A History of Royal Mail Stamps

The Royal Mail issued the world’s first adhesive postage stamp on the 6th of May 1840.  The now most sought after stamp for avid collectors, The Penny Black came into existence that year displaying a design of Queen Victoria without the country’s name, however it laid the foundation for future British stamps. 1st Class UK Stamp
Once in production British stamps were then known as definitive and issued with a portrait often in profile or semi profile of the reigning sovereign.  It wasn’t until the 1960s that the potential of stamps was fully realised when the Postmaster General Reginald Bevins and Labour Party MP Tony Benn, encouraged the post office to issue sets of special stamps on a much more regular basis to the public.
With an increasing interest in stamps the Royal Mail began to produce other items such as:-


  • Royal Mail First Day Covers
  • Presentation packs – this combined information and illustrations of the stamps
  • Stamp cards – these were postcards with a large reproduction of a stamp design
  • Miniature sheets -small sheets combining one or more stamps from a set were known as miniature sheets which first appeared in 1978 and are now an established part of the special stamp programme

The history of Royal Mail stamps is very interesting especially the initial portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by the photographer Dorothy Wilding which is now considered to be a rare stamp and a collector’s item. In 1967 a portrait by Arnold Machin was adopted and in fact is still used today due to its classic simplicity.  Stamps for special events were first introduced in 1924 for the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley that are also now very collectible.
To overcome issues concerning the withdrawal and replacement of stamps caused by postage rate changes, stamps were inscribed for service such as the first.  This did away with a stamp having a specific value from 1989 to the present day.  In 1993 the first self-adhesive stamp was issued in the UK and in the year 2000 Britain introduced its first ever customised stamp service called Smilers.  Many consumers enjoyed the cats and dogs displayed on the first self-adhesive specialist stamp issue and even more so in 2003 when stamps went DIY with the very popular:-


  • Fun fruit and veg stamps
  • Stamps with stick-on moustaches, hats and boots

More recently, there has been an introduction of two new large size definitive stamps as part of the Royal Mail’s pricing structure which incorporates sizes as well as weight.