Out In The Universe . . . Stamps: Especially the 'Black Beauty' of 1840

Michael O. Nowlan - November 15, 1999
  twopenny blue
OUT IN THE UNIVERSE . . . STAMPS: Especially the 'Black Beauty' of 1840

May 6, 1840 is the most important day in the history of stamp collecting. On that date Great Britain released the Penny Black, the first-ever postage stamp. A couple of days later, Britain added the Twopenny Blue to make stamp history for a second time.

So what's the significance of the date? You might say, it's not my country! It wasn't my idea! Or any manner of similar comment. Nonetheless, it is YOUR DAY - May 6, 1940

It marks the birthday of postage stamps, and, therefore, the birthday of our hobby

Now that has significance. I hope you agree.

Every year as May 6 approaches, a few faithful souls raise a glass to the Penny Black and all stamps issued since then, or they make a small statement that the date deserves greater attention in the universal world, not only among collectors, but among all those who cherish the postage stamp. Alas, such actions fail to reach a significant population.

Consequently, organization is needed. Lead time is a must to get official attention for STAMP DAY 2000. This is serious stuff. I am serious. STAMP DAY 2000 sounds like a great way to celebrate our hobby at the commencement of a new millennium.

Let's digress for a moment. The Penny Black was conceived from Britain's Sir Rowland Hill's suggestion of "a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp and covered at the back with a glutinous wash which the user might, by applying a little moisture, attach to the back of the letter." Since that day, stamps have appeared in all sorts of shapes, sizes, glues, and every possible category of treating adhesives as collectibles. Remember, too, the first stamps, until 1853, were imperforate.

The Penny Black now rightly claims its prize at the head of the class. Two recent titles continue the tribute to that little 'black beauty' of 160 years ago. One is The Plating of the Penny Black Postage Stamp of Great Britain, 1840. This is a comprehensive study that makes it the most sought after Penny Black publication ever produced because it features detailed information and descriptions on corner letter characteristics, together with identification of flaws, guidelines, and re-entries.

The Plating of the Penny Black Postage Stamp of Great Britain, 1840,which was originally published in 1922 by Charles Nissen, is republished with distinctive notes and clear illustrations of every stamp from all eleven printings. It will be a treasured resource.

On its heels comes May Dates,a survey of Penny Blacks, Twopenny Blues, Mulreadys and Caricatures used during May 1840. What a collection of memorabilia this has to be. It is a unique reference to more than 840 covers, of which over 750 are illustrated. I have not seen the book, but it promises to be a most comprehensive work with which to celebrate the origins of our hobby.

The Penny Black has been honored is other ways too. It has appeared in cachets for special anniversary covers, namely the 100th and 150th dates of its first printing. It is also the subject of souvenir sheets and often found among stamps-on-stamps collections. An illustration (below) provides an example.

That's enough digression. What do you think? Do we need STAMP DAY as an annual celebration? I don't expect a public holiday, but it would be nice.

An annual day that would get listed on calendars and in diaries will start a trend whereby every collector will recognize the importance of May 6.

What are your ideas? How would you like to celebrate STAMP DAY? What is a sensible way to get authorities to declare STAMP DAY as a national recognition of the importance of the postage stamp? The fringe benefit, of course, is that all collectors get to make much of the festivities.

Share your ideas with me. I'll pass them on. This is our opportunity to get a wide audience thinking about how best to come up with ways to get international recognition other than in the "Today in History" column. STAMP DAY should be an annual event. Let's get at it.

Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for Canadian Stamp News, Gibbons International Stamp News, and other philatelic publications. Contact Michael Nowland at editor@collectors.com.

Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.

Mulready envelope

example of stamp-on-stamp

PSE Library