March, 1875, and the stamp was issued on July 1, 1875, the day the UPU treaty went into effect.

Posted November 3, 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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