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May 6th 2020 was the 180th anniversary of the issue of the famous Penny Black, and of course not forgetting, the Twopenny Blue and the 1d and 2d Mulready stationery envelopes and wrappers. All were valid for use on 6th May 1840, although in the cases of the Penny Black and the 1d Mulready, they were available to purchase from as early as 1st May. However the Twopenny Blue certainly wasn’t widely available on the 6th. A recent article in the April 2020 edition of The London Philatelist, “The Genesis of the Two Pence Blue Plate 1: The First Seven Days – Creation and Order” by Alan Druce FRPSL, is a highly detailed account of the printing and delivery of this stamp, which he concludes was likely only available in London on May 6th. Indeed, only one example of a 2d blue on a first day cover is known.

The Penny Black however was readily available from this date throughout the country however. In “May Dates” by Mike Jackson FRPSL, in which he records all the known usages of the 1d, 2d and Mulready stationery up to May 10th, he records 79 known usages of the Penny Black on the first day, the vast majority sent from London, but also examples from towns throughout the country from Bath to Montrose.

Lot 30004 in our June 30th-July 2nd auction series: 1844 Anti-Graham Caricature by John Leech, type B printed in blue, sent from Cardiff to Derby

Possibly the novelty value was stronger with the Mulready stationery on the first day as nearly double the number of 1d Mulready stationery are recorded compared to Penny Black usages. But probably not for the right reasons, as recorded in Jackson’s book, one example has the message: “Did you ever in your life see anything so abominable & disgraceful to us as a nation”! The Mulready stationery was roundly criticised at the time, and of course led to the popular caricatures which are so sought-after by collectors today, such as the example illustrated at left, which was produced as propaganda against the then Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, who admitted to having ordered the interception of letters sent to Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian freedom fighter.

The number of recorded usages of the Penny Black remains fairly consistent for the rest of the week following the 6th, with slightly fewer sent at around 70 each day, until the Sunday 14th when the number of Penny Black covers recorded plummets to only 14. Below is lot 30017 from our June 30th-July 2nd auction series; a cover sent on May 7th with a clear despatch date (a very important detail for a May Date collector) that will be offered in our June 30th-July 2nd auction series, which is one of only five covers with a pair used on that day, 180 years ago!

Lot 30017 in our June 30th-July 2nd auction series: 1840 (May 7) wrapper sent within London with 1840 1d intense black pl.1a AJ-AK horizontal pair