Great Britain 1841 Penny Red (postage stamp)
The Penny Red was an adhesive postage stamp issued in Britain in 1841 as a successor to the Great Britain 1840 Penny Black, the latter being the world's first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system.
Introduction of the Penny Red
Not long after the issuing of the Penny Black, it was found that it was difficult to see cancellations on the stamp’s black surface – hence the colour change from black to red. The era’s new black Maltese Cross cancellations were easily visible when applied to the new Penny Red design.
Its red colour followed a series of ‘rainbow trials’ to establish the best replacement colour for the Penny Black.
The Penny Red became Britain’s longest-running stamp between February 1841 and November 1879. It was used at a standard postage rate of 1d, and approximately 21 billion were issued.
Minor design changes were made to the stamp during its run. Until 1854 the 1d red was imperforate, and in 1855 the watermark was changed from a small crown to a large crown.
A new “die II” for the Penny Red was introduced in 1855, used to produce 225 plates. These plates, 71-225 have the number engraved on the stamp – including the famous Plate 77.
All Penny Red stamps were printed using huge plates which wore out very quickly. New plates were produced all the time, and successively replaced. Any plates that didn’t meet regularly quality checks were destroyed.
Destroyed issues of the Penny Red included plates 69, 70, 75, 126 and 128. Plate 77, also should have been destroyed, but one complete sheet was printed.
A single Plate 77 stamp is unlikely to be found outside of an exhibition, and is the rarest penny red. The value of a mint stamp is unknown, although one exists in the National Postal Museum, as part of the Tapling Collection.
Experts estimate the value of a mint Plate 77 Penny Red at hundreds of thousands of pounds. Used versions are believed to be worth upwards of £120,000.
Rare stamps found on a stack of letters hidden in an attic were sold at an auction for more than £10,000 at Aqueduct Auctions in Froncysyllte, Denbighshire, UK, in May 2009.
Most of the 27 Penny Black stamps and 400 Penny Reds and Penny Red-Browns, issued between 1841 and 1848, were sold for around £200 or less.