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Penny Post

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The Penny Post is any one of several postal systems in which normal letters could be sent for one penny. Five such schemes existed in the United Kingdom while the United States initiated at least three such simple fixed rate postal arrangements.

United Kingdom[edit]

London Penny Post[edit]

Postmark and time stamps from Lime Street office

In England, the postal service, from 1660 General Post Office, had developed into a monopoly, affirmed by Oliver Cromwell in 1654,[1][2] for the collection and carriage of letters between post towns, however, there was no delivery system until William Dockwra and his partner Robert Murray established the London Penny Post in 1680. They set up a local post that used a uniform rate of one old penny for delivery of letters and packets weighing up to one pound within the cities of Westminster and London as well as in Southwark.[3] Several deliveries took place a day within the city, and items were also delivered to addresses up to ten miles outside London for an extra charge of one penny. In 1683 Dockwra was forced to surrender the Penny Post to the English Monarchy for circulating what were considered seditious newsletters sharply criticizing the Duke of York, who was in charge of and directly benefited from the General Post Office.[4][5]

Local Penny Post[edit]

In 1765, Parliament authorized the creation of Penny Posts in any town or city of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. The single postage rate of one penny was charged within the area, calculated by weight.[4] By the beginning of the 19th century there were many of these, identifiable on covers, with markings such as "PP", "Py Post", or "Penny Post" along with the name of the town.[4][5]

The early penny post system in Edinburgh, founded in 1773/4 by Peter Williamson,[4][5] known as "Indian Peter," usefully combined it with one of the world's first street directories.[6] He circulated mail to 17 shops in the city (effectively post offices) and employed four uniformed postmen. Their hats read "Penny Post" and were numbered 1,4,8 and 16 to make the business look bigger.

Uniform Penny Post[edit]

On 5 December 1839 the Uniform Fourpenny Post was introduced by the General Post Office but lasted only 36 days until 9 January 1840 when the Uniform Penny Post replaced it.[7] In 1835 Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled 'Post Office Reform' which led to various reforms and the introduction of the first postage stamp. He convinced Parliament to implement much needed reforms in the current postal system. On 10 January 1840, the Uniform Penny Post was established throughout Great Britain and Ireland, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap conveyance of letters. They now could be prepaid with the first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black. Hill had demonstrated that the current system was inefficient and slow and not cost effective. Time was wasted when the postman wited at each house to collect payment. The use of prepaid postage through adhesive stamps revolutionized the postal service. While the Post Office was initially skeptical, the new system proved to be a resounding success, leading to greater efficiency, speed, and profitability.[8] [9]

Ocean Penny Post[edit]

Elihu Burritt proposed that a fixed rate of one penny be established for all mail throughout the entire British Empire as a means of facilitating international interaction and international unity. This was known as the Ocean Penny Post.[10][a]

Imperial Penny Post[edit]

On Christmas Day, 1898, the Imperial Penny Post extended the rate throughout the British Empire except for Australia and New Zealand, who would not benefit from it until 1905.[11] In 1908 it was extended to America.

The Penny Post rate ended in Great Britain in 1918.

United States[edit]

In the United States, Spaulding's Penny Post operated in Buffalo, New York from 1847 to 1850.

Davis' Penny Post operated in Baltimore, Maryland for several weeks of February 1856, leaving behind a handful of rare stamps.[12][13]

The Penny Post is the journal of the Carriers and Locals Society, and was also the original name of The Cincinnati Post.



  1. ^ "September 1654: An Ordinance touching the Office of Postage of Letters, Inland and Foreign". Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660. His Majesty's Stationery Office. 1911. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  2. ^ Blake, Heidi (10 June 2010). "The Royal Mail: a history of the British postal service". Royal Mail. Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Calendar of Treasury Papers Vol. LXXXII. 1702, Oct.13 - Nov. 30"
  4. ^ a b c d "Provincial Penny Posts". The British Postal Museum and Archive. Archived from the original on 21 September 2016. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  5. ^ a b c George Brumell. "Dockwra Family Research Center". The Local Posts of London 1680-1840 by George Brumell. first published in 1938, second edition published by Alcock and Holland. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
  6. ^ Dobson, David. "A Man Called Indian Peter". University of Georgia Press. Retrieved 6 April 2017.
  7. ^ "Glossary of Stamp Collecting Terms". AskPhil.org - Collectors Club of Chicago. Archived from the original on 28 June 2011. Retrieved 2009-04-17.
  8. ^ Fred J. Melville, Origins Of The Penny Post (London: Philatelic Institute, 1930).
  9. ^ Baker, Colin. "Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution Proceedings vol.8 The History of the Postal Services". Royal Literary & Scientific Institution. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  10. ^ Bacon, E. D. (1899). "Ocean penny postage". St. Martin's-le-grand (April): 164ff.
  11. ^ "Dictionary of Australian Biography: Sir John Henniker Heaton". National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 3 September 2015.
  12. ^ Davis's Penny Post (PDF), Siegal Auction Gallaries, 1999-11-15, pp. 196–197, retrieved 2014-05-01
  13. ^ "Davis's Penny Post, Baltimore, Maryland". Auction catalog. Siegal Auction Galleries. 1999. Retrieved 2014-05-01.


Further reading[edit]

  • Anon. "Peter Williamson and the Edinburgh Penny Post". Philatelic Journal of Great Britain. (November 1938).
  • Brumell, George. The Local Posts of London 1680-1840. Cheltenham: R. C. Alcock Ltd, 1971, 91p.
  • Cochrane, William P. The Glasgow Penny Post, 1800-1845. Hamilton: The Scottish Postal History Society, 2012 ISBN 978-1-9081390-3-0, 238p.
  • Cowell, J.B. The Bangor Penny Post, 1814-1840. Gwynedd, Wales: Welsh Philatelic Society, 1977 ISBN 0-904098-01-X, 20p.
  • Dittmann, Manfred. Die Dubliner penny post nach offiziellen unterlagen und verschiedenen samumlungen = The Dublin penny post compiled from official and historical data from collections. Munich: Forschungs- und Arbeitsgemeinschaft Irland e.V. im Bund Deutscher Philatelisten e.V., 1992, 312p.
  • Holyoake, Alan. Great Britain, the development and introduction of uniform penny postage (1839-1840). Gerrards Cross: the author, 2006, 15p.
  • Melville, Fred J. Origins Of The Penny Post. London: Philatelic Institute, 1930, 120p.
  • Melville, Fred J. A Penny All The Way. London: W.H. Peckitt, 1908, 48p.
  • Phil (A.D. Blackburn). The Penny Postage Jubilee and Philatelic History. London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1891, 261p.
  • Staff, Frank. The Penny Post, 1680-1918. London: Lutterworth Press, 1964, 219p.
  • Todd, Thomas. William Dockwra and the Rest of the Undertakers: The story of the London penny post, 1680-1682. Edinburgh: C. J. Cousland & Sons, 1952, 156p.
  • Winmill, R.B. The Evolution of Imperial Penny Postage and the postal history of the Canadian 1898 Map Stamp. Toronto: Jim A. Hennok Ltd., 1982 ISBN 0-919772-00-5, 110p.

External links[edit]