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World firsts

/ 05 January 2016

The practice of identifying the date of posting and cancelling out a stamp with a marker was first introduced by Henry Bishop in 1661. Postmarks, as they are known today, are used not only to process mail but also recognise significant events, historical anniversaries or to support charitable organisations. Recent postmarks include the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black, British Science Week and the winner of the literary award, Man Booker Prize.

1959 saw the development of the UK postcode system, widely recognised as one of the most granular and precise postcode systems in the world.

The UK’s most famous postal innovation is surely the Penny Black stamp, introduced in May 1840. As the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black marked the beginning of the prepaid postage system we use today. It allowed for items of up to a half an ounce in weight to be posted anywhere in the United Kingdom, signalling the start of the one-price-goes-anywhere universal service.

In 1843, Sir Henry Cole, who just three years earlier had played a key role in helping introducing Royal Mail’s Penny Post service, commissioned artist John Callcott Horsley to make the artwork for the first ever commercial Christmas card. Only 1,000 were printed and sold for a shilling each.

Postcards have become a holiday tradition since they were launched in the mid-1800s. The earliest known picture postcard was a hand-painted design on card, posted in Fulham in London to the writer, Theodore Hook. In 2002, the postcard sold for a record £31,750.

In September 1911, the first scheduled airmail service took place from Hendon to Windsor began as part of the celebrations for the Coronation of King George V. The service came just over six months after Captain Walter George Windham organised the first test flight in Allahabad, India. The launch of airmail meant that the UK could communicate on a global scale. Aviator, Gustav Hamel was at the helm for the maiden flight which opened up the commonwealth to the UK.

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