Great Britain was the world's first country to issue adhesive stamps. The Penny Black and Penny Post were the brain child of Sir Rowland Hill often called the father of modern post office. The introduction of Penny posts revolutionized the letter service making it possible to send a letter anywhere in Britain for a pre-paid postage. In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill, a schoolmaster, published a pamphlet entitled "Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability". In this he claimed that the true cost of delivering a letter from London to Edinburgh was only about 1/36 of a Penny. If the post office charged one penny postage on every letter, more people would write letters and the post office would make more profit. Helped by wide spread public support Hill eventually persuaded the post office to adopt his plan. Until Rowland Hill introduced his reform the postage on a letter was usually paid by the person who received it, not by the person who posted it .The postman had the task of collecting the postage when he delivered the mail. Hill proposed that letters be prepaid either in cash at the post office or by prepaid letter sheets and envelopes and almost as an afterthought

"a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamps showing that tax had been paid and covered at the back with a glutinous wash which the bringer of the letter might by applying a little moisture attach to the back".

There was initially much reluctance for such a proposal as postage rates were rather high. During the early part of the 19th century postal charges rose rapidly and by the year 1814 a letter cost four pence for a distance of seven miles. Over seven miles and under fifteen miles the charges were six pence. At that time a labourer's wage was four pence a day. Further, members of parliament were entitled to free postage, which was much misused. However as the public support for Rowland Hill's suggestions grew, he was appointed to the Treasury on 16th September 1839 to begin work on postal changes. First reform was the introduction of uniform Penny Postage on 5th December 1839, which was reduced to one Penny on 9th January 1840. The Treasury invited the public to submit suggestions for the design of the gummed labels which Hill proposed that the Post Office should issue at one Penny each. More than 2600 suggestions were submitted but only 49 related to adhesive stamps. One suggestion from Benjamin Cheverton of Casinden Town answered the fears of Treasury officials that unscrupulous printer might may be able to forge the labels and so defraud the Post Office. Cheverton suggested that the labels should bear "a female head of great beauty" because a portrait would be more difficult for forgers to copy than any other design. Awards for innovative suggestions were made to Benjamin Cheverton, Henry Cole, Charles Whiting, James Bogardus and Francis Coffin.

It was Rowland Hill's own suggestion which was developed into the finished design. It was the profile of Queen Victoria, based on a portrait made when she was an eighteen old princess. It was also used on a medal designed by William Wyon, which was struck for the occasion of Queen's first official entrance into the city of London in 1837. Perkins Bacon & Petch Co, London who had been given the contract to print the adhesive stamp, commissioned the artist Henry Corbould to make a number of profile drawing of the young Queen based on the Wyon medal.

Charles and Frederick Health, father and son, engraved the Queen's portrait for the production of the plate which contained 240 impressions. It had a watermark(tagging) of a small crown, and was black in colour. These stamps were not perforated and had to be cut and sold. The ink used for the printing consisted of lampblack in linseed oil. The gum was applied hot with brushes. Whose color varied and in some sheets were almost colourless. About 72 Million stamps were issued and remained valid for usage till 1841.

A special postmark was also introduced to cancel the stamps. Popularly known as the Maltese Cross it is more correctly a cross 'pattee'. It was to begin with, in black. But since it was difficult to see a black postmark on a black stamp the color was changed to red in 1841. It was a matter of concern that there was a possibility that the cancellation might be removed from the used adhesive stamp. Many experiments were made to produce a black ink which could not be removed. On 21st July 1840 Rowland Hill wrote that one:

'Mr Donovan, a chemist of Dublin had succeeded in removing not only the black but also the red colour of the obliterating stamps.'

Eventually the solution was to change the colour of the stamp, from black to red on 21st January 1841. 10,000 sheets of the Penny Red were printed and issued to the public a month later.

Of the 72 million copies of Penny Black which were sold, only 16800 were from plate II, which comes to just 700 sheets. These are the rarest of the Penny Black. Over ten million copies were printed from plate la / 1b. Yet even a medium poor copy of a plate 1 stamp is expensive. Strips of Penny Black are scarce and blocks very scarce. Forged Penny Blacks first appeared in 1840, which are crude counterfeits made from a wood engraving. An electrotyped forgery was discovered in March 1841, which led to the first prosecution and conviction for stamp forgery. Hill's stamp system was eventually adopted in some form by every country starting with Brazil in 1843. It revolutionized the postal system in the world. As a bonus it also kicked off the world's most popular hobby philately.

There are several notable features of the Penny Black. First, each stamp bears a pair of letters, in the bottom left and right corners, which denote its position in the sheets of 240 (12 x 20) in which the stamp was produced. This was intended as a security and accounting device, but did not last long, since it made it necessary to engrave at least part of each position in the sheet separately. It has been a great help to collectors in plating the issue.

Since no one else had issued stamps yet there is no country name on the stamp because it did not occur to the creators that it might be necessary to distinguish their product from others. In recognition of its status as the first nation to issue stamps, Great Britain was given by international agreement the unique right to continue to issue its stamps with no country name (all other countries that wish to send their mail internationally must place the name of their country on each stamp). However, all Great Britain stamps are immediately recognizable, since the head of the reigning monarch of its date of issue appears on every stamp.

Selected Sources

World's First Stamp:

History of the Penny Black:

Feli (as she preferred to be called) sighed and lowered the sight of the rifle from her eye, gazing now over the edge of the rooftop of the six storey building and out across the sky-line of London. She was in a daze. It had been so long, all her life now that she thought about it, and here it was. The culmination of all her efforts, one last piece to a puzzle she had been putting together. The puzzle of her torn, pathetic and now nearly finished struggle against what she was.

The Postmaster General was not, on reflection, having a good day. It had started normally, breakfast, kiss the kids and the wife and out into the garage in the basement of his apartment complex in one of the nicer areas of Central London. He got into his car , put the key in the ignition and went to start the engine. Normality stopped. And, in a signal as to how the rest of the day would continue, it stopped with a thump to the back of his head. He almost lost consciousness and reeled, trying to fathom out what was going on as panic set in. The second thump to the head that happened quickly after the first took him out altogether. He had no idea how long he had been out for, where he was or what was going on. He did know one thing, however, the day was not improving any. All was black, his face and indeed his entire body seemed to be covered with some sort of plastic. His hands and legs were so tightly bound that he could now barely feel his fingers or toes. The gag in his mouth silenced the cries he would have let out for help and the shouts of pain as every so often something hit him. His stomach, legs, arms - seemingly random but always brutally painful shots that his captor administered.

She reflected once more on what it all meant. Why was a question she had stopped asking a while ago. Now, on the very day of her grand finale, that same question was once again coming back to her. Why? She shook her head to rid herself of the thought. Stupid question. It was too late for such reasoning, the path had been chosen and now, after years of killings and bombings, the path was the reason in itself. There had been other reasons, the reasons she started with, but these were fading from her now. She was alone in life. No friends or family, they were all dead or had removed themselves from her life. She had no-one to remind her of the taunts that started this whole thing.

It was only when Feli arrived at her first school in Brixton, London that she began to realise the cards she had been dealt in life were not only a poor hand but a poor hand dealt not with chance but with deliberate action. She had been cursed and worst of all she had been cursed from day one by the very people who were meant to care for her more than anything in the world, her own parents.

Her mother was guilty. A second generation London Ghanaian whose family had come from good stock she had married poorly. Dyatu, Feli's grandmother, had always cursed her daughter for marrying into a Jamaican family of ill-repute. Feli had learned to curse her mother for that reason and for what she understood to be her mothers stone cold stupidity and laziness. To marry into such a family was bad enough, the Blacks had had a reputation in Brixton ever since they arrived off the boat for violence and criminal activity. To bring a child into the world in such circumstances was one step worse. To allow that child to be cared for primarily by that brutal sadist her mother called a husband was worse than simply negligent.

Her father was beyond guilt. It was he who had started her on this road. It was he who had beaten her as a child for every noise she made, every child-like complaint she dared to speak, every question she asked. All through her life he had set out to make her miserable. And it had started from day one. It was something he denied, even up until the last second of his life. Just before she put the bullet into his head and as he lay there, blood pouring out the wounds in his legs and torso, mumbling

'I didn't mean it, I didn't know Penny, I didn't realise. Please, please, you have to believe me.'

That was enough for Feli, he had used that name. That name he had given her. That name that had cursed her to a life of torment and taunts. Penny, Penny Black. Why? He didn't know? Didn't realise? Possibly. He couldn't help his own surname, this much was true, though there were times she was sure he had planned that as well, somehow. And naming your child Penny, well there was nothing unusual about that. It could all be a simple mistake. But her middle name, that was no error. He claimed it came originally from his grandmothers Italian roots, but there was never any sign of mixed-race in his family. Indeed his mother had often told Feli the history of the family and the tragedy of their run-in with slavery. It included no Italians as far as the old woman could remember. Besides which Feli had checked it out, read books, talked to people. It wasn't even an Italian name, it was made up. By him. Deliberately to mock her, inflict her. As she looked up from the blood-stained carpet over her fathers figure and raised the hand-gun one last time Penny Filatelli Black felt nothing but hate inside.

Feli's road to revenge had started almost by accident. Years of brutality, of schoolyard name calling, workplace sniggers and jokes had left her numb inside. She had taken to using Feli as her name, trying to reject the source of her misery. But her real name followed her like the curse it was. Each time she switched job, moved home, even discarded friends, the name would follow one way or another.

She had become a quiet, subservient figure. The last relationship she had was mentally abusive in the extreme and often physically abusive as well. Steve had always considered himself a Player but he needed something to come home to, someone to look after his house for him and Feli was it. That didn't stop him chasing and bedding every other woman he could though. And he let Feli know about it. She was so miserable, so unsure of herself by this time that she took it. Took his shouting, his beatings. She sat with tears in her eyes, silent, as he recalled the bitch with the big ass from the night before to her. Then she went and made him something to eat before he got ready to go out again.

One time, tired and depressed, she had started working in the kitchen. She was cutting vegetables for the stew she was making when Steve came into the room. He surveyed the place and commented on how much of a mess the kitchen was, then slapped her hard in the face. She fell back over the kitchen table, clawing at the edges to stop herself from falling further. Steve approached and made a grab at her, she brought her knees together and up to push him away. He laughed and said

'Come on bitch, you want some. I know you do. It's stamped all over your face. Ha Ha. Stamped!'

He pushed her legs open and away from him and came down on top of her. Feli flailed her arms trying to regain enough balance to push him away. She didn't realise, she didn't know what had happened. Then the body on top of her seemed to collapse, Steve gurgled and she looked at his face to see blood appearing from his mouth. The kitchen knife had been in her hand still, the flailing arms must have had enough force to push it into him. Now he lay there, on top of her, rasping his last breath.

In one act of mistaken revenge Feli had found her solution. Found her anger and strength. She changed and she decided she would change everything. It wasn't her, wasn't her name that had caused all this. It was the others. Starting with her parents. She cleaned herself up and took Steves revolver from where she knew he hid it underneath the spare bed clothes in the cupboard. She put the gun in her bag and set off to get the bus to her parents house and make a proper start to her new life.

She sat an hour afterwards in her parents front room. Pieces of her fathers head were splattered over the television. Her mothers body lay in a pool of blood at the doorway to the front room. She thought for a while. She smiled to herself. A good start but it wasn't enough, she needed more. She needed a clean start, a new beginning. She needed to change the world, make it suit her needs. Now she knew she had the strength all that was left was to do it.

Inspector Crollidge of the Metropolitan Police sat at his desk and screwed his eyes at the computer screen in front of him. The MO on this one was always just about to make sense to him. He'd been following this case for four years now and that was the same feeling he'd had for the past three. But now, now things were becoming a little more clear. Or at least that's what he thought.

Thanks to his infamy in the office for following such a bizarre case for so long, so long indeed that his colleagues had started to call him Stamp Hunter, the disappearance of the Postmaster General had been brought to his attention immediately. He'd got the call first thing that morning and his train of thought was already full steam ahead by the time he put the phone down. This was, he felt, the last piece of the puzzle as far as this case was concerned. And a strange puzzle it was.

As far as he could connect the dots the case stretched to over 100 bombings, 200 arson attacks and more than 70 brutal murders. All of the attacks on property had been somewhat loosely related. Museums, major post-offices, stamp shops and the homes of many wealthy individuals. The killings were different. Seemingly unconnected at first a closer look at the lifestyles of the dead quickly brought to light a very direct link. They were all philatelists. That was when he got the first piece of the puzzle. Then he looked more closely at the property attacks and related it back to the stamp connection. He looked into the kinds of property attacked, he studied stamp collecting books and journals to get a better grasp of his new subject matter. He talked to the major players in the world of philately to find out if this seemingly placid hobby contained within it the seeds of greed and desperation that could drive people to such lengths. He found nothing but the boring, the obvious, the quite frankly anal.

Then he hit on an idea. He cross referenced the insurance claims of all the property attacks and came up with a winner. He went to his boss, elated and told him of his find, of how this whole case was conducted, in his opinion, by one person. One deranged person that if found, would surely be discovered to have a major grudge of the most ridiculous nature.

His boss put him on a two week sabbatical.

Feli tried to mentally pull herself back to the task at hand. She had to complete. She was close, but she had lost the will to go on. Lost the point. She was questioning herself now in a way she hadn't done since she knifed the brute she lived with all those years ago. She was pausing in a way that she hadn't through any of the other hundreds of attacks she had completed

She launched another kick at the prostrate body wrapped in black latex that lay on the roof beside her. The Postmaster General flinched and jerked his body in much the same way as he had to all the other kicks she had landed on him, but with less vigor. Her kicks had lost the passion they'd had originally and she knew it. Before she kicked in anger, now she was kicking to try and bring the anger back. She needed just one last spurt to finish the job, just one last piece of confidence.

She looked back toward the edge of the roof again. The high-powered rifle sat on its tri-pod and the radio control for the bombs trigger sat beside the tripod on the ground. The rifle would be fired and the rich, stamp-collecting bastard on the first floor of the building across the road would be taken out. The switch on the remote would then be used to ignite the explosives in the basement of that same building. It wasn't a large bomb, but coupled with the huge amount of combustible material in the basement it would start a fire that would engulf the building in minutes. And in the fire it would burn, it would burn and its tiny ashes would float up to the sky and it would be ended. She just had to start and soon the last one would be wiped out, she'd have her name to herself.

She would wipe out the only other Penny Black left in the world.

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