Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Postal History – Change in Transport & Introduction of Stamps

Have you noticed how the majority of mail these days is sent via electronic devises in the form of texts and emails?  

Can you remember the last time you received a genuine, hand written letter? 

The digital age has drastically reduced the amount of personal letters being carried but that doesn’t mean that post is a thing of the past!
Over the years the postal system has developed and adapted with advancements in society, changing the systems they use to meet the demands of the public. Many academics study various areas of postal history, which can be essentially broken down into the study of letters and the post office. This short history will cover some of the biggest changes in the postal system. 

 Introduction of Royal Mail

The postal system was opened to the British public in 1635 by Charles I, who signed an order allowing his Royal Mail to carry private letters at a cost to the public. This was the first step in creating the postal system that we enjoy today, although it had many differences to our current system. One of the major differences was payment; Charles I put forward the principle that the letters would be paid for on delivery by the recipient.

Changes in transport

The first method of transport for letters were ‘posts’ or ‘post-boys’ who delivered mail on horseback. The posts took their letters to the local postmasters who would then sort out the letters for their area and deliver them himself. Any letters that were not for his area would be handed back to another post who would then deliver them to a different postmaster. This slow delivery process was the standard for almost 150 years before the introduction of rapid carriage services which were brought into practice in 1785. The carriage system reduced the time between Bristol and London from 38 hours to just 16!

The advancement in transport continued in 1855 with a move to start transporting post through the underground rail system. Trials were carried out during 1863-1874 to find the benefits of transporting mail underground, although this initial venture led to nothing. However, in 1909 the congested foggy streets of London caused so many delays that it was decided to look into underground transportation again. In 1913 work began on building six and a half miles of tunnels for the Post Office. After great difficulties brought on by the First World War, the postal system eventually started transporting mail on the underground on 5th December 1923.  

Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms

The biggest changes to the postal system came in the Victorian Period with Rowland Hill’s postal reforms. These transformations changed the nature of the postal system from being complex and expensive into a system that was easily accessible – the result was greatly increased public communications. 

Before the reforms letters were charged by the distance they had travelled and the number of sheets of paper they contained, with the charge being picked up by the recipient. In January 1837 Rowland Hill published Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability putting forward his solution to the complexity of postal charges by introducing prepayment. This brought in prepaid stamps that were described as “a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash.” This reform introduced the Penny Black in 1840 which is well known as the world’s first adhesive postage stamp.


As a result of the constantly changing postal system, many different stamps have been produced. This has created a huge variation of styles, designs, sizes, and costs; they are now produced by countries all over the world. It’s due to this huge variety and the rarity of ‘commemorative stamps’ that stamp collecting is such a popular past time for people of all ages.

Scotia Philatelyare experts in postal history and philately with a huge range of stamps and covers. With over 30 years’ experience in the field, they offer a wealth of knowledge on the best investments as well as details on the current market. For more information on Scotia Philately visit them online today. 

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