Rowland Hill (postal reformer)
Sir Rowland Hill (3 December 1795 - 27 August 1879) was a teacher, inventor and campaigner for the comprehensive reform of the postal system. Hill opposed the postal system of the 1830s whereby postage was paid for by the recipient based on distance and number of pages. Hill noticed that the system was slow and insufficient, that mail could be refused and thus unpaid for and the cost based on distance model was not an accurate one. Hill proposed an alternative system whereby all postage costs would be prepaid before delivery.
In his earlier career, Sir Rowland Hill was an English teacher alongside his father. Hill provided a model for the reform of education for the emerging middle classes.
Prior to 1840, the postal system was expensive and confusing. Postage was paid for by the recipient rather than the sender and cost was determined according to the distance the letter had travelled and the number of pages it contained. For many people, this system was far too expensive as the cost of receiving a letter could be equivalent to a day’s wages.
In 1837, Rowland Hill published and circulated a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. His studies showed that most of the costs in the postal system were not due to transport but rather for the arduous handling procedures. Hill noted that costs could be reduced considerably if postage were prepaid by the sender. His solution was the notion of prepayment and a uniform rate of one pence for all letters weighing up to one ounce. Hill proposed the notion of an adhesive stamp to indicate the prepayment of postage.
The Penny Black Stamp
Rowland Hill’s work inspired the Penny Postage Bill which was passed by Parliament on 17th August 1839. The bill required that the basic postal rate for simple letters should be set at one penny. It also required that prepayment should become the standard for sending letters and that this prepayment should be indicated by labels, or stamps.
In 1839 the British Treasury launched a competition to create a design for these stamps; however, none of the submitted designs were suitable. Instead, the postal service decided to use an image of Queen Victoria taken from a previously-issued medallion, with William Mulready doing the artistic work.
In 1840, the world’s first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, was introduced to the United Kingdom.
The Penny Black was in use for only a little over a year. It was found that a red cancellation was hard to see on a black background and the red ink was easy to remove, making it possible to re-use stamps after they had been cancelled. In 1841 the Treasury switched to the Penny Red and issued cancellation devices with black ink, much more effective as a cancellation and harder to remove. However, the re-use of stamps with the un-cancelled portions of two stamps to form an unused whole impression continued, and in 1864 the stars in the top corners were replaced by the check letters as they appeared in the lower corners, but in reverse order.
In 1846 Rowland Hill became Secretary to the Postmaster General and then Secretary to the Post Office. Rowland Hill was knighted as Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1860. Rowland Hill died in Hampstead, London in 1879.