Penny Red

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An unperforated Penny Red, position 2, row 2
Date of production 1841 (1841)–1879 (1879)
Printer Perkins, Bacon & Co
  • 1841: none
  • 1850: 16 gauge (experimental)
  • 1854: 16 gauge
  • 1855: 14 gauge
Depicts Queen Victoria
Face value 1d
A perforated Penny Red with letters in four corners and plate 148, therefore printed 1871 or later
The plate number, 148 in this case, may be found in the margin of the stamp.

The Penny Red was a British postage stamp, issued in 1841. It succeeded the Penny Black and continued as the main type of postage stamp in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until 1879, with only minor changes to the design during that time. The colour was changed from black to red because of difficulty in seeing a cancellation mark on the Penny Black; a black cancel was readily visible on a Penny Red.[1]


Initially, some of the same plates that were used to print the Penny Black were used to print the Penny Red and about 21 billion Penny Reds were printed by Messrs. Perkins, Bacon & Co.[2] Initially, the stamp had no perforations, and had to be cut from the sheet using scissors in the same manner as for the Penny Black and the early printings of the Two pence blue. Perforations, (experimental gauge 16), first came into use in 1850 and were officially adopted in 1854 (in the same size as the experimental issue). The experimental issue can be distinguished from the general issue as the later was applied to stamp which used a different alphabet type for the letters in the lower corners. Each stamp has unique corner letters AA, AB, AC ... AL etc., so its position on the plate can be identified.

In January 1855, the perforation size was changed from 16 to 14 as it was found that the sheets were coming apart too easily. The reduced size allowed the sheets to remain intact until pressure was applied to force the separation.

The stamps were printed in sheets of 240 (20 rows of 12 stamps), so one row cost 1 shilling and a complete sheet one pound. This 240 stamps per sheet configuration continued with all British postage stamps issued until 1971 when decimal currency was introduced when the sheet size was changed to 200, (20 rows of 10 stamps) making the lowest value denomination (half penny) one pound per sheet.

Plate numbers[edit]

On 1 April 1864, the stamp was issued with the plate number engraved in the design, in the left and right side lace work. At this time, the stars in the top corners were also replaced with the same check letters as used in the lower corners, but in reverse order.[3]

Because of wear, over 400 different plates were used to print the Penny Red. Two different basic watermarks were used for the paper, small crown, (on the early issues) and large crown, introduced on 15 May 1855. The first stamps printed on the large crown watermarked paper showed two small vertical lines in the central portion of the crown. Later printings showed a revised watermark on which these central lines are not present.

Stamps from the later plates which run from numbers 71 to 225 are relatively common, often only worth a few pence with the exception of plate 225 which is scarce and can be worth a few hundred pounds and plate 77, is very rare[4] and in 2016, an example from this plate was auctioned for UK£495,000.[5] The 1d red plate 77 is rare because usually at least one sheet was printed from a new plate and then sent to Somerset House for approval before the new plate was put to press. When approved, one sheet was kept there as the registration, or imprimatur sheet as it is often known. Any faulty sheets would then have been destroyed by burning at Somerset House and any good ones put into stock in the normal way. Wright and Creeke assert in "The Stamps of the British Isles" that up until 1899 the printers struck off 6 trial sheets of which one chosen as an "imprimatur" and the others put into stock and then issued. It is also worth noting that prior to these example sheets being printed it is certain that some others would have been printed as part of the process of setting up the printing press with a new plate. So, any example sheets examined should have been returned to be first accounted for and then destroyed if faulty and issued if not, and in the case of plate 77 some stamps have survived. We know the plate must have reached the point of inspection because a letter from Ormond Hill to Perkins Bacon still exists, telling them that he was rejecting two plates as they were not vertically aligned well enough to allow a good standard of perforating and although this letter doesn't mention the plate numbers, they must have been plates 75 and 77 because the date of the letter (7 February 1863) is the same as the date on which the other plates submitted at the same time (76 and 78 to 81) were registered. Hill must have been looking at least one sheet produced from plate 77 (and from plate 75 too as it happens) to have made this decision - so at least one sheet from plate 77 existed at some point. The only alternative is that Hill determined that the plate was poorly aligned by looking at the plate itself but as that would have been so very much more difficult to do than the simpler and usual way of looking at an example sheet there is no reason to think that happened. After all, it is reasonable to assume that he would have wanted to make absolutely sure that plate 77 was unusable before rejecting another plate. We will never know how many copies of this stamp were printed from plate 77, maybe one sheet, maybe half a dozen sheets, but one thing is sure, it wasn't many! If the odd 77 has escaped into the wild then there is also the possibility that examples from plates 69, 70, 75, 126 and 128 may be found one day as well, but it's not likely. If they were going to be verified they probably would have been by now. As of now none are known to exist although in his book "The line-engraved postage stamps of Great Britain printed by Perkins, Bacon & Co.; a history of their production during the forty years, 1840-1880" Sir Edward Denny Bacon mentions that H L Estrange-Ewen had seen copies of both plate 70 and 77 stamps "evidently from proof sheets". Having said that, he also claimed that "entire sheets of 226, 227 & 228 exist with the surcharge "Cyprus"" but it is likely he was mistaken as those plates, although completed were not registered and there is no record of any stamps being printed from them.

In an article in The Philatelic Record periodical of January 1895 W A S Westoby comments on some of "Lord Kingston's recent papers" as follows.

"What Lord Kingston means when he says that plate numbers have been discovered "in some cases of plates not known to exist" I fail to divine, unless reference is intended to plate 77 of the one penny, which is the only one that I know of, the existence of which cannot be clearly accounted for. But in the case of plate 77 the plate existed; it was refused registration because the impression showed that the stamps were unevenly laid down, and it was considered not properly adapted for perforation. It is clear, however, that an impression taken from it, though deemed defective, did not find its way into the spoilage, but was perforated at Somerset House. The same thing may also have occurred with plates 75, 126, and 128, which were also refused registration, two of them on similar grounds to plate 77, and the third that the punching was defective".

Also, Judge Philbrick stated that he had seen a copy of plate 70 (AA) in the "Stainforth collection". Reverend Francis John Stainforth was one of the early pioneers of stamp collecting and he is said by Bacon to have obtained the plate 70 stamp in 1858 although this date must be incorrect as the plate wasn't made until 1861. His collection was dispersed in early 1865 about 18 months prior to his death and the plate 70 stamp was bought by Judge Philbrick. It was then bought by Ferrary when he acquired Philbrick's collection in 1872. In 1891 Philbrick also stated that he had seen 2 used copies of plate 70 and Bacon states that "in 1898 another supposed copy was the subject of an action for the recovery of the stamp at the County Court of Sheerness". All very mysterious! On February 15, 1861 Ormond Hill wrote - "The heads in plate 70 are by no means accurately placed: but the inaccuracy is not so great but that we can manage to perforate impressions from it." Bacon write "Later on the plate was found to be defective and condemned".

8 plate 77s have been found so far, not 10 as mentioned in the July/August 2009 GB Journal. 4 mint stamps and 4 used. Two of the mint stamps have been lost leaving 6 currently accepted examples of plate 77 in existence although one is now disputed.

AA - The lettering is unconfirmed, but AA is the most likely position if the old tradition is accepted that a mint irregular block of 4 was discovered back in the 1870s (AB, AC and BA are known to exist) and split into individual stamps. AA is the logical missing stamp. In 1868 Judge Philbrick refers to a trial sheet of penny plates printed in 1863 an example of which lettered AA came into his possession. He said "It is finely printed in very red carmine. There is nothing to distinguish it as a proof and except from the source from which it came into our collection we should hardly have supposed it to be such". Bacon didn't know what plate it came from and said he thought it must have been a stamp from the "imprimatur" sheet. Now, could that stamp have been from plate 77?! "AA" or whatever stamp it was, was in the collection of William Hughes-Hughes who was one of the founder members of the Royal Philatelic Society London. He was a Barrister of the Inner Temple and his collection was started around 1859 and discontinued about 1874. When interviewed by the Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal in January 1896 (when the stamp was bought from him by Gibbons as part of his "Great Collection") he stated that the whole collection had only cost him £69 as most of his stamps had been obtained "through influential connections". The article also mentions that all of the stamps are "stuck down tight and have to be cut out" so presumably this example would have been sold unused rather than mint! Although Bacon mentions this stamp as being in the Ferrary collection I can find no evidence of this (it didn't appear among the listed items sold at the Ferrary sales in Paris so maybe the example of plate 70 said to have been bought by him has been confused with a 77? In fact it was sold to stamp dealer Herbert L'Estrange Ewen who in turn sold it to Henry J Crocker in America (see The Philatelic Record June 1902 page 132) where it was lost in a fire that followed the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 so it's most unlikely that this stamp will ever reappear. I would be interested to hear if anyone has any references from American publications to do with this occurrence and any reference to the check letter position would be great! This stamp is also referred to in the 29th February 1908 issue of "The Postage Stamp" as follows - "Gibbons' catalogue after stating that a specimen of plate 77 is in the Tapling collection adds "and we have had a second". This second copy Mr Ewen in his Weekly Stamp News informs us was bought by him and sold to Mr HJ Crocker, being burnt along with the rest of the latters collection of British stamps in the San francisco collection. The Tapling copy is therefore unique." In the 28th March 1908 issue of "The Postage Stamp" Mr N V le Gallais points out that he has a used copy of Plate 77. He is referring to LL.

AB - Is an unused stamp now in the Royal Philatelic collection. Bacon refers to this stamp being in the Royal collection in 1919 after being acquired by King George V. It was bought from Bridger and Kay stamp dealers on 8 August 1918 for a price of £499 9 shillings. There are gum residues on the stamp but there is no way of saying whether this is original gum. When viewed from the back the Large Crown watermark is very slightly high of centre and slightly left of centre. The top perforations are scissor-cut in a sloping fashion.

AC - It was found in 1919 by Chas Nissen (the discovery is recorded on the front page of The British Philatelist, October 1919, Volume XII Number 8). It is stated - "Our publishers have shewn us an unused copy from the very rare plate 77 of the old Red Penny. This is the fourth unused copy which has been discovered.....Mr E D Bacon stated "It is the same colour as the one in the Royal Collection which is lettered AB and the two stamps at one time formed a pair...I can tell this for certain, from the position the perforation occupies round the edges of the two stamps". Like AB, the top perforations are scissor-cut in a sloping fashion. This stamp was found at the same time as AB and although it is clearly recorded that Chas Nissen found AC it does not seem to be confirmed anywhere that he found AB too. Here is a first hand account from Tom Allen, who bought a great deal of material for the Royal Collection, and was asked to be Keeper Of The Royal Collection (by Wilson) when Wilson retired. He was one of the few dealers ever invited to join the RPS London, and was on their Expert Committee for over 20 years, 1954-1975. He wrote - "Over the years I purchased a great many stamps for the Royal Collection. One of my great friends was the late Charles Nissen, who was the only individual stamp dealer ever to be granted a Royal Warrant. One day I was in Charles' office when one of his assistants came in to say that a man outside had a mint Great Britain Plate 77 that he wished to sell. Almost all the so-called Plate 77 stamps are no more than 177 with the "1" more or less skilfully removed. The genuine stamp is extremely rare with very few copies known to exist. It seemed genuine to me so I beckoned Charles back to his office and told him that I could apply a test of my own devising but that if it proved to be a fake it would ruin the stamp. "Go ahead", said Charles, "let's risk it.". So I applied my test and the stamp proved genuine. After all the excitement I don't think Charles ever got his lunch that day! A curious thing was that this plate 77 proved to be the adjoining stamp to the Plate 77 which was already in the Royal Collection." It would be fascinating to know who the "man outside" was who sold that stamp and also what Tom Allen's secret test was! As a member of the RPSL expert committee and curator of its forgery collection for many years he would have had a great deal of expertise. The stamp was later sold to Per Gjerding (it was shown in his collection at the London Exhibition in 1928 where it was described as “the most sought for stamp at the exhibition (see London Philatelist, December 1928 page 282 and Stamp Lover December 1928 page 189). The stamp does not appear in the Per Gjerding auction sale by HR Harmer in January 1956 (sales 2601/2602 on 16th and 17th January 1956) so must have been sold separately before then. It was bought by Chas Nissen and sold by him as part of a collection to J R de Phillp (see British Philatelist August 1941 page 44 and September 1941 page 52). It was later sold to Major Raphael on 4th November 1959 at a Robson Lowe auction (sales 1875-76 Lot 171 where it was described a "fine with much original gum".), and then disappeared in 1965 when his collection was stolen and no trace of it has been seen since then. It is possible this stamp may be still in existence and hopefully it will reappear one day.

BA is an unused (no gum) stamp now in the British Library from the Tapling collection. Its centreing is consistent with AB and AC. When viewed from the back the Large Crown watermark (Type II) is very slightly high of centre and slightly left of centre. I am confident that this stamp is from the original plate 77. This confidence is based on the fact that I have examined every single stamp with the check letters BA from ALL the plates in between 71 and 225 and NONE of the positions match the Tapling stamp although 81 is the closest by far. It's still not a match though. This proves that some stamps were printed from plate 77. BA is the first plate 77 to be recorded in the public arena as it became part of Tapling's collection prior to 1891 when he died and it was bequeathed to the British Museum.

LL was discovered by Mr NV le Gallais, an enthusiastic 1d red collector, in 1906 (Gibbons Stamp Weekly 20 October 1906 page 251) and passed to Mr G.E.J. Crallan of Jersey who sent it to the RPSL for certification. In the June 15th 1915 issue of the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that arranged an auction to raise money described as a "Stamp Sale for Belgians" suffering during the First World War it is written - "One collector has presented a stamp which in the used state is unique, no other used copy of this stamp being known to collectors. This rarity, which is the gift of Mr. G. E. J. Crallan, of Jersey, should attract all the specialists in British stamps to the sale. It is the id. red stamp of Queen Victoria's reign, printed from Plate 77. Two unused copies have been known ; one of them is in the great collection at the British Museum. So rare is the stamp that the late Earl of Crawford, who formed the finest'specialized collection of English stamps, never possessed a copy of 'Plate 77.' "The authenticity of the unique used copy so generously donated to the Belgian Fund by Mr. Crallan is vouched for by the experts of the Royal Philatelic Society, whose certificate accompanies the gift." It is obliterated 80 in a circle with lines outside as per EC London head office 1856 - 1874. The RPSL certificate is dated 14 December 1914, signed by ED Bacon and numbered 4900. The stamp sold in the Daily Telegraph stamp auction by Puttick and Simpson on a day of bad weather in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund, in London on 28/9/1915 and raised £50. It was bought by WS Brocklehurst and sold again in 1955 as Lot 635 of his collection in the Robson Lowe sale 1474-7 on 9/10 November. It was sold again at a Robson Lowe sale on 10 May 1966 in the auction rooms of Robson Lowe at 50 Pall Mall London SW1. This was recorded in the Philatelic Journal of Great Britain, June 1966 page 64 where the stamp is illustrated and its sale price of £375 recorded. It was owned by Dr Douglas Latto who exhibited it in 1974 in London. It is now owned by JW Phillips.

MI - Found in a box of stamps in November 1944 by Percy Jackson and sold for £220.00. Once in the collection of J de R Phillp. Has an RPSL certificate. Lightly used with a numeral 75 in a barred cancel but trimmed at the foot. Also has a BPA Expertising certificate number 84,963 dated 15/09/2014. This stamp appears in LN Williams "Encyclopedia of Rare & Famous Stamps" Volume 1 on page 99. Sold by Stanley Gibbons in 2016 for a £495,000.00 to a UK based collector/investor.

NC - Rumoured to have been found in a Harmers lot in 1994 and again rumoured to be off-centred high to the right with an inverted barred 15 cancel but this is unconfirmed. The whereabouts of this stamp are unknown and on balance it is likely that this stamp does not exist as a genuine 77.

PH is on a small piece and was found in 1924 by A.O.J. Readhead (HF Johnson's business partner) and was advertised for sale for £200.00 by Messrs HF Johnson (HF Johnson and AOJ Readhead) in The Stamp Lover, December 1924 on page 179. HCV Adams acquired the stamp and displayed it in 1938 (Stamp Lover November 1938 page 153. It is also recorded in Stamp Lover, March 1927 page 285. The Adams collection was sold by Robson Lowe on 15 February 1956 (sales 1456-7 - Lot 402) and this stamp was bought by Hugh Greenwell Fletcher for £300.00. When he died in 1968 at the age of 86, the Fletcher collection was left to the Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham, which was once the home of Sir Rowland Hill. The collection was transferred to the British Library in 1989 where it remains. Interestingly, HR Holmes records that two other stamps (MI and PI) also originated from the same large wholesale lot originally bought by HF Johnson and later subdivided.

PI - This stamp's announcement by J E Lea, Manchester stamp dealers is recorded in Stamp Collecting 30 October 1920. It's cancelled 15 surrounded by heavy bars, as used by London Head Office and is on piece with a 4d red and was issued an RPSL certificate in 1920. Its centreing and perforations make it likely that this stamp once adjoined PH. As with PH it is said to have originated from a large lot from HF Johnson. It was bought by J de R Phillp (it was lot number 172 in his auction sale by Robson Lowe 1875-76 on 4 November 1959). It later became part of the "Isleham" collection. Isleham was a pseudonym of a wealthy American and his collection included most of the great philatelic rarities of the British Empire. This collection was sold by Robson Lowe (New York) on 11 March 1987 and was Lot 8. It was part of Hassan Shaida's collection for a while. The piece was again sold on 7 May 1992 at Lot 1102 In the Christies Robson Lowe sale 4749. Stanley Gibbons sold this stamp in 2013 to a private client in Australasia for an impressive £550,000.00.

It is a mystery, now unlikely to be solved as to who originally found the 4 known mint copies back in the 1870s. Maybe it was an individual at Somerset House who shouldn't have taken the stamps so would not have publicised his ownership of them. It is also possible that the discovery of all the mint stamps at once is an urban legend. If they were all discovered together it is odd that the AB and AC stamps did not surface until 1919 and it would seem very unlikely that those two stamps did not originate from the same source although AC was bought by Chas Nissen and Tom Allen records that he was in Chas Nissen's office at the point that a "man outside" had a mint plate 77 to sell (AC) and that this stamp was bought at the time that plate 77 AB "was already in the Royal Collection". At least 2 of the used stamps, possibly 3 originated from the same bulk dealer lots, and the co-incidence of the discovery of PH and PI is less remarkable when this is taken into account.


The era of the Penny Red came to its close at the end of 1879, along with Perkins Bacon's contract. It was superseded by the Penny Venetian Red printed by De La Rue, which was in use for a little over a year before being succeeded in turn by the long-lived Penny Lilac. Since then, the stamp has become in demand amongst stamp collectors.


  • 10 February 1841 - first issue: colour of 1d stamp changed from black to red-brown.[6]
  • 24 February 1854 - perforations 16 introduced.[7]
  • January 1855[8] - perforation size changed from 16 to 14.
  • 15 May 1855[9] - watermark changed from small crown to large crown.
  • 1858 - letters in all four corners, colour lake-red[10]
  • 1 April 1864 - letters on all four corners and plate number engraved on each stamp from plate 71 onwards.[2]
  • 27 October 1879 - last plate (225) put to press.
  • 3 December 1879 - contract to print the Penny Red formally ended.[11]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ "1840 2d and 1841 2d a plating aid". Steven Allen British and Colonial Stamps. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "The Penny Red". The Penny Red Collector. Retrieved 31 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Stanley Gibbons Ltd, Specialised Stamp Catalogue Volume 1: Queen Victoria (8th ed. 1985) p. 207.
  4. ^ "Classic British Stamps - the Penny Red Plate 77 Stamp". Collectors Club of Great Britain. 2012-11-06. Retrieved 2016-03-11. 
  5. ^ Press Association (2016-03-10). "Rare Penny Red stamp sells for £495,000". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2016-03-11. 
  6. ^ SG7, Stanley Gibbons Stamp Catalogue, Commonwealth & British Empire Stamps 1840-1970, issued in 2009
  7. ^ SG17.
  8. ^ SG22.
  9. ^ SG26.
  10. ^ SG44.
  11. ^ Penny Red at pennystars. Retrieved 10 November 11.
  • Stanley Gibbons Ltd, Specialised Stamp Catalogue Volume 1: Queen Victoria
  • J.B. Seymour & C. Gardiner-Hill The Postage Stamps of Great Britain Part 1 (Royal Philatelic Society London, 3rd. edition, 1967)
  • W.R.D. Wiggins (Ed.) The Postage Stamps of Great Britain Part 2 (Royal Philatelic Society London, 2nd edition, 1962)

External links[edit]