From our moan correspondent
MAY 1840 is THE big date in stamp collecting.
It was when the 1d black and 2d blue came out, heralding a revolution in the postal system and what was for some, but not everyone, a new way to send letters.
There must have been lots of excitement and expectation approaching the big day, so the newspapers of the time must have been full of it, mustn’t they?
Well, not exactly. In fact, hardly at all. And what there was does not give the impression that there was much by way of celebration. London, and several other towns and cities, already had a local penny post system and
several writers to The Times warned others that this was not the cure-all that Rowland Hill and others had suggested.
In December 1839 a Sloane Street resident, signing themselves as XX was “. . .quite satisfied that the public will not long tolerate the conduct of the penny postmen.”
He says he received two letters on the 18th of that month: “I say ‘received,’ because I was lucky. The first . . . was delivered thus: the usual knock and the letter instantly left under the knocker. … The other was found by chance thrust under the door, which door leaving no sufficient gap, occasioned the letter to be not only very dirty, but the envelope torn to pieces.”
His solution was to do away with this pre-pay nonsense that was going to be inflicted on the
whole nation and stick to the receiver having to pay because that ensured that the letter was delivered into the hands of yourself or servant.
It is worth pointing out that in 1840 front doors did not have letter boxes – it was not until 1849 that mail operators encouraged households to install them.
When the stamps and pre-paid envelopes did appear, the design of both was, rightly, derided, and the public
who were quick to point out that the stamps could be easily reused.
Someone wrote to The Times on 8 May 1840 pointing that out, using a previously used stamp on the envelope. The editorial reply was: “Our correspondent alludes to the adhesive stamp; his letter arrived free of postage. We repeat what we have said before, and what we believe to be the universal opinion, that those stamps and covers reflect dishonour both on the arts and the good sense of the country.”
Not everyone was unhappy at the prospect. Another writer, in December 1839 wanted to tell the world of an ‘...abuse so unpardonable and likely to work so much mischief.”
Before you reach for the smelling salts, the villainous deed he had uncovered was the sending of several letters under a single wrapper from the country to London for 4d. On arrival in the Capital, they were then sent on separately to local addresses using the 1d London Post. Simply scandalous. Such nefarious goings on had to be stopped, and the 1d post for anywhere in the country was going to stop that.
As is well-known the Mulready covers were also derided primarily for their ridiculous pomposity.
Someone signing themselves as ‘An Engraver and Printer’ wrote: “Its trumpery appearance shows that it is a complete piece of Whig jobbery.”
The stamps were no better in his judgement: “Every penny box of lucifer matches, every penny packet of paste blacking, every penny paper of Court plaster is protected by a label far more difficult to forge than this . . . Government specimen.”
He added: “Look, Sir, at the adhesive stamp; it is a libel upon the fair
countenance of our Queen . . . and who would be surprised were Prince Albert to indict the perpetrator of so vile and offence to his royal consort? … How far inferior [it is] to the heads of Hippocrates and Galen that decorate the quack nostrums of the lowest among thousands of licensed poisoners.”
However, another writer to The Times pointed out that, in their opinion expressed in a letter written on May 7, 1840 and published two days later, the artist responsible for the Mulready Cover had turned the world upside down.
He reasoned: “Britannia, if we may judge from the reindeer in the background, has her face turned to the south, in which position also should have the West Indies on her right-hand side, and the East to her left. Now, in the design she has the West on her left, and the East on her right, if this has been done designedly, we may suppose that the Government intended it as a geographical reform.”
However, again not everyone was unhappy. In 1841 someone was sensible not to put their real name on a ‘poem’ which was published as by Philo-Denarius.
It is reproduced here but it comes with the warning that it is probably the most nausea-inducing set of words you are ever likely to read: