Friday, 24 June 2011

The V.R. Official Penny Black

In addition to the general issue of the Penny Black postage stamps, a similar stamp was produced which had the letters V and R in the top corners replacing the stars. The intention of this issue was that it would be for use on official mail. Following the general public's acceptance of the postage stamps and the ridicule of the Mulready letter sheets which had been produced at the same time, vast supplies of the letter sheets were given to government departments, such as the tax office, for official use. The idea of introducing an official stamp, as such, was abandoned. Only a few postally used examples exist, which probably originated from the Post Office circulars sent out as advance notice that the new stamps would be brought into use. Four are known on cover; all four were cut from their envelopes, but then replaced. However, most of the cancelled examples are from trials which were made for cancellation types, inks, and experiments with their removal. These trials led to the change from black to red stamps and vice versa for the cancellations.

The VR official is stated to have been made from the original master die. However, this cannot be the case as this die still exists with the original stars intact; this is housed in the National Postal Museum in London. It is believed that the master for this stamp was produced from the transfer roller used for the production of plate 1 with the stars removed from the top corners as some impressions show traces of these original stars.

Intended purely for use by official government departments, the V.R Official Penny Black featured the letters ‘V’ and ‘R’ (the Latin initials for ‘Victoria Regina’ - Queen Victoria) in the top corners but was never issued, in fact nearly all were destroyed. 3471 sheets were printed but only 21 were saved of which 13 were sent to Somerset House to be used on circulars to postmasters. One further sheet was sent to postmasters as a guide of what the new 1d Black issue would look like. The vast majority of the supplies which had been printed were destroyed on 25 January 1843. 21 sheets survived, a few of the stamp passed (invalidly) through the posts, and Rowland Hill used some to experiment with cancellation techniques. Unused examples today go for above US$5,000.

Penny Blacks coupled with the rarity of the V.R Official variety make these particular Penny Blacks immensely desirable.  The figures reflect this. The catalogue value for a single unused example has shown growth of 300% over the past decade whilst used examples from the cancellation trials have gained a very healthy 133.33% in value. At the time of writing we have 3 investment grade examples: a very fine unused strip of three, signed on the reverse by Postmaster General and postal reformer Sir Rowland Hill, a pristine unmounted mint example and a very fine unused imprimatur; Imprimatur stamps are from the first sheet printed from an approved and finished printing plate, therefore making this example one of only 33 possible. 


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