Before the Penny Black was issued, post offices of the era
had to take payments for mail delivery in cash. This was, of course,
not very efficient as people had to wait in line much as we
do at the post offices today to deliver every piece of mail.
In addition, post offices had to handle cash and count the number
of pages each person has. Postage was charged by the sheet and
the amount of distance traveled.
In 1837, Rowland Hill proposed to reform the British postal system
by wrapping the letter in an extra piece of paper (envelopes) and
attach an adhesive stamp to indicate the prepayment of postage.
The picture in the stamp is that of Queen Victoria. It is based
on a sketch done by Henry Cole who based his work on that of
William Wyon. Wyon orignially sketched a head for a medal that
commemorated Queen Victoria's visit to London in 1837, the year
she ascended the throne (she was 15 at the time). The stamps were
printed by Perkins Bacon.
The Penny Black Stamp was only used for one year because the red cancellation
mark was hard to see on the black background. As a result of this,
the Treasury reprinted the stamp as a red stamp so that the black
cancellation marks that are later used are easier to see and
harder to remove.
The Penny Black Stamp was not perforated. In fact, perforation was not
introdued until 1854. Because of wear and tear, eleven different
plates were used during the life cycle of the Penny Black.