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The Penny Red

An improved Penny Black? 

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The Penny Black’s successor, the Penny Red addressed flaws in the stamp’s anti-forgery and reuse prevention measures. The red-brown cancellation marks used on Penny Blacks were easy to wash off and were therefore often unlawfully reused. 

A number of trials were conducted to test various permutations of stamp and cancellation ink combinations, this experimentation was called the Rainbow Trials. Special plates of three and 12 stamps were printed in shades of red, blue and green and cancelled in a variety of ways.

The Penny Red was issued just nine months after the Penny Black and ran from February 1841 to November 1879.

The Penny Red's design

The Penny Red has lace marks on the left and right with position letters in all four corners. To reinforce anti-forgery measures, it also had two different watermarks: early issues with one small crown watermark and later issues with a large crown watermark. Perforation sizes were also tested. At first sheets were printed without perforation marks, then its size changed from 16 to 14; all of these nuances making the Penny Red all the more varied and interesting to the collector.

The Penny Red is remarked as having one of the rarest individual plate numbers in the philatelic world: The famous Plate 77. Only a handful of Plate 77s, which date from 1863, made their way into circulation.

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, others lost, and as a result, are highly prized by collectors. In 2016, a Plate 77 Penny Red was bought for £495,000.