The History Of The Humble Postage Stamp
Although email is now our preferred method of communication (at least in the Western World) the humble postage stamp still has its place in both histories and in actual use in countries where Internet access is limited to only the wealthy – or because of infrastructure challenges. However, where did this innovation originate – and how did it become such a part of people’s lives?
before the invention of what we now know as the adhesive postage stamps, there were what were called ‘Bishop Marks.’ These were inked or stamped and where the invention of a man named Henry Bishop. First used in the London General Post Office, they became widespread in 1661. They allowed the recipient to know when the letter was posted to them.
It did sake sometime after the 17th century for the idea of a printed postage stamp to take hold. And that first stamp has been recognized as one of the most valuable ever made. It was, of course, the ‘Penny Black.’ This great stamp went into circulation on May 6, 1840.
The invention of the adhesive stamp did not follow long after. It also earned the inventor a knighthood. In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill, a schoolmaster invented what was to become the gold standard of postage stamps. By 1840 it was widely used. It made what we now recognize as pre-paid postage possible.
The implications of using pre-paid postage were revolutionary. Now the government could start charging for postage by size and weight. A concept that had started in England soon spread across the world. In a related development Hill’s brother also made an innovation that would change the world of postage. A device that folded paper into something we now recognize as an envelope.
The next step was to make postage stamps into something that everyone could use and that happened in London when in 1680 William Dockwra established what was called the ‘London Penny Post.’ That development meant that people could send postal envelopes for only a penny. It relied on agents using the Franking system. Although this did not use stamps – it was a form of a stamp. It literally ‘stamped’ proof of payment onto the package.
The history of the stamp is particularly interesting. After the invention of the adhesive stamp, there have been more and more innovations. Now the stamp is usually not one of the types that require that good old application of saliva. Peel off adhesive stamps are now the norm in the Western world. Stamps evolved into various shapes and forms.
We are rapidly approaching a world where stamps are becoming collector’s items. Technology has replaced the stamp with electrons. However, the sheer beauty and variety of stamps will ensure that they have a lasting legacy. They are not only a record of how the world of communication changed – but also a record of how printing and the human desire for communication have shaped our world. They may be relics in certain parts of the globe, but they are valuable as signs of our history of reaching out to one another. If you are looking to buy stamps you may buy stamps online.