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Brief History

When the 1d black postage stamp was issued to the public on 6 May 1840 it was the first issue ever of a pre-paid adhesive postage stamp anywhere in the world. It was accompanied one day later by the 2d blue and at the beginning of 1841 the 1d red appeared. The 1d red was available from the beginning until 1879 in various forms.

The Penny Black

The world's first postage stamp and predecessor to the 1d red postage stamp.

The 1d black was printed from eleven plates, each of which being individually identifiable and the last of which was put to press for printing, in black in February 1841, shortly after the printing in red on this plate.

A matched pair 1d black and 1d red

The identical 1d black printing plates were used, in particular instances, but printed in red-brown; this being restricted to the use of 'Black' plates 1, 2, 5, 8, 9 and 10 and lasted for a very short time, although copies of Plate 9 can be found in use as late as 1843.  One curious fact concerns Plate 11 printings, which were printed, firstly in red at the end of January 1841, followed by a short two-day run of 700 sheets, in black, on the 1 and 2 February of that year.  However, collectors still look upon plate 11 1d red imperforate as one of the 'black' plates.

The 'Queen's head', first seen on the penny black, continued to be used on all issues throughout the reign and the printing plates were laid down exactly as for the 1d black i.e. 240 letterings, each stamp with a check-letter at the S.W. and S.E. corner, ranging from A-A to T-L…(Horizontal rows lettered A to L and vertical columns A to T)   The stamps were imperforate and remained so for several years, which meant that the Postmistress should not be too careless when cutting off a stamp from the sheet for a customer if to-day's collectors were to possess nice four-margin copies. Sadly, that was not the case in every instance.

Apparently, a decision to change from black to red printing was agreed in August 1840 but delayed in order to formulate a new black cancellation ink which would prevent the illegal removal of the cancellation and re-use of a stamp used postally.  (Yes, nothing is new, people were doing just that about 160 years ago and had been defrauding the Post office since the introduction of the 1d black in 1840).  In addition to the new black ink for cancellations a new type of red ink for use in printing the 1d red stamps was approved.

1d red
with black MX

1d black
with red MX

Printing of the reds began at the end of 1840 and the first stamps were introduced during February 1841.

It will be seen that the common use of blacks and reds within a certain range of plates presented a wonderful opportunity for collectors to match identical printings, plates and printing varieties etc., and at the same time gave rise to an amazing fund of collectable material over the next few years and this, of course, continues in great strength to-day throughout the world.

The Penny Red

T he 1d reds provide a 'platform' for collectors to "do their own thing" as far as deciding just what they will collect and how they will do it and whilst many devote years in re-constructing the plates - some by lettering only and others (the hard way) using only the correctly plated copies for the appropriate sheet under re-construction - there are many other facets  of collectable interest e.g. 'double' letters , letter flaws and constant flaws in the printing, horizontal and vertical guide-lines, and corrected and defective check-letters etc.

'L' over 'K' variety

Many of these constant flaws and varieties are used as part of the process in determining the actual plate from which a stamp was printed.


W here an impression has required to be re-engraved after the plate has been used for printing - offer yet another fascinating aspect of this issue - as the collector is able to identify where the re-engraving has been carried out.   Yet another "variety" concerns the watermark of the paper used for printing when occasionally the paper has been presented to the printing machine in the incorrect position, resulting in an Inverted watermark.

The Student of the 1d red issues is fortunate in that there is no shortage of literature and text books to guide him.  Books have been published and improved upon over the last 70 years or so and new ones continue to be written.   Some authors devoted several years of their lives to the completion of definitive works, which are still used avidly by the Collector and Specialist alike.

The printing of the 1d red imperforate continued, complete with the introduction of new Plates throughout the years until 1853, by which time plate 177 had been issued.  (Plates 176 and 177 being very rare in imperf form).   During this period one major change was carried out and that was to re-cut the whole of the corner letters used on plates 132 to 177 (1852/53) henceforth referred to as Alphabet 2.


I n addition to having an interest in the plating or collecting of stamps enthusiasts also seek out the various cancellations and obliterations on these issues.

The study of cancellations ranging from Maltese Cross, 1844-type and later cancels, including Town and the special London District cancels are found  by numerous people to be as absorbing as the Collection or Plating of the actual Stamps.

Between 1848 and 1854 trials were carried out in order to find a better and more acceptable way of separating stamps than the scissors of the Postmistress of the time and in early 1854 the first Officially Perforated 1d Red Issue was released.

Henry Archer Example

SG17 (SG Spec C1)

Stamp Perforations

The next ten years saw the introduction of many changes to the finished stamp, (whilst retaining the same design), which included the following:-

       the use of Small Crown and Large Crown watermark on different issues;

       the extension beyond the use of Alphabet 2 to Alphabets 3 and 4;

       and also the use of Perforation 16 and Perforation 14 for various issues.

The result of the above saw the introduction of 13 different issues between 1852 and 1862 and if we add to this the fact that the colour of the paper used for printing gradually changed from 'blued' (1854) to yellowish (for the one issue during 1857,known as the transitional issue) and then, finally to white paper (1856 to 1863), the enormous potential for study of these stamps becomes apparent.

The 1d Red "plate numbers" series

T he final chapter in the production of the 1d black 'head' on a 1d red began in 1864 and continued until 1879, during which time a change was made in that the plate numbers (previously not visible, except where printed on the actual sheet margin) were included in the design of the stamp. Another important feature change was that the check-letters (previously always at the foot of the stamp) were repeated in the top two diametrically opposed corners  e.g. A stamp with the letters A-C at the foot were reversed and became C-A at the top.   The Plates issued for this "Plate numbers series" covered No:71  to No:225 (apart from plates 75, 126 and 128 which were rejected and not replaced and more importantly, plate 77, also rejected but, strangely enough, two or  three copies were obtained by the public.  Worth a King's ransom to-day!)

This final "Plates" series is used frequently as an introduction to 1d reds by Collectors who welcome the initial luxury of reading the plate number from the stamp without "plating"  being necessary,  but many graduate thereafter to a study of the earlier issues, and who can blame them, with such a wealth of information and variety lying there for the taking!

We are reminded frequently by a friend, who is a respected authority on Line Engraved issues, that this much maligned area i.e. "Penny Plate Numbers" provides us with an almost untapped source of wonderful varieties, just waiting to be discovered when collectors have learned to look at their stamps in depth.

The 2d Blue

This history would be incomplete without a brief reference to the 2d blue.

One day after the introduction of the 1d black, its sister, the 2d blue was put on sale. 2d blue stamps, both imperforate and perforate, were printed through to 1876 and a similar (but smaller) variety of printings, containing watermarks and perforations can be found on this denomination.

2d imperforate

2d perforate

2d "plate numbers"