Penny post stamps sparked 1840s comms revolution akin to the rise of the internet

STAMPS are the product of an obscure but very important piece of reform that occurred in the 1830s, writes philately specialist Phil Ives.

Before the reform, the postal service was expensive, unreliable and open to abuse.

The recipient of a letter was charged to receive it and often declined to pay, leaving the postal system inefficient.

The unreformed system charged by distance and with the new railways offering quick and relatively cheap longer distance travel there was less justification for mileage rates.

Finally an act of Parliament in 1840 saw the introduction of the penny post, a system under which a letter of up to ½oz could be sent anywhere in the UK for one penny.

The letter could either be a prepaid envelope or wrapper (known as a Mulready) or an adhesive stamp that acted as a receipt to show that the service had been purchased.

The receipt would then be affixed to the letter and the letter posted.

An excerpt from the Royal Mail Post Office Regulations dated January 7 1840.
An excerpt from the Royal Mail Post Office Regulations dated January 7 1840.

It is important to note that the service was prepaid and so the Royal Mail was paid regardless of whether the recipient chose to accept the letter.

The postage rate was also significantly cheaper, enabling more people to use the system (the original levelling up?).

The booming railway industry and cheap postage made mass communication available to any who could write.

This could be considered the beginning of a commercial revolution in the same way as the internet is today.

The stamps that were used to show that postage had been paid are what collectors have been studying for generations.

Appointments for stamps valuations with Phil Ives are available at The Lichfield Auction Centre on Thursday, May 18, from 2pm-5pm (telephone 01543 251081 or email and at The Tamworth Auction Rooms on Friday, May 19, from 9am-1pm (telephone 01827 217746 or email

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