World Coins

Coins that leave their stamp on history

Editor's note: The following is the first of a multi-part Coin World series about the intersection of coins and postal history prepared by Jeff Starck for the May 2015 monthly edition of Coin World.

On May 6, 1840, the postal reforms of Sir Rowland Hill went into effect, and the world’s first pre-paid postage stamps, the Penny Black and the Twopence Blue, launched a revolution in postal history.

The 175th anniversary of those postal reforms is celebrated in 2015. Though the use of postage stamps has waned with the advent of electronic bill payments and automated postal value imprints, the postage stamp remains an integral piece of the postal landscape.

Read other pieces from the series:

Blue Mauritius stamp among world's most valuable issues

British Guiana's Penny Magenta stamp an expensive, ugly, stamp

Canada's iconic beaver appears on first stamp, 3-cent coin

2008 coin honors first stamp from Russia

Stamps also appear on numerous coins, providing coin collectors who are also stamp collectors (philatelists) opportunities to combine their hobbies.

The first pre-paid stamp

Great Britain’s “Penny Black” stamp is not the most valuable stamp, but it is famous for being the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used in a postal administration. 

Featuring a bust of Queen Victoria, the 1-cent stamp marked the introduction of pre-payment of postage. The stamp made philatelic history, with a simple design by Henry Corbould showing the cameo-like engraved profile of the young Queen Victoria set against a finely engraved black background (hence the name “Penny Black”).

But collectors may not realize the design was borrowed from a medal by William Wyon. 

The 55-millimeter-diameter medal had attracted the attention of postal officials working on the stamp design, and the Penny Black resulted. The stamp was used for only about a year; the stamps were canceled with red ink, which did not show up clearly against the black ink (and was easy to remove, for those tempted to reuse a stamp). However, the Penny Black lives on in philatelic lore. 

A Mint example is valued at $11,000, according to the 2015 Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940. A used example will cost only about $320, however. 

For those collectors who can’t afford the Mint-condition stamp, the Wyon medal is a more affordable alternative, trading for about $600, based on auction results.

In 1990, the Pobjoy Mint marked the 150th anniversary of the Penny Black by issuing a coin to match the color of the stamp. 

The “pearl black” 1-crown coin from the Isle of Man was struck in Brilliant Uncirculated and Proof copper-nickel, Proof .925 fine silver and Proof .999 fine gold versions. 

In 2015, the Isle of Man and Pobjoy Mint are again celebrating the anniversary of the postal milestone.

Ten different versions are available, counting finishes and alloys, with several versions offered in the same “pearl black” finish as the 1990 design. 

Both the BU copper-nickel and Proof .925 fine silver crowns are coated with the pearl black finish , joining the Proof tenth- and twenty-fifth-ounce gold coins that also sport the pearl black finish.

The Proof 1-ounce, half-ounce and fifth-ounce gold coins, and the Proof fifth-ounce .9999 fine platinum coin all feature a blackened center surrounded by a raised circle that lacks the blackening treatment.

Prices vary, but the range of coins is intended to allow collectors at all levels to seek out a coin to mark the anniversary.

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