My exhibit illustrates the major developments in postal history in the six months from December 1839 to May 1840 - a period of exhilarating innovation. Rowland Hill and Henry Cole harnessed commercial interests and societal changes, such as increasing mobility and literacy, to drive a political campaign that overcame official opposition and pushed through a programme of postal reform that was subsequently copied around the world.


I illustrate the wide variety of changes made by postal reformers in such a short period of time, including:

-- New and significantly lower postal rates.
-- Old and new postmarks, including examples of manuscript and handstamps.
-- The option of pre-payment.
-- Free franking, its abolition and the brief introduction of Parliamentary envelopes.
-- Evolution of postal stationery for more general postal use.
-- Adhesive postage stamps.

Plan of exhibit

1Introduction8Free Franking
2Pre-reform entire dated 4 December 18399-10Parliamentary Envelopes
3-4Fourpenny Post11-13Mulready Stationery
5Fourpenny and Penny Post146 May 1840 post without adhesives
6-7Penny Post15-16Adhesives


Nearly all of the items exhibited are first days or very early dates, most are in fine condition, and, as explained in the exhibit sheets, all are scarce or even unique. By way of example:

-- There are very few first days of handstamped 4d. and 1d. rates and only one example of an English 4d handstamp used during the Penny Post period.
-- There are only fifty-five House of Lords 1d Parliamentary envelopes.
-- The 1d. Mulready lettersheet is the earliest with an advertising imprint and one of only thirty-four 1d. Mulreadys used before the official first day.
-- There are only twenty-three extant examples of the 2d. Mulready used in the first week.
-- There is only one other example of a pair of Plate 1a Penny Blacks used on first day.
-- There are only sixty-five examples of the Two Pence Blue used on cover in May 1840, fewer than the number of extant Penny Black first day covers.


Chadwick, P.J., Charge marks of the 4d post 1839-1840 (Oldham, 1990)
Huggins, A. and A. Holyoake, The Mulready postal stationery: Its genesis, production and usage (Sutton ColdīŦeld, 2015)
Huggins, A. and E. Klempka, Great Britain: The 1840 pre-paid Parliamentary envelopes (London, 2013)
Jackson, M., May Dates: A survey of Penny Blacks, Twopenny Blues, Mulreadys and Caricatures used during May 1840 (Melton Mowbray, 1999)
Muir, D.N., Postal reform and the Penny Black (London, 1990)


Frame 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Pre-reform entire dated 4 December 1839
  3. Fourpenny Post
  4. Fourpenny Post
  5. Fourpenny and Penny Post
  6. Penny Post
  7. Penny Post
  8. Free Franking
  9. Parliamentary Envelopes
  10. Parliamentary Envelopes
  11. Mulready Stationery
  12. See sheet 11
  13. Mulready Stationery
  14. 6 May 1840 post without adhesives
  15. Adhesives
  16. Adhesives