Logo: SG43 Plate 77

The Penny Red Collector

Image: Portsmouth Sorting Carriage cancel

I have been interested in penny reds for 42 years and am happy to say the pleasure I get from improving my collection and learning more about the history and detail of our chosen specialisation grows constantly.

Image: C9 Plate 44 Orange-Brown Transitional

The Penny Red

The Penny Red was Great Britain's longest running stamp, from February 1841 to the end of November 1879. It was used for the standard letter postage rate of 1d and approximately 21 billion were issued. The 1d Red was a development of the Penny Black with the colour being changed from black to red so that the new black Maltese Cross cancellation could be clearly seen. This change was made following Rowland Hill's "rainbow trials" and "obliterating trials" to find the most sensible stamp and cancel combination to prevent people removing evidence of cancellation so the stamps could be re-used. Basically, his initial choice of very durable black ink for a stamp was a mistake! Until 1854 the 1d red was imperforate. In 1855 the watermark was changed from a small crown to a large crown. The first die was used to produce 204 plates, plus 6 reserve plates. A new die II was also introduced in 1855. This was used to produce 225 plates. Plates 71-225 have the plate number engraved on the stamp and these "penny plates" include the famous Plate 77 which you are unlikely to see outside of an exhibition as it is the rarest penny red and a good example could certainly fetch hundreds of thousands of pounds! The British Library has one on permanent display in the GB selection of the Tapling Collection. this stamp is mint. They also have a used on from the Fletcher collection too. The paper of the 1d red also changed from blued, to cream or toned to white (and a combination of the above!) between 1854 and 1858. A very great permutation of paper and ink shades were used to produce these stamps. The design was modified with letters in all four corners being introduced on 1st April 1864 and the plate number being engraved on each stamp. The reason that letters in all four corners was introduced was to significantly reduce the opportunity for people to reconstruct an unused stamp from the uncancelled parts of 2 used stamps. All 1d reds were printed using the line-engraved method by Perkins, Bacon & Petch (from 1852 Perkins, Bacon & Co) who finally lost their contract of 38 years in 1879 largely due to the fact that their stamps were printed in non-fugitive ink making their stamps more susceptible to being cleaned and re-used. On the 23rd December 1878 The Inland revenue gave 6 months' notice of the cancellation of the contract to print the 1d red. On the 8th May 1879 the Inland Revenue recorded that an agreement had been made for Perkins Bacon to continue to supply the 1d until 31st December 1879. In fact, the last plate was 225 which was put to press on the 27th October 1879 and was used for about 4 weeks, the print run ending at the end of November. This is confirmed by a letter from Mr Robertson of the Inland Revenue who comments on 3rd December 1879 "the printing of the Penny Postage label by your firm having come to a close." I suspect that all concerned would have been amazed to find that their "labels" are still enthusiastically collected and studied by people all over the world 150 years later! Incidentally, the Penny Red was originally called the Red Penny as well by collectors but that earlier term has now fallen away.

Image: Plate 120 imperforate


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