The Penny Black was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp used in a public postal system. It was issued in Britain on May 1, 1840, for official use from May 6 of that year and features a profile of the Queen Victoria.
All London post offices received official issues of the new stamps but other offices throughout the United Kingdom did not, continuing to accept postage payments in cash only for a period. Post offices such as those in Bath began offering the stamp unofficially after May 2.
The idea of an adhesive stamp to indicate pre-payment of postage was part of Sir Rowland Hill’s 1837 proposals to reform the British postal system; it was normal then for the recipient to pay postage on delivery. A companion idea, which Hill disclosed on February 13, 1837 at a government inquiry, was that of a separate sheet that folded to form an enclosure or envelope for carrying letters. At that time postage was charged by the sheet and on the distance traveled.
Postal delivery systems using what may have been adhesive stamps existed before the Penny Black. Apparently the idea had at least been suggested earlier in Austria, Sweden, and possibly Greece.