Centenary of first adhesive postage stamps

Plans to mark the centenary of the Penny Black were abandoned when war broke out in 1939, but the Postmaster General later reconsidered.


The Post Office had made an early decision to mark the centenary of the Penny Black with both special, perhaps even bi-coloured, stamps and an exhibition. In January 1938 The Royal Philatelic Society London, through its President Sir John Wilson, advised the Post Office that it had an exhibition in mind, hoping there would be stamps, even suggesting a miniature sheet sold only at its exhibition.

Work proceeded on the stamps, to be 1½ times the size of definitives, in the usual manner. Of the ideas submitted by the several artists approached, those favoured, by H L Palmer of Harrison & Sons the stamp printers, and Edmund Dulac, both featured a ‘dual head’ of Queen Victoria and King George VI. Further work was undertaken and essays produced.

The issued stamps

However, with the outbreak of war the issue was abandoned – until December 1939, whereupon the Postmaster General felt the decision had been premature. Work resumed, with Palmer being asked to re-visit his design on questions of balance.

On seeking the advice of the King, who also consulted the Queen, the choice went for Palmer’s amended design. As changes to postal rates were anticipated, it was decided to use the design for all six denominations from ½d to 3d. Sir John Wilson again called for a miniature sheet, this time to support the Red Cross, but the idea was rejected. The stamps were issued on 6 May 1940, and overprinted for Tangier and Morocco Agencies.

Bicolour essay of Dulac’s design
Bicolour essay of Dulac’s design
Dual head design by Edmund Dulac
Issued 1d stamp
1½d issued stamp