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In the beginning there was…

In the beginning there was…

The first ever example of prepaid postal stationery

Hi fellow collector

In the beginning there was the penny black.

 Everyone knows the first and most famous stamp in the world.

 But, did you know the penny black had a twin?

 Not an identical twin, but born on the exact same day, 6th May 1840.

 The twin was much more attractive than the penny black.

 Regardless of its beauty, the public hated it.

 This poor twin was scorned and ridiculed in its short life.

It was thrown away after just two months, and ultimately destroyed.

 Because the penny black’s ill-fated twin was around for such a short time, and because it was so attractive, it is highly collectible and rare today.

 To find this twin on the day it was born, on the very first day the concept of prepaid postage changed the world, is a special treat indeed.

 Owning this special twin on the day of its birth is a philatelic privilege.

 Today, you can own this major rarity of British postal history at a significant discount to catalogue value.

 Let me explain in simple terms why this is the philatelic rarity you should add to your collection today:

  1. It is one of the most important pieces of early postal history you could own
  2. It is a beautifully illustrated Victorian design depicting an important time in history
  3. It is a 6th May, 1840 first day cover used on the very first day of prepaid postage
  4. Many of the first day covers are heavily soiled. This one is a fine quality example
  5. I am offering it out today for the first time at almost 50% discount to catalogue value

This beautifully illustrated Mulready cover was issued in competition with the penny black on 6th May, 1840, as the revolutionary new way of prepaying postage letters…

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Technical description

 Great Britain 1840 1d Mulready Envelope First Day of Issue (Forme 1, Stereo A6), SGME1.

 The cover was sent from London to the addressee in Topsham on May 6th 1840, the first official day of use, “B” – Borough “6 MY 6/1840” date stamp in red on reverse.

 A fine quality example (many other examples are heavily soiled) with a neat cancellation by a crisp strike of an orange-red Maltese Cross.

 Accompanied with a Royal Philatelic Society (RPS) certificate of authenticity (1970).

 The Stanley Gibbons specialised catalogue price for the May 6th Mulready letter sheet is quoted as “from £18,000”.

 PRICE: £9,500


This attractive piece of postal history has a very special importance in philately because it marks the very first day of prepaid postage.

 The background story to the ill-fated twin of the penny black

 One man, in particular, is credited with the affordable prepaid postage system we still enjoy today.

 Before 1840, letters and parcels were paid for by the recipient. The costs were often unaffordable.

 A visionary man named Sir Rowland Hill had a plan to fix this problem.

 Apparently, his interest in postal reform went back to a boyhood experience…

 When the postman brought a letter to his family home, the family couldn’t afford to pay. So, 8-year-old Rowland Hill was sent to town with some old clothes to sell to raise the money to pay for the letter.

 Between 1837 and 1838 he then campaigned for a comprehensive reform of the postal system.

 His concept was based on a Uniform Penny Post and his solution of prepayment, facilitating the safe, fast and cheap transfer of letters.

 Hill's arguments were logical:

  1. He argued the marginal cost of sending letters based on distance travelled was small
  2. He demonstrated that, whilst the Post Office would initially lose money on such cheap postage, it would encourage many more people to send letters, and become profitable
  3. It would encourage literacy and enable families split apart by the drift to the cities to keep in touch

Initially, his ideas were met with disdain. The Postmaster General at the time, Lord Lichfield famously said:

 “Of all the wild and visionary schemes I have ever heard of, this is the most extraordinary.”

 Some of the other comments were even less complimentary.

 Nevertheless, merchants, traders and bankers viewed the existing postal system as corrupt and found it restraining to their respective trades.

 The groups formed a so-called “Mercantile Committee”, and pushed for Hill’s plans to be given a chance. In this case, “people power” worked.

 By 1839, Hill got his way and Parliament ordered the new postal system to be set up in accordance with Hill’s guidelines.

 Hill was appointed in charge of the project.

 A competition to come up with a design for the new prepaid penny post was announced.

 Over 2,600 entries were received.

 Most entries were envelopes and letter sheets. There were only 50 entries for stamps and they were not the favoured choice.

 William Mulready, a well-known Irish artist at the time, produced the winning envelope.

 Mulready stationery letter sheets were then introduced as part of the British Post Office postal reforms at the same time as the Penny Black. They went on sale on 1 May and were valid for use from 6 May 1840.

 Hill was confident the Mulready stationery would prove more popular than postage stamps but, as we know, postage stamps prevailed…

 The romantic notion of postal benefits

 Mulready’s style as a painter and inspiration led to the vivid idealism of the first prepaid covers.

 The design was intended to portray a romantic conception of what the worldwide benefits of cheap postage would bring.

 Take another look at the design so you can truly appreciate the symbolic detail…

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The centrepiece of the design features Britannia, with a shield depicting the Union Flag, and with the British Lion at her feet presiding over the ocean.

 This portrays Britannia despatching a winged messenger to each of the four points of the compass.

 Below the messengers there are sailing ships on the left, and on the right a Laplander on a sleigh drawn by a reindeer.

 To the left were oriental groups: Chinese with pigtails, laden camels, elephants, someone writing a letter and a child apparently reading some bad news to a bed ridden parent.

 To the right was a group probably representing William Penn negotiating with some native Americans, women and children under a palm tree, a planter supervising the heading up of two casks, and finally a mother reading a letter of good news to her children.

 With such intricate design providing such amazing storytelling detail, how could such genius fail to gain recognition?

 Sadly, the design was considered by many as rather pompous and whimsical. It was immediately ridiculed in the press.

 The design was publicly lampooned and prompted numerous contemporary caricatures.

 Many people simply refused to use the new postal stationery, preferring the simplicity of the penny black.

 Within two months, the decision was taken to scrap the Mulready stationery, with the Penny Black becoming the clear winner with the public.

 Rowland Hill famously said at the time:

 “I fear we shall have to substitute some other stamp for that design by Mulready… the public have shown their disregard and even distaste for beauty.”

 Mulready covers were certainly harshly treated and misunderstood at the time.

 Today, they represent one of the most interesting witnesses to the conception of affordable mail.

 Because of their short-lived issue they are obviously rare and now highly collectible.

 Ultimately, collectors gave Mulready’s artistic vision and poetic design the appreciation they deserved.

 Avid collectors of Mulready letter sheets consider the design a work of art. 

 The first official day of postage

 The ability to own one of the few examples of the Mulready covers used on the very first day of official postage is a privilege today.

 Such items are of obvious historical significance and the natural collecting desire to own “the first of…” ensures their enduring appeal.

 Provenance adds value

 The 6th of May Mulready cover I have for you today has esteemed provenance.

 You see, it formed part of the Grand Prix multiple gold medal winning “Mayflower Collection”. This collection is the undisputed best collection ever assembled covering the beginning of GB postal history.

 The collector behind the collection, Alan Holyoake, is now one of the most famous names in the stamp world and on the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists.

 Such provenance adds value to this philatelic historical piece, which is also accompanied with a clear certificate of authenticity issued by the Royal Philatelic Society…

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Market values

 The Stanley Gibbons specialised catalogue price for the May 6th Mulready letter sheet is quoted as “from £18,000.”

 Auction realisations can vary considerably from the catalogue price.

 Condition is a key factor in determining value. Most 6th of May Mulready covers are heavily soiled and/or torn. These covers usually sell for prices significantly below catalogue price.

 This is not always the case…

 At a recent auction in the US an example described as nothing more than “a presentable example of this classic first day rarity” realised $27,500, including buyer’s premium.

 This was an exception, although there were other covers with significant condition issues which sold in the same auction - one for $15,000 and another for $12,500.

 There have always been a number of specialist Mulready collectors participating in the market. Generally, when they come up against each other at auction, realisations will be higher.

 Historic price performance

 The table below shows the history of SG catalogue values for a 6th of May Mulready letter sheet in five-year intervals over the past 20 years…The 20-year growth in value of 157% (7.9% pa simple annual growth) demonstrates a long term solid growth in value.

 Because it is an iconic rarity of such immediately recognisable historical significance, you would expect to see a reliable and steady rise in value over time.

 Interestingly, it has remained flat in value in the SG catalogue over the past five years, irrespective of some prices at auction being above the catalogue value.

 The price also looks particularly attractive value compared to its twin…

 We are even more privileged to have this first day cover featuring the penny black available right now…However, if you wanted to own this, you would need to be willing to part with the sum of £100,000.

 Instead, you can own its twin, the Mulready first day cover, for the price of just £9,500CLICK HERE TO BUY IT NOW

Your chance to own a major rarity of British postal history

 To summarise:

  • A hugely important piece of early postal history sent on the very first day of postage
  • A wonderful piece of poetic art in its own right
  • In much better condition than most surviving examples
  • You can secure it today at almost a 50% discount to the SG catalogue value of £18,000
  • Presents as a stable long term investment with historic 20-year appreciation of 157% and with market indicators supportive of potential future growth in value


Email me today at

 Or, call our office on +44(0)1534 639998.

 Please let me know as soon as possible if you want me to reserve this historical piece of postal history for you.

 Kind regards

 Mike Hall

 PS. It is interesting to note that, in the past few years, prices paid for Mulready covers tend to be much higher in the US than in the UK. Apparently, our American friends appreciate our history more than us Brits???

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