This Penny Red with four good margins sold for £680.

Stamps blog: The Penny Red

LAST time we looked at why the Penny Black is so famous, its origins and why it was replaced, writes philately specialist Phil Ives.

The Penny Black’s replacement, the Penny Red, was introduced in 1841 and in various guises remained until 1879.

It did much of the heavy lifting as the postal service grew into the giant that it was to become and it is estimated that approximately 21 billion Penny Reds were printed.

The early Penny Reds were printed from the same plates as the Penny Black and collectors like to study these and to collect matched pairs – stamps from the same plate with the same letters in the lower corners.

A matched pair of a Penny Black and an early Penny Red from the same plate.
A matched pair of a Penny Black and an early Penny Red from the same plate.

The first major change in the Penny Red came in 1850, when experiments with perforations as a method of separation commenced. Small differences were also made to the corner letters of the stamp at about the same time.

If you have the original ‘die 1 alphabet 1’ with perforations you have an Archer perforation and quite a rare stamp. These are difficult to identify and are best sought with an expertisation certificate.

From the 1850s to 1864 a change of perforations and watermarks were introduced, so that combinations of such can keep a specialist amused for quite some time.

Add in the possibility of shade variations and the possibilities are near endless. This group of Penny Reds are known as the ‘stars’.

These two Penny Reds are both stars – note the difference in perforations and shades.
These two Penny Reds are both ‘stars’ – note the difference in perforations and shades.

In 1864 there was another design change with the star ornaments in the top corners being replaced with letters.

The plate from which the stamp was printed was also marked, allowing collectors to form a run of plates.

The first of the new plates was 71, the final being 225. Not all plates were used and some are very rare.

Plate 225 is rarest of the plates that you will likely encounter and can easily command prices in three figures even for a used example.

If you look closely in the fretwork on the sides of this Penny Red, you can see the plate number. In this case it is 111.
If you look closely in the fretwork on the sides of this Penny Red, you can see the plate number. In this case it is 111.

Plate 77 is one of the most famous British stamps and is a true rarity with less than 15 having been verified.

It is possible that there are more out there awaiting discovery. They are worth looking out for – in 2016 a used example sold for £495,000!

Stamps valuations with Phil Ives next take place by appointment at The Lichfield Auction Centre on Wednesday 11th October 10am-2pm (telephone 01543 251081 or email office@richardwinterton.co.uk) and at The Tamworth Auction Rooms on Thursday 12th October 10am-2pm (telephone 01827 217746 or email tamworth@richardwinterton.co.uk).

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