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The penny black


The world's first adhesive and pre-paid stamp.

Rowland Hill introduced the idea of drastically reducing the charge for mail sent anywhere in Britain, and having the charge paid with a stamp purchased when the mail was sent rather than when it was delivered. These common sense notions were not obvious to the government which declared Hill's ideas "preposterous" and "wild and visionary". The last term was not intended to be complimentary.

Hill, who makes an appearance in the Ingenious Timeline, realized that the cost of sending mail had little to do with distance and a great deal to do with the time involved in computing travel costs and delivering the letters. Often the recipients of letters refused to accept them because the charge could equal a day's pay for a poor man. Unhappily, the government, which controlled postal revenues, was squeezing as much money as it could from an inadequate service.

The Penny Black appeared in May on this day in 1840.The inequities, expenses, and inconveniences of the post were all rapidly resolved, and three times as many letters were posted. Government revenues increased, too. Government has yet to grasp these fruitful paradoxes.

Thanks to On This Day for the date.


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