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England is quite important in the world of philately because this is where the history of stamps began. Henry Bishop, the Postmaster General, invented a new system for delivering mail. In 1661, he invented a stamp mark and announced: "A stamp is invented that is putt upon every letter shewing the day of the moneth that every letter comes to the office, so that no Letter Carryer may dare detayne a letter from post to post; which before was usual." . This was known as the Bishop Mark. This mark consisted of a circle divided in two, with the top half showing the day and the bottom showing the month. This general procedure was used by the British Royal Mail up until 1787 when the stamps began being used by the British Post.
Bishop's system was only being used in the most major towns and cities. There was a growing demand in the local areas to have postal service, and so a man named William Dockwra decided to start up an independent service called the London Penny Post. The system he used was absolutely brilliant for the time. He started with Rebel Couriers who called themselves "Undertakers". They would establish hundreds of houses around down as places that received mail each hour. These would be collected and taken to the central distribution offices. The fees at the time were just one penny if the mail was to be delivered within the city and two pennies for delivery to the suburbs, which were farther away.
William Dockwra was actually the person who invented the Postage Stamp. He used triangular shape stamps depicting the words: "Penny Post Paid" along with an initial that described what collection office was used. The system was growing so popular and it was a great business idea, and of course the British government had to shut him down after 2 years since his capitalist idea was taking a big chunk of the postal monopoly that London had. Although, he was still allowed to continue a "Penny Post" in his local area and continue business.
Things continued as normal and unchanged for over 100 years until 1837 when Rowland Hill began advocating reform of the post office. Prices for stamps and service were increasing out of control. He criticized the Royal Post Office along with the Commission of Inquiry, who was supposed to be investigating the issue. There were a list of ideas that Hill devised for reform, including: prepaid postal stationary, envelopes, letter sheets, wrappers and smaller stamped labels. In addition, Rowland Hill also proposed that the postage cost should be based on weight rather than destination locations and how many pages were being mailed out. These were revolutionary and genius ideas of the time that continued into modern times.
Two years later, the "Penny Postage" bill was successfully passed during the summer of 1839 by the parliament. May of next year in 1840, the very first adhesive stamps began being printed. These were the extremely famous and collectible Penny Black and Two Pence Blue (also known as Tuppenny Blue). These stamps were engraved and depicted the words "Postage" along with Queen Victoria, as shown in the links above. The sheets of stamps were originally imperforate while each stamp had a letter code describing it's physical position on the sheet itself. Also on the sheets of stamps were instructions that the stamps were to be placed to the upper-right of the mailing address (like modern times).
Cancelling is the act of using a postmark to mark a stamp with ink in order to confirm that the stamp has already been used and can no longer be re-used. The first British canceler had the shape of a Maltese cross and marked stamps using red ink. One problem started to arise in that frauds and cheaters were easily able to erase the ink from used stamps and re-use them to get free shipping, without having to pay any additional money. The Royal Mail found out about the issue and tried to fix it in 1841 by changing the stamps to prevent this. Here are some changes: Red in was changed to black for one penny stamps, white lines were added to the blue two penny stamps in order to show that these were the newer type, perforations were added to both stamps in 1854, and check letters were added to the corners of both stamps in 1858.
No other country officially used adhesive stamps during this time. Because of this, "Great Britain" was not printed on stamps since it was assumed by default that all stamps came from England. Although, Britain did encourage their colonies to produce their own Commonwealth and British Colonial stamps locally. One extremely rare and collectible stamp came out of Mauritius, an island colony of the British Empire. Normally, the would order in stamps from the United Kingdom (UK), but they stopped arriving. So they decided to print their own stamps based on England's one penny black and their two pence blue stamps. So the Mauritius's governor ordered an engraving of their own red one cent and blue two cent stamps. 500 of each of these stamps were made and sold out after a few days when they were released in September, 1847. These are very valuable and rare for philatelists and stamp collectors.
Mauritius wasn't the only British colony to produce their own rare stamps: Trinidad's 1847 Lady McLeod stamp, the 1848 plain stamps from Hamilton, Bermuda, and the 1856 British Guiana black-on-magenta one cent stamp from Guyana are just a few great, notable ones. 1887 marked the year of the first commemorative stamps produced by Britain. During this year, a Golden Jubilee stamp was printed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria taking the throne. Typically, the commemorative British stamps would commemorate just the Queen for many years. It wasn't until 1924 when the first event (British Empire Exhibition) would be featured on a stamp created by Harold Nelson. This stamp depicted the symbol of Britain, the lion, along with a portrait of King George V. After this time, stamps became more diverse and wouldn't feature British Royalty as the sole stamp subject and topic.
Queen Elizabeth and King George VI were depicted in 1948 for the Silver Anniversary stamp, commemorated based on photos of the Royal couple taken by Dorothy Wilding. The first non-Royal themed stamp wouldn't be produced until 1964 when William Shakespeare's Quatercentenary (400th anniversary) was honored and commemorated. Eventually more things like national monuments, artwork and other historical events would be placed on British commemorative stamps and allow for an expansion of British (UK) philately collecting.
A few remarkable England stamp designers are Bertram Mackennal, J.A.C Harrison and G.W. Eve. Philatelist and collectibles highly value one stamp series from 1918 created these designers called Sea Horses, which depicted King George V and the Britannia chariot being pulled by horse-like equine animals. King George was actually a stamp collector and philatelist himself, who requested Eve and Mackennel to use intaglio rather than the newer and more popular letterpress printing technique. Another very popular item is the Machin Stamp Series from 1967, which depicted Queen Elisabeth. The portrait was inspired by the sculpture that Arnold Machin made of the Queen. This historical image is still used today in modern times.