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Classic GB Stamps: The Penny Red

The first Penny Red postage stamps were a successor to the famed Penny Black, the world's first postage stamp issued in 1840. In every sense they were the same as a Penny Black with only the colour changed to allow the use of a black Maltese Cross cancellation instead of red. The same printing plates were used for both the black and red stamps. The switch to red stamps and black cancellations was made as the black cancellation ink was found to resist removal better and therefore reduce the possibility of fraudulent stamp reuse.

Up to 1854 all the Penny Red stamps were imperforate. It was in 1855 that the large crown watermark was introduced and die I was used to produce 204 plates, plus a further six reserves. During the same year a new die II was also delivered and used to produce 225 plates. The plates numbered 71 to 225 had the plate number actually engraved in to the stamp's visible design. The most famous of these was Plate 77 which few of us are ever likely to see except in an exhibition at places like the British Library.

Over the years the paper used to print the penny red stamps varied from a blue tinged paper, toned or cream paper and also on plain white paper. The Penny red design changed to use letters in all four corners on 1st April 1864 at the same time as the plate numbers were included in to the visible stamp design.

SG43 The Penny Plate with letters in all four corners and plate number visible in design

Perkins, Bacon & Petch, later to become Perkins, Bacon & Co, printed all Penny Black and Penny Red stamps using the line-engraved process until, in December 1878, The Inland Revenue gave them notice that their printing contract was to end. It was eventually agreed that Perkins Bacon would continue to produce the stamps until the end 1879 and meant plate 225, which only entered service on 27th October 1879, has become a very rare and difficult plate to find by collectors.

The various Penny Red stamps printed by Perkins Bacon remain among the most popular GB Queen Victoria stamps collected today.

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Classic GB Stamps: The Penny Red

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