Although a number of people laid claim to the concept of the postage stamp, it is well documented that stamps were first introduced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 May 1840 as a part of postal reforms promoted by Sir Rowland Hill. With its introduction, the postage fee was paid by the sender and not the recipient, though it was still possible to send mail without prepaying. From when the first postage stamps were used, postmarks were applied to prevent the stamps being used again.
The first stamp, the "Penny black", became available for purchase 1 May 1840, to be valid as of 6 May 1840. Two days later, 8 May 1840, the Two pence blue was introduced. The Penny black was sufficient for a letter less than half an ounce to be sent anywhere within the UK. Both stamps included an engraving of the young Queen Victoria, without perforations, as the first stamps were separated from their sheets by cutting them with scissors. The first stamps did not need to show the issuing country, so no country name was included on them. The UK remains the only country to omit its name on postage stamps, using the reigning monarch’s head as country identification.
In 1845 some postmasters in the United States issued their own stamps, but it was not until 1847 that the first official U.S. stamps were issued: 5 and 10 cent issues depicting Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
Following the introduction of the postage stamp in the UK, prepaid postage considerably increased the number of letters mailed. Before 1839, the number of letters sent in the UK was typically 76 million. By 1850 this increased five-fold to 350 million, continuing to grow rapidly until the end of the 20th century when newer methods of indicating the payment of postage reduced the use of stamps.
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