A brief history

Students
Stamps and collectables

Have you ever wondered when stamps were first used and why? Read about the history of stamps to discover the answers to these questions and more.

The first postal services in the world were only used by kings and governments. Messengers travelled on foot, horseback or even by ship carrying each message. It could take them several days (or even weeks or months) to reach their destination.

Eventually, ordinary people wanted to send messages this way too. When the first public postal service began, the person who received the letter had to pay the delivery charge, not the person who sent it. Not surprisingly, many letters weren't delivered because people refused to pay.

The idea of "marking" letters began in Great Britain in 1661, when a special mark was stamped on letters to show they had been received by the post office.

National Stamp Week stamps

In Australia, we used postmarks from as early as 1812, but it was not until 1850 that a system was introduced where the person sending the letter paid for the postage. This is how postage stamps began. By 1860 every state, or colony in Australia had stamps. Shortly after the first stamps were introduced in 1840, people began collecting them.

An Englishman, Rowland Hill came up with the idea of pre-paying postage with a "stamp" in 1837. He recommended a standard letter rate of one penny (about one cent) for each half an ounce (14g), no matter how far it had to be carried for delivery.

Penny Black

Many people, including the British Postmaster General at the time, thought the idea was preposterous. He was heard to exclaim, "Of all the wild schemes I have ever heard, this is the most extraordinary!" However, it rapidly caught on, and many other countries started issuing stamps too.

A year after Rowland Hill's idea, Australia pioneered the use of stamps. Sydney's Postmaster General introduced a system of pre-payment for letters in November 1838. Two years later, on 6 May 1840, the first stamp was issued in England – the Penny Black. It was called the "Penny Black" because it cost a penny, and was black.