The Penny Black Stamp Misnomer

The Penny Black - Perhaps the most famous stamp ever issued.

But is it the most valuable stamp in the world? And just how rare is it?

We clear it up and tell you about the worlds rarest and most valuable stamps in the world.



Penny Black Stamp


Penny Black Stamp


 The British Penny Black stamp was introduced by the United Kingdom government on the 1st of May 1840 and was the world's first adhesive postage stamp ever to be produced. The Penny Black also seems to carry with it some sort of mystical fantasy that it's not only the rarest stamp in the world but also the most valuable stamp in the world. Sadly, neither is it the worlds rarest stamp nor the worlds most valuable!



Brief History of the Penny Black Stamp:


 The British postage stamp known as the Penny Black was the idea put forward in Sir Rowland Hill's revolutionary 1837 proposal to reform the British postal system. A simple single stamp indicating the prepayment of postage. In real terms, much like a receipt.
Before the Penny Black stamp ever existed, payment had to be taken in cash for every article to be posted and that had to be done in person at the post office. Now, you could have a supply of Penny Blacks of your own and use one stamp each time you wanted to post a letter. This made life easier for the postmaster and his staff and also for the user.

 Now the Penny Black stamp is arguably the most famous British stamp ever issued, but a question must be asked, is it the most valuable stamp in the world?

Many of you think so and we see a lot of people on the Roadshow Tours with Penny Black's all with the same dream..


 Candidates for being the most valuable stamp in the world are several and all are interesting stories, sufficient for us to deviate a little here and show you the leaders for the title, the most expensive stamp in the world.

 One particular stamp is quite unique, it;' called the 1857 'Tre Skilling Banco' the Swedish stamp seen below. It was sold in November 1996 to a dealer from Sweden for an apparent sum in Swiss Francs near 2.87 million. That's approximately $USD 2.3 million dollars.

But why is this stamp one of the most valuable stamps in the world?





The Swedish Treskilling Yellow stamp

The most valuable stamp in the world. The Tre Skil


 The Swedish "Treskilling Yellow" is today believed to be the only surviving example of a misprinted 1855 three shilling stamp that was supposed to have been green. Instead, a printing error created several sheets in a mustard yellow colour stamps, a colour usually denoting an 8 shilling stamp. It is this anomaly, a simple misprint that sets it aside from all other stamps of the denomination and time frame, and that makes it rare.

Rarety then creates value. ". 3 million dollars worth of value.

The Treskilling Yellow stamp is believed to have been discovered in 1885 by a Swedish schoolboy among a pile of letters in his grandparents house.

To Quote the Mail Online at the beginning of January 2011:

"The world's most expensive stamp has been sold for what is believed to be a record sum at an auction shrouded in secrecy.

The Treskilling Yellow had been expected to fetch up to £1.7million. But the exact price paid was not disclosed when the little Swedish rectangular treasure, the world's most valuable object by weight, was sold to a group of mystery buyers in a telephone auction in Geneva on Saturday."

In 1996, the Treskilling Yellow stamp sold at auction for £1.6m to become the most expensive stamp in existence and 14 years on it was expected to have fetched more.

The price it sold for in 2011 is estimated to be above £1.7 million GBP


Treskilling Yellow Stamp
Treskilling Yellow Stamp.

The most valuable stamp in the world



Next in line for the most valuable stamp in the world stakes is this:



The Black on Magenta stamp from British Guiana.

1856 1¢ magenta from British Guiana

 This really rare stamp comes from British Guiana and is the 1856 one-cent "Black on Magenta" stamp. It is regarded as the rarest stamp in the world and until recently the it was most expensive stamp in the world. So what makes the Black on Magenta stamp so rare and why is it so valuable?

  In the nineteenth century, the stamps of British Guiana were printed in England and on one occasion the post office in British Guiana sold out of stamps completely before a new shipment of stamps arrived from the printers in England. The postmaster devised a cunning but simple plan and asked the local newspaper to print him an emergency edition to tide them over. So temporary one cent stamps were printed to be used for sending newspapers through the post and four cent stamps printed were for use on letters. The stamps were printed on poor quality paper in black ink on magenta coloured paper, giving rise to its nick name.

 To prevent forgery the postmaster insisted that each stamp must be initialled by a teller in the post office before the letter was posted. You can see the tellers initials on the Black on Magenta stamp illustrated below. As there were only four employees at the post office, the initials were easily identified.

The initials are "E.T.E.D." for Dalton, "E.D.W" for Wight, "W.H.L." for Lortimer and "C.A.W." for Watson.

It seems that only one specimen of this stamp is now known to exist in the world. Back in 1980 it was auctioned to the industry magnate John Dupont at Robert. A. Siegel auction for $935,000.00.

Today's value, who knows?

Above: 1856 1¢ Magenta stamp from British Guiana

Is this the most valuable stamp in the world?



The Bordeaux Letter /  alt: the Bordeaux Cover

Candidate for the most valuable stamp in the world.


 This is easily the most valuable and expensive postal item in the world and one of philately’s greatest rarities, though it is clearly not the most valuable single stamp in the world. There are distinct differences in the description, itr does bear two of the world's rarest and most valuable single stamps.

 The postal item illustrated below is known as the "Bordeaux Letter" or "the Bordeaux Cover" and is simply an envelope bearing two priceless and rare stamps, the Mauritius One Penny Red stamp and Mauritius Two Pence - Deep Blue stamp.

 On October 4th, 1847, the firm of Edward Francis & Co. of Port Louis, Mauritius, confirmed by letter to their representative, the Wine Merchant Duncan & Lurguie in Bordeaux, France, an order for 30 barrels of wine.

This letter is posted via England in an envelope with both the Mauritius One Penny Orange stamp and the Mauritius Two Penny Blue stamps in situe and took  85 dyas to get there. So nothing's changed there then!

 The Mauritius Post Office stamps are legendary and owe their international fame to their origin: Commissioned in 1847 by the Governor of Mauritius which was a British Colony, to be used on an invitation to a dress ball.

 By mistake again, which seems to be the common denominator in the rare stamps league, the word "Post Office“ instead of "Post paid" was printed on the blue 1 penny stamps and on the red 2 pence stamps. With the error spotted , stamp collectors started combing the world for the Mauritius stamps. Today, there are only 12 known blue Mauritius and it is believed 14 red Mauritius stamps left in the world. Queen Elizabeth II has one of them.


 The Bordeaux letter was sold at auction in November 1993 at a Feldman auction for 5 Million Swiss Francs  which is approximately USD 3 Million dollars to a stamp collector in Singapore.







Back to the Penny Black story

 The Penny Black stamp itself depicts a young Queen Victoria and because of the Penny Black stamp's color and the denomination of just one penny, it developed the nickname "Penny Black".

 Prior to 1840, postage rates for delivery of letters in the U.K. depended on the distance the letter traveled and also the number of sheets of paper used in the letter. Interestingly, the postage was required to be paid by the 'receiver' rather than the sender of the message as there was no system for the prepayment of postage prior to mailing.

Not surprisingly, as postal rates at that time were comparatively expensive, many people refused to accept any delivery of letters at all!





But we ask, is the Penny Black rare?








Tuppeny Blue Stamp              

The very first Penny Black stamps were engraved on steel plates and then printed on gummed paper in rectangular sheets of 240 stamps each.

For security reasons, each stamp had corner letters on the front corresponding to its position on the plate and a small crown watermark on the reverse. These Penny Black stamps were 'imperforate,' meaning that the post office had to cut the sheets of stamps with scissors to obtain individual copies for sale.

Penny Black perforated stamps were not issued in Britain until 1854.

The cancellation marks on the Penny Black stamps, or 'franking' as we know it today, were initially executed in black ink, however, this was soon changed to red ink to make the cancellation marks much easier to distinguish.

 A two penny blue stamp, or 'Tuppeny blue' which apart from its colour was identical in its design to the Penny Black, went on sale on May 8, 1840 for letters that exceeded the weight of one half an ounce.

The Penny Red, introduced in 1841 continued as the main stamp for postage in the UK until 1879.

All in all, about 21 Billion Penny Reds were printed by Messrs. Perkins, Bacon & Co.

Left: Penny Blue Stamp and the Penny Red Stamp


Sir Roland Hill






Benjamon Franklin 5 cent Stamp


The sending of letters and packages using stamps proved to be so popular in Britain that many other countries soon began issuing stamps. So, by 1847, the United States Post Office had issued its very first stamps too.

There was now a 5 cent stamp depicting president Benjamin Franklin and a 10 cent stamp depicting George Washington.

George Washington Ten Cent Stamp



Ben Franklin five cent stamp                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    George Washington ten cent stamp


So the Penny Black, the most valuable stamp in the world?

An over popular myth, or just another great misnomer:



Unfortunately, although highly regarded by stamp collectors, (philatelists) Penny Black stamps are not all that rare.


About 68 million Penny Black stamps were issued during 1840-41 and it is estimated that about 1.5 million Penny Blacks survive today!!!


The value of the Penny Black stamp today varies significantly according to its grade and condition.

A fine used Penny Black copy like the one illustrated and discovered at one of the Manitoba Roadshows, can be bought for about $125 or less.

But fine unused penny Black examples are really quite rare and can sell for as much as $3,500 USD. or even more.

Thereby underpinning the notion that it's scarcity and RARITY that brings value, not age alone.



Finally, it's interesting to note that in honour of the U.K. having issued the world's first adhesive postage stamps, the Universal Postal Union grants it an exemption from its rule that the name of the issuing country must appear on a stamp.

No British stamp to date has ever had that countries name on it.

David Freeman 2005












KEYS:  Worlds most Valuable Stamp History | British Penny Black Stamp Myth ! Rarest Stamp | Information. Photographs and details about postage stamps and collecting. British Roadshow archive.

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