The world’s first postage-paid lettersheets and postage-paid envelopes were Irish innovations. William Mulready, R.A. (1786 – 1863) was born in Ennis, County Clare. He became well known as an artist, and was selected as a member of The Royal Academy. As a painter, he specialized in romantic scenes of country life. Living in London, he was introduced to Rowland Hill by The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Francis Baring, to aid in the design of postal stationery. Starting on December 12, 1839, he completed the task in three days, creating a romantic view of the benefits of cheap mail. His design was centered on Britannia overseeing people of various parts of the world, some showing either writing or reading letters. The design was approved by the Royal Academy on January 4, 1840. John Thompson was commissioned to engrave the work on brass plates. This task was not completed until April 1 when proofs were made.
In the meantime, arrangements were made with William Clowes for printing the finished plates, and proofs were made. Rowland Hill brought the finished proofs to the Council of the Royal Academy on April 10, 1840, and the results were strongly approved. The finished letter sheets and envelopes were put on sale on May 1, and brought into service on May 6, 1840, the same date as the penny black stamp.
The letter sheets and envelopes were printed in two denominations to match the tariff of 1d and 2d, the former for under ½ ounce weight, and the latter for up to 1 ounce. Additional postage could be added in the form of stamps. Interestingly, at the time, what we today call a stamp were then called “labels”. The term “stamps” at the time referred to any impression struck to indicate the payment of postage. The term “POSTAGE” was printed (“stamped”) on both envelopes to show that the postage was paid. The 1d denomination sheets and envelopes were printed in black while the 2d versions were printed in blue ink. Individual copies of both sheets and envelopes were sold at the rate of 1½d and 2½d respectively, and uncut full sheets of twelve were discounted to face value.
The Mulready design was greeted with ridicule by the artistic community. This was so much that Rowland Hill stated within a week of issue, “I fear we will be obligated to substitute some other stamp for that designed by Mulready, which is abused and ridiculed on all sides”. Numerous caricatures appeared lampooning the issues in Victorian publications and some envelopes appeared with somewhat modified but sarcastic characters.
The letter sheets were printed with advertisements by many firms and government agencies, and show the tenor of life of the period. The envelopes, however, were free of advertisements.
The 1d envelopes were removed from sale on the end of January 1841 folled by the 3d in April. In 1844, the letter sheets were replaced, and unsold stocks were destroyed in 1862.
Below, part of an exhibit featuring the Mulready envelope.
THE WORLD’S FIRST POSTAGE-PAID ENVELOPE
The Mulready Paid Envelope, issued May 6, 1840 to coincide with the issue on the same day as the Penny Black stamp, was an innovation of Mr. William Mulready. The envelope was designed to carry an enclosure, as opposed to the more familiar letter sheet of the same date. While the Penny Black stamp was praised with its image of the young Queen Victoria, the Mulreadys’ were ridiculed due to the caricatures used, and the envelope was removed from sale in January 1841.
Unfolded envelope mailed from Dublin to London August 27, 1840. Dublin diamond showing morning dispatch with Dublin Maltese Cross cancel, enroute cancel at Waterford, Ireland on August 28, and London (?) receiving mark August 28.
Envelopes were printed in sheets of twelve, but not glued – sealing wax was normally used. The paper contains silk security threads. The caricatures show a romantic view of the worldwide benefits of cheap postage. Clockwise L to R. A child reading a letter, orientals writing a letter with camels and elephants, Britannia, William Penn with Indians, people under a palm tree, and a mother reading a letter to children.
Front of folded envelope with Dublin
Maltese Cross cancel.
Rear of folded envelope with Dublin diamond (inverted), Waterford enroute cancel, and London receiving mark. Printed “stamp” Postage indicating postage paid.
- Stanley Gibbons, Ltd, Specialized Stamp Catalogue, Great Britain, Volume 1, Stanley Gibbons Publications, Ltd, London & Ringwood, 1987.
- Feldman, David, Handbook of Irish Philately, Dolmen Press, Dublin, 1968.
- Feldman, David and Kane, William, Handbook of Irish Postal History to 1840, David Feldman (I) Ltd, Dublin, 1975.