The changes in Britain’s national mail service started when an Englishman called Rowland Hill came up with the idea of pre-paying for letters with ‘postage stamps’. He considered that it was fairer to make the sender pay for the letters.
There is a legend about how Rowland Hill thought up his invention. One morning, on his way to work, he met a very sad young lady. She had just refused to take the letter from the postman. Rowland Hill felt that this letter was a message from the girl’s dear friend. He thought that she could not read the letter because she did not have the money to pay for its delivery.
He came up to the lady and the postman, paid the postal fee and handed the letter to the girl. To his great surprise, she informed him that she didn’t want the letter. She had already known the news that was in the letter. The girl explained that because of the high postage cost, her dear friend coded the message in the address. The girl needed only to look at the address to understand the message. Then she gave back the letter to the postman without paying for it. Rowland Hill was astonished at their inventive plan, but this incident gave him the idea that postage should be paid in advance.
Rowland Hill was a successful businessman who understood postal issues. In 1837 he presented the Post Office Reform Project to the government. He proposed to set up a single rate of one penny for a prepaid letter. According to the reform the sender had to buy a stamp for his letter for one penny.
Hill’s Post Office Reform Project started in January 1840. A special competition for the first postage stamp was announced. There were a lot of proposals and designs. At last it was decided to use a portrait of Queen Victoria painted when she was just a 15-year-old princess.
The penny stamp known as the Penny Black presents a portrait of Queen Victoria, who was Queen at that time. The image stands against a black background. It’s called the Penny Black because it cost a penny, and it is black. Nowadays the Penny Black is not rare — 68 million of them were printed — but if you have one in excellent condition it could be worth 1000 pounds.
On May 7, 1840, Britain placed on sale a second stamp, the Two-Penny Blue. Nowadays the United Kingdom is the only country that doesn’t have its name on its stamps, usually they have only the monarch’s head. The first person other than royalty to appear on a British stamp was William Shakespeare in 1964.