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New Zealand's first postage stamp, 1855

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Copyright Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Creator William Humphrys, artist, 1855 Perkins, Bacon and Co, printer, 1855
Identifiers Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa number l.006716 TLF resource R5388
Source Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

This is a 1 penny stamp issued in 1855. It has straight edges and measures 2.6 cm x 2.0 cm. It is a dull carmine colour with an image of Queen Victoria in the centre that was adapted from a painting by the artist A E Chalon. Printed by Perkins, Bacon and Co in London, the words 'New Zealand' appear above the Queen's image and 'Postage One Penny' at the bottom. The stamp was one of six obliterated by the printer with the word 'CANCELLED' and given away to collectors in 1861. This can be seen in the right-hand corner of this stamp.

Educational value:
  • This asset features the first postage stamp issued in New Zealand - it was imperforate, meaning that it had to be cut from a sheet, which was the common practice until the 1860s; prior to their issue postage in New Zealand was paid in cash, either by the sender or the addressee, a system that was slow , unwieldy and confusing.
  • It highlights the first use of postage stamps in New Zealand - postage stamps were introduced into Great Britain in 1840, the year when New Zealand became a British colony, and were first intended for sale in New Zealand in 1851 before being delayed as there was no-one in New Zealand capable of engraving the plates; they eventually went on sale to the public in July 1855 in the different provinces, but 20 July 1855, the day on which they were first sold in Auckland, then the capital, is acknowledged as the 'official' date of issue.
  • It illustrates a stamp known as a 'Full Face Queen' or 'Chalon Head' - the picture shown was a front view of the head and shoulders of Queen Victoria wearing the robes she wore when she was crowned Queen; there were three stamps in the Full Face Queen set costing 1 penny (1d), 2 pence (2d), and 1 shilling (1s); other values were added to the set at later dates.
  • It illustrates a design engraving by William Humphrys - it was based on a portrait by Alfred Chalon (which became a standard issue for a number of colonies within the British Empire); this design remained unchanged in New Zealand until 1873.It highlights the role of Perkins, Bacon and Co, stamp suppliers to the British Government - they engraved the plates from the design of Humphrys and supplied New Zealand with its first stamps; after making an unauthorised gift of New Zealand's and other countries' stamps to collectors in 1861, they subsequently lost the contract for printing British colonial postage stamps.
  • It illustrates what was known as a definitive issue or stamp that was in everyday use for postage purposes - such stamps initially always portrayed the head of the monarch; New Zealand, however, was one of the first countries in the world to put pictures of the countryside, birds, and animals on its stamps as well as marking special events and moments with commemorative stamps; it also raised money for health camps through special issues, with part of the money from the sales going towards the running of the health camps themselves.
  • It highlights the evolution of postage stamps in New Zealand - the first stamp designed in New Zealand was a halfpenny stamp issued on 1 January 1873 showing a side-view of Queen Victoria's head and commonly referred to as the 'Newspaper' stamp, because it was used to pay for newspapers being sent through the post.

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