The 175th anniversary of the Penny Red

Last year, the Penny Black celebrated its 175 years and this year, on the 10th of February, it was the Penny Red’s turn to celebrate its 175th anniversary. Whilst the Penny Black was initially a success it ultimately failed. Examples were reported with the red maltese cross cancellation removed and attempts made to re-use the stamps. Following some trials both the colour of the stamp and the cancellation were changed – the Penny Red was born.

To help you celebrate its 175th anniversary we have put together a range of information and items, including some free downloads:

  • A pdf of the insightful article ‘The 1d. Red Imperforate Printed from Penny Black Plates’ (taken from the March 2016 issue of Gibbons Stamp Monthly)
  • An attractive presentation album when purchasing a stamp
  • Our initials finder for you to try out
  • Hugh Jefferies short guide ‘How to Collect Penny Reds’
  • Details of the Treasury Competition and the medal that inspired the Penny Black
  • An introduction to the ways in which the 1d can be collected, including issued stamps, varieties, cancellations and trials
  • A collection of supporting publications and albums
  • An exclusive offer to display your stamps to their very best advantage
  • A range of superb Penny Reds are available in the Stanley Gibbons online store.

The Penny Black was printed for less than a year, however, the Penny Red enjoyed widespread popularity and success from 1841 through to 1880 as around 450 plates were made and 13.4 billion stamps were issued. It was printed by Perkins, Bacon and Co. initially from black plates 1,2,5,8,9,10 and 11. For a number of years the stamps had no perforations and were cut from sheets. In 1844, a barred numeral cancel was introduced and replaced the maltese cross.



We’re giving away a free presentation album with every purchase of an 1841 1d Red stamp online.

A4 Penny Red Wallets 1841


To commemorate the 175th anniversary, we’re giving away a free article ‘The 1d. Red Imperforate Printed From Penny Black Plates’.

175th anniversary of the Penny Red - Red Imperforate article


As it’s the 175th anniversary of the Penny Red you can personalise your stamp with your initials on it! Each 1841 1d Red was printed with two letters on it, one in each of the bottom corners. To find out if one is available with your chosen initials use the Stanley Gibbons Finder.


If you are an advanced collector and are looking to purchase one, we have the best range of quality examples from £35 to £180,000, covering all varieties, errors, trials and cancellations. To help beginners learn more about how to collect them, we asked Hugh Jefferies to share his advice. Read Hugh’s tips in this short guide How to Collect Penny Reds.”


Unknown to many, Sir Rowland Hill was inspired by the Wyon City Medal, created by William Wyon, one of the most admired and prolific of all engravers. The early postage stamps, including the 1841 1d Red, show the head of Queen Victoria as sketched by Henry Corbould, who based his rendition on Wyon’s engraving for the ‘City’ medal, which commemorated the Queen’s visit to the City of London in 1837. 

Wyon City Medal


Despite its fame, the Penny Black was, as a stamp, a failure. The stability of the ink made it relatively easy to wash off the original red postmark and re-use the stamp. The change to a black postmark was trialled in August 1840 but the Post Office had already realised a black postmark on a black stamp was not ideal and had started experimenting with new stamp colours. These today are known as the Rainbow trials.

We are able to offer many items that were in the David Rowse collection and illustrated in his book ‘Rainbow Trials’.

Rainbow Trials Stamps


Imperforate Penny Reds are not rare, however, due to the long period they were used there are many different ways to collect them. A range of superb examples are available in the Stanley Gibbons online store. See below an 1841 1d Red brown “Black” plate 8. Superb unused o.g. example lettered OL, very lightly mounted and a wonderful example of this scarce stamp, the finest we have handled for many years. Spec. AS47. 2015 RPS Cert.

Issued Stamps Postage One Penny


One popular area of study has been the errors and varieties which can be found in the design of the Penny Red. This includes double letters, inverted letters, re-entries, basal shifts, and guide lines. Other varieties include inverted watermarks and lavender-tinted paper.

A fascinating error occurred on plate 77 – the first stamp in row two should have been lettered B-A, however, the letter block in the right hand corner was blank. The error is extremely rare and the first every copy was discovered only in 1904. We can offer a very fine used matched pair showing the” B-blank” error on plate 77 plus the corrected version on plate 77b.

How to collect Penny Reds


New plates used for printing had a registration sheet, also known as an imprimatur sheet. A small number of examples were officially cut from these sheets by the Inland Revenue and each is unique. We have the finest Imprimatur selection available, and recently sold a superb unused matched pair of top right hand corner lettered AL showing part sheet inscription and plate numbers “77” & “77b”. A remarkable matched pair taken from plate 77 which contained the “B blank” error on BA and the corrected plate 77b which had subsequently had the “A” added.. Rare. Ex. Colonel Bates (1934).



Maltese cross cancellations were officially issued for use with the first postage stamps in May 1840. This continued with Penny Reds from 1841 to 1844. See below an 1841 1d Red brown plate 10 (State 2) superb used four margin example lettered BC beautifully cancelled by a crisp black maltese cross. Spec. AS71.

Maltese Cross Postage One Penny Stamp


1d Reds used with a red maltese cross example are rare. We have a number on cover and singles including this 1841 1d Red brown plate 9, very fine used close to huge four margin example lettered TF, beautifully cancelled by a crisp red maltese cross. Very scarce so fine. Spec. AS57va. Cat. £5000. 1984 RPS Cert.

Maltese Crosse Cancels


Maltese crosses were made individually and by hand so that no two are exactly alike. Some are very distinctive such as the 1841 1d Red brown plate 11, very fine used four margin example lettered MI, neatly cancelled by a crisp strike of the rare Wotton-under-Edge black maltese cross. Spec. AS74ue. Ex. Buranasombati. 1986 RPS Cert.

Maltese Cross Coloured 1844 Cancels


These were used in 1842 in several post offices in the South West of England in place of the maltese cross. Here is an example cancelled by a magnificent Totness “Wessex” cds for NO.23.1842. Scarce so fine.



The maltese cross cancellers did not prove satisfactory and numbered cancellers were introduced in 1844. Here is a 1d Red neatly cancelled by an upright “498” Manchester duplex in black.

1844 Cancels


Coloured cancels are much less common and some are rare. See below the very fine used close to huge four margin horizontal pair lettered BF-BG, each stamp neatly cancelled by a crisp green Dublin “186” numeral leaving a clear profile. Most attractive and very scarce.

We also have examples of the rare Denbigh in violet.

Penny Red in green


Every variety and cancellation has been extensively explored and narrated. Below are some of the stories uncovered by great historians and writers. Click on the book cover below to buy your copy.

Volume 1, Queen Victoria

The first edition of this specialised title to be published since 2008, this catalogue provides a detailed priced listing of all Great Britain Queen Victoria stamps, British Postal Fiscals and Post Office Telegraph Stamps. Each section includes comprehensive background information. The entire catalogue has been carefully revised and repriced in line with the current market.

For instant access to the Stanley Gibbons Specialised Catalogue – Volume 1, Queen Victoria, download our Stanley Gibbons publication app here or click on the button for the hard copy version.

Queen Victoria SG.

‘Rainbow Trials’ by David Rowse. From the inception of the ‘Rainbow Trials’ in May 1840 to the letter of 24th December from the Stamps & Taxes Office instructing Bacon to print the stamps in the new colours, the author looks in detail at the trials and tribulations entailed in these experiments and the people involved in them.

Rainbow Trials by David Rowse

As the world’s first, the Penny Black has probably been the subject of more prolonged and detailed study than any postage stamp issued since – and rightly so! Still considered by many to be the most attractive ever issued, it is certainly the one stamp which every collector would like to own. But in its short period of currency it was printed from 11 different plates, and with the two separate states of Plate 1 making 12, and 240 corner letter combinations from each, there are a total of 2880 different Penny Blacks to collect!

Reference to the catalogue will show that a poor example from a common plate may be only worth a few pounds, but a superlative stamp from a scarce one will cost thousands – but how do you tell the difference? There is no better guide than this book first published in 1922, with separate pictures of all 2880 stamps, and detailed notes on the facing page to assist identification.

First published by Stanley Gibbons in 1998 with some editorial amendments and a foreword by Charles W Goodwyn LLB, RDP, FRPSL, then keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection, the book proved to be a godsend to collectors chasing an ever-declining number of the original publication. This new edition is designed to meet the needs of yet another generation of Penny Black collectors; a description of each individual stamp of the eleven different plates, affording a guide to collectors in the reconstruction of sheets.

The Plating of the Penny Red book.

Line Engraved Security Printing: the Methods of Perkins Bacon 1790 to 1935 Banknotes and Postage Stamps by Gary Granzow. The first major work on engraving postage stamps since James Baxter’s 1939 book; Printing Postage Stamps by Line Engraving, is on the nature of the engraving and not on specific stamps.

An original approach to the research and understanding of line engraving on steel and the security printing it made possible. While much of the focus is on the evolution of line engraving in the UK, the findings apply to line engraving in general. Previously students have studied thousands of stamps and dated envelopes to deduce how the stamps were made and why they appear as they do. Gary has traced the development of engraving on steel, the mechanics of design transfer, hardening, inks, perforation and plate repair from 1790 to 1935 by studying primary sources and patents.

Using this approach, he has made several basic discoveries and corrected a number of erroneous conclusions in the literature. 320 pages, 180 illustrations, many in colour.

Line Engraved Security Printing: The methods of Perkins Bacon.

The Encyclopedia of The Maltese Cross is a great read and reference guide and it includes details of the Maltese Crosses from over one hundred post towns. There are 3 books in the series.

Maltese Cross book

The Perkins Bacon Archive held by the Royal Philatelic Society is a wonderful primary source for philatelists but, although it is generally available for consultation by serious researchers by appointment, anyone living some distance away cannot readily access it. The information has now been made available in a series of books, of which these are the first two. Perkins Bacon Archive No. 1: The General Account of Postage Labels 1840. 189+xxiii pages. As well as facsimile copies of every page a summary is provided of the work of every individual named printer. Perkins Bacon Archive No. 2: Postage Stamp Warrants 1840-1845 122+x pages. The Royal Philatelic Society holds 120 original warrants ordering 1d, 2d and VR stamps. These show exactly what was ordered when, and provides a wonderful primary source for serious researchers. The front and back of each warrant is illustrated.

Perkins Bacon


Our monthly magazine, Gibbons Stamp Monthly, is also celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Penny Red. GSM provides some great stories about the usage of the 1d. You can read Edward Klempka’s article ‘The 1d. Red Imperforate Printed from Penny Black Plates.’


Subscribe to Gibbons Stamp Monthly Online to access the latest issue of the UK’s bestselling stamp magazine on your computer as well as the previous 12 months’ worth of back issues at no extra charge. Please note: Your subscription should be active within an hour after you have placed your order, available by logging into the Stanley Gibbons website. The subscription does NOT involve the delivery of any physical items as the product is entirely web-based: GSM Online 12 Month  (£24.95)

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Fig – Subscribe to Gibbons Stamp Monthly


The quickest way to get immediate access to Gibbons Stamp Monthly is through our GSM app for Apple devices on the App Store:


The UKs bestselling stamp magazine and the official publication of the worlds oldest and most famous name in philately – Stanley Gibbons. Consistently over 150 pages each month, with up to date news, auction results and everything else from worldwide postal authorities and the hobby of philately. Gibbons Stamp Monthly has in-depth articles for the specialists, thematic and new collectors by leading philatelic writers, a dedicated Great Britain section, extensive new issues pages and the monthly Stanley Gibbons catalogue supplement provided to keep your catalogue up-to-date. Subscribers also get exclusive reader offers on catalogues, albums and accessories and full access to the online version:


Stanley Gibbons provides a range of superior albums to store your collection. Made from the finest materials available, such as Morocco grain padded leather and silk linings, the award winning Frank Godden De Luxe handcrafted albums are some of the finest available and are designed to last a lifetime. Frank Godden albums are suitable for long term storage and are made to the standard recommended by all museums.

Frank Godden De Luxe Stamp Albums
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