A long series of independent events together led to the evolution of the first postage stamp.  In turn who should rightly be credited with the invention of the stamp is a controversial question.  A chronology of philatelic mileposts follows below that eventually lead to the first stamp being issued in England one day in early May 1840.  This table is then rounded out with a presentation of the first few stamps that followed once the Penny Black was issued.

1358  Milan. A colourless impression in the form of a fire breathing serpent is used on already sealed letters. Other Italian cities such as Venice and Florence were soon to follow this practice.  The significance of the seal is debated.

MILAN 1358                                 VENICE

Milan 1358                                               Venice 15th century   

1653  France. In Paris the Petit Poste introduces special labels that the sender is to complete with the date.  The letter is then deposited in the  collection boxes specifically set out in the city. Unfortunately, none of these labels have survived to the present day. The illustration is a rendition of a written description.  


Petit Poste 1653

1660  Sweden.  A stamped paper is used as evidence of taxes and other fees paid, so called Carta Sigillata.


Carta Sigillata 1660

1661  England. The first stamp with date information is employed on letters, the so called Bishop Mark.


Bishop Mark 1661

1665  Netherlands. Letters carried by ships of the Dutch East India Company are impressed with the monogram shown below.


Dutch East India Company 1665

1680  England. William Dockwra begins to use a triangular handstruck stamp indicating fees paid in his local ”penny post”.


Dockwra´s Penny Post

1683  France. An arrival mark "d´Jarsey" (from Jersey) is used for the first time.

d´JARSEY 1683

Arrival mark 1683

1685  Sweden.  Handstruck stamps lettering "F" and "B"  indicating respectively "free" and "paid" come into use.

  F-STAMP                                        B-STAMP

          F-stamp (Free)                                                      B-stamp (Paid)

1708  Sweden. Stockholm is one of the earliest cities to begin using a stamp indicating the origin of a letter.


Stockholm stamp of 1708

1716  Spain.  Free postage is indicated by means of an impression bearing the coat of arms of Castille & Leon.


Castille & Léon 1716

1802  England. Revenue stamps issued (by William Pitt) this year become the first adhesive stamps.

1811  Scotland. An (unconfirmed) rumour suggests that a Scottish shipping company this year introduces freight stamps.

1818  Sardinia. Letter sheets stamped with a little trumpeter on galloping horseback are issued in three denominations.

  SARDINIA 15 C                  SARDINIA 25 C                 SARDINIA 50 C

Sardinia 15, 25 och 50 cents 1818

1823  Sweden.  C. G. Treffenberg proposes that letters are to be written on specially stamped and prepaid paper. He suggests suggests the old term "Carta Sigillata" be used in naming them. The innovation is not adopted.

      TREFFENBERG 1823                       TREFFENBERG 1823

Treffenberg´s Carta Sigillata

1824  Sweden. This is the initial year for the use of certain handstruck stamps to certify prepaid newspaper fees.


Handstruck newspaper stamp 1824

1831  Greece.  A black and white stamp is bought and affixed to letters. The main purpose is to raise funds for refugees from Crete.


Greece 1831

1834  Scotland. James Chalmers presents his first conceptions for a stamp. Chalmers was to become Rowland Hills’ most serious rival for the honour of having invented the stamp.


Chalmers 1834

1836  Austria. Postmaster Laurenz Koscher proposes a postal reform using stamps. His plan is rejected. None the less a letter is found in 1950 that had been sent locally from Spittal to Klagenfurt, that is within Koschers postal district. On the letter is affixed a lithographed 1-kreuzer stamp  bearing the inscription Ö.P. (Örtliche Post meaning Local Post). Flanking the central 1, are two crosses, the symbol for "kreuzer".  Furthermore the letter is dated 1839 (!) that is to say, one year prior to the issuing of the celebrated Penny Black.


                          Spittal Stamp                  SPITTAL-KLAGENFURT COVER

Spittal-Klagenfurt stamp and cover 1839

1838  New South Wales (Australia) uses stamped letter sheets where postage is prepaid.

1839  England. Rowland Hill announces a competition, inviting the public to submit ideas for a stamp.  Here are a few of the proposals.

WHITING 1839                          BOGARDUS 1939                          WYON 1939

Contributions from Whiting, Bogardus and Wyon.

1840  Sir Rowland Hill inaugurates his postal reform in England and the worlds first official stamp, the Penny Black, sees the light of day in May 1840.  Shortly thereafter a two pence version is introduced.  The stamps were modified however as soon as the following year when the Penny Black became the Penny Red.

PENNY BLACK 1840                                 TWO PENCE 1840

      Penny Black 1840                                       Two Pence Blue 1840

1842  A local post in New York is first to adopt the new innovation. A stamp portraying George Washington becomes the first stamp issued outside of England.


New York 1842

1843  The Swiss cantons Zürich and Geneva issue stamps valid within their respective regions.

ZÜRICH 1843                                 GENEVA 1843

Zürich and Geneva 1843

1843  Brazil is the second nation to officially issue stamps, thereby being the first country doing so in South Americas.

BRASIL 30 reis                   BRASIL 60 reis                   BRASIL 90 reis

Brasil, first set 1843

1845-46  Awaiting official stamps to be issued in USA, local postmasters issue provisional stamps valid in their own districts only, the so called “Postmaster Provisionals”. A selection of these are shown below.

NEW YORK 1845       ALEXANDRIA 1846       MILLBURY 1846        ST LOUIS 1845

"Postmasters" from New York, Alexandria, Millbury and St Louis 1845-46

1845  Basel Canton in Switzerland issues its first and only stamp.

BASEL 1845

Basel Dove 1845

1847  A stamp is issued for a steamboat service from Trinidad. The stamp represents the "Lady McLeod".


Lady McLeod 1847

1847  Mauritius issues Africa’s first stamps based on the English prototype, the renowned "Post Office"-stamps in two denominations. As only a handful exist today, they are regarded  as considerable rarities.

ONE PENNY                                       TWO PENCE

Mauritius One Penny och Two Pence 1847

1847  USA issues its first stamps to be used nationwide. The first set displayed the portraits of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

5 CENTS                                  X CENTS

USA. First set  1847

1848  Bermuda´s postmaster Perot produces his own stamp by modifying a handstamp and adding his signature.


Bermudas 1848

1850  New South Wales (Australia) issues Oceania’s first stamps. The famous Sydney views in three values (1 penny red, 2 pence blue, 3 pence green).


Sydney Views 1850

1852  Asia’s first stamps are issued in Scind district, India, in three different colors white, blue and red. Scind is located in present-day Pakistan. 


Scind Dawk 1852

1855  Several nations around the world are already issuing stamps when Sweden finally issues its´ first set, a coat of arms type in five values. A mistake when exchanging a faulty cliché results in a handful of three skilling stamps being printed with the yellow color of the 8-skilling instead of the proper green. Hereby a major rarity is born, as only a single copy of this misprinted stamp is ever found.


Three skilling banco 1855