What did the Victorians give us?

To mark the birth bicentenary of Queen Victoria I thought we’d look at the inventions, advances and new traditions brought in with the Victorian era.

The Penny Black

(of course my number one!)

The Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp, was introduced on 6 May 1840 making it much cheaper to send post and available to the masses, who were unable to afford it previously. The design was based on a portrait of Queen Victoria at the age of 15 and this image was used for her entire reign.

A image of the engraved Penny Black design on the die used to produce the stamps and an example of the stamp itself.

Old Original Die (2010-0411/13) & A Penny Black Stamp, 1840

The Christmas Card

The first commercial Christmas card was produced in 1843 by Henry Cole. It was designed by John Callcott Horsley and features two acts of charity; ‘feeding the hungry’ and ‘clothing the naked’. Initially 1000 were printed but due to demand more were produced.

The first Christmas card featuring people drinking together and the message 'A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you'.

The first British commercially produced Christmas card. (2003-0476)

The Telegraph

The telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse, also known for Morse Code. The first message was sent on 24 May 1844 between Washington DC and Balitmore. By 1866 a transatlantic cable was laid from Europe to America, completed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s PSS Great Eastern.

Stamp depicting a painting of the PSS Great Eastern at sea.

47p, PSS Great Eastern, Brunel, 2006

The Telephone

The Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone in 1876, an image of his first telephone can be seen in the presentation pack from 1976. The telephone would take over from the telegraph and eventually led to the mobile phone. The below artwork was produced for the 2007 stamp issue World of Invention that included advancements such as the telephone and the first steam train.

The internal information featuring images of telephones through the ages and an illustration of Alexander Graham Bell.

Presentation Pack, The Telephone, 1976

Painting of two people making a phone call from the United Kingdom to Australia.

Artwork for World of Invention looking at the telephone by Peter Till, c.2006 (2007/04a/28)

London Underground

The Victorian period saw the increase in train travel not just above ground but below. The first underground railway was produced in London in 1863 with the opening of the Metropolitan line. At this time the wooden carriages were pulled by steam locomotives and it was lit by gas light. This led to more lines being added and in 1890 the first electric trains were introduced.

Painting of the Victorian underground with a family in the foreground and a green steam train behind.

Artwork for the London Underground issue of Baker Street by NB Studios, c.2012 (2013/02/87)

Theory of Evolution

In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book ‘On the Origin of Species’ which featured his theory of evolution by natural selection. The concept that animals change overtime to best adapt to their environment. Darwin looked at the different types of finch beaks, as you can see in the artwork below, which adapted to help it feed.

Painting of different finch beaks with an image of Darwin and his signature.

22p, Artwork for Darwin Death Centenary of Finches by David Gentleman, 1981 (QEII/157/07)

So many of the things we use today were invented by the Victorians. Stamp design has celebrated many of these achievements and I felt with the anniversary of Queen Victoria it was a great opportunity to recognise what they gave us.

Drop into our Discovery Room this month to view a mini-exhibition of stamp artworks that document the inventions and scientific advances from the Victorian period.

– Georgina Tomlinson (Deputy Curator Philately)