Genesis Of Stamps - Part 4

The world's first postage stamp, Great Britain's famous "Penny Black," did present somewhat of an innovation in that it was gummed on the back. This caused considerable public comment at the time for many considered the idea of "slobbering over the back of Queen Victoria's face an affront not to be countenanced. Others objected strenuously to the use of canceling devices, claiming that to smear the Queen's face was even a greater affront. Simultaneously with issuing of the first adhesive stamp, Great Britain also issued the world's first governmentstamped envelope and letter sheet. This, the famous "Mulready Envelope," caused an even greater public expression than did the adhesive stamp. The Mulready Envelope and its counterpart, the letter sheet, resembled nothing even closely approximating the modern stamped envelopes that are so common today. William Mulready, one of the foremost artists of the time, chose as his design an allegorical figure of Britannia dispatching messages to all of the world. The design, now recognized as one of great beauty and meaning, brought forth a flood of derision in the press, and entrepreneurs, quick to see a good thing, quickly made up envelopes caricaturing the Mulready design.

The Penny
Black stamp
The "Penny Black" of Great Britain issued on May 6, 1840, is the first government-issued postage stamp

Commenting on the new stamps and envelopes the Ingoldsby Legends contained the following ditty: "The manager rings, And the prompter springs To his side in a jiffy, and with him he brings A set of those odd-looking envelope things, Where Britannia (who seems to be crucified) flings To her right and her left funny people with wings Amongst Elephants, Quakers, and Catabaw Kings; And a taper and wax, And small Queen's heads, in packs, Which, when notes are too big, you're to stick on their backs." The "Queen's heads," of course, were the adhesive stamps. This furor and ridicule might well have ruined Rowland Hill's whole idea and, in fact, did result in the withdrawing of the Mulready Envelope. But the need for a better postal system was so pressing, and Hill's plan of universal postage proved so completely to satisfy the demand, that the stamp idea stuck and became the basis of every postal system of the world today. For a few cents, or whatever the rate may be, anyone in any civilized country in the world may send a letter a few city blocks or many thousands of miles.

Heinrich von Stephan stamp
Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, father of the Universal Postal Union.
Stamps of Nigeria, Indonesia and San Marino
Stamps of Nigeria, Indonesia and San Marino commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union.

Rowland Hill's universal postage idea worked well within the limits of each country where it was adopted. However, difficulties were encountered when mail was to be transported over international boundaries. This involved the negotiation of separate postal treaties between nations - a cumbersome arrangement which caused no end of confusion and, not infrequently, the stoppage of mail delivery when treaties had expired or could not be negotiated. Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, the first postmaster of the German Empire, labored strenuously for the establishment of some form of an international union that would permit the flow of international mail with the same ease that existed for delivery of mail within a single country. His efforts resulted in the formation of the Universal Postal Union in 1875. All civilized nations have become members and since its foundation, the U.P.U. has insured the rapid and uninterrupted passage of mail throughout the world. The U.P.U. is one of the greatest achievements of history.