04.02.2020

The history of postage stamps (Part 1)

Its origin

Today, most people send a letter infrequently or only for important matters. But when a letter is sent, the stamp is of course a part of it.  But where does the stamp come from? What did the first one look like? Why do they have teeth on the edge? We answer all these questions in the first part on the history of stamps.

As early as the 17th century, there was a stamp-like method for paying for postal items, the so-called "Billet de port payé" from France. This was a simple paper strip which was attached to the letter with thread or a clip. A similar procedure was also used a little later in London. There, a unit price for mail was determined by a postmark. At the beginning of the 19th century there were envelopes which already had a stamp printed on them and could thus be purchased directly.

The first stamp

The stamp was created by the Englishman Rowland Hill, who in 1838 came up with the idea of a stamp to simplify the postal system. Everyone should be able to afford to send letters and not just the rich. Another new concept was that the sender had to pay for the letter instead of the recipient, as had previously been the case.
The first stick-on stamp became valid for franking on May 6, 1840. The first stick-on stamp became valid for franking on May 6, 1840. It was called "One Penny Black" because it cost only one penny. Its motif was Queen Victoria in profile on a black background. It was specially designed by Rowland Hill after he had rejected all suggestions at the end of a competition for the design of the stamp. The complete  article on the stamp can be found here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postage_stamp#History).

Why do stamps have teeth?

As you can see on the picture of the One Penny Black, it has straight edges. However, the newer stamps have teeth. Why is that so? The One Penny Black was printed on large sheets and had to be cut out by hand. As a result, some stamps had a thick edge or were cut. To solve this problem, British businessman Henry Archer used a puncture machine. But even this did not cut cleanly. Finally, in 1848 the row perforating machine was patented, which punched small holes out of the printed sheets. This led to the fact that the stamps could be separated faster and cleaner from each other by the holes and thus also the typical serrations developed.  The complete article can be found here (https://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/aha-warum-haben-briefmarken-zacken/6294822.html, german only).
Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Penny_black.jpg

  • Erste Briefmarke: Die One Penny Black