The Penny Black was undoubtedly the stamp that changed the world – and introduced the Penny Post and the democratisation of written correspondence – but despite its warranted fame, the famous stamp was in no way flawless. Yes, the Post Office and printers, Perkins Bacon, had built a substantial number of features into the stamp to prevent forgery but the fact that the red cancellation could be cleaned off a black stamp, allowing it to be reused, led to a fear of defrauding the Post Office.
A change needed to be made.
A series of experiments – the flamboyantly named Rainbow Trials – were conducted to determine the best combination of stamp and cancellation colours. Special plates of stamps were printed in shades of red, blue and green.
The end result was the decision to swap the colours around and introduce a red stamp and cancel the black. In February 1841, only nine months after its original issue, the Penny Black was replaced by a red twin – and the Penny Red was born.
The Penny Red is also remarked as having one of the rarest individual plate numbers in the philatelic world.
With few changes to the unique design, the Penny Red swiftly succeeded the Penny Black and took up the mantle as the main type of postage stamp in Great Britain. Great Britain’s longest-running stamp, the Penny Red adorned prized letters and gift-embossed packages from February 1841 to the end of November 1879.
The Penny Red is also remarked as having one of the rarest individual plate numbers in the philatelic world. The famous Plate 77. Only a tiny handful of Plate 77s, which date from 1863, made their way into circulation as the Post Office decided the printing plate was not of high enough quality – the perforations did not line up correctly – and requested their destruction.
There are only five used examples known to the world of philately adding to the mystique of the Plate 77s, which endures beyond its years. Some have been stolen. Some are lost. One, homed in the Crocker collection in San Francisco, was reported missing in the great earthquake of 1906. As a result, they are highly prized by collectors. Indeed, two Plate 77 Penny Reds have sold in the last six years for around the £500k mark.