Penny Black Facts

  • The Penny Black was the world’s first official adhesive postage stamp. It was issued on 1st May, 1840 and in use from 6th May, 1840.
  • This world famous and much loved stamp features a portrait of the young Queen Victoria.
  • It was printed using the line engraved printing method from 11 plates numbered 1 to 11, although plate 1 deteriorated quickly and was repaired to such an extent that it is generally considered as two separate plates – 1a and 1b – making 12 plates in total.
  • Small crown watermark
    Small crown watermark
  • The stamps were printed on large sheets each containing 240 stamps which were cut apart by scissors.
  • To prevent forgery, the stamps had small crown watermarks on the back and check letters in the bottom corners.
  • The letters were impressed by hand with a punch.
  • Check letter
    Check letter
  • The letters were marked ‘A’ through ‘T’ horizontally on the plate and ‘A’ through ‘L’ vertically so ‘AA’ was found at the top left of the sheet and the final stamp position at the bottom right was ‘TL’.
  • Maltese cross cancellation
    Maltese cross cancellation
  • The Penny Black was initially cancelled by a red Maltese Cross cancellation however this was both difficult to see and easy to remove on a black stamp. After a brief period of using black ink cancellations the Penny Black was replaced by the Penny Red. Maltese Cross Cancellation
  • The Penny Black was in use for just over a year. It remains today one of the world’s most enduringly popular stamps, however, and is recognised as a design icon.