The Penny Black, how to determine its value

1840 Penny Black

1840 Penny Black

As most stamp collector already know the Penny Black is the world’s first adhesive postage stamp and was issued by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on May 1st 1840. Due to its significance this stamps is very popular and following my past article What are the most famous rare and valuable stamps?, I have been receiving a lot of questions about its value. Well let’s try to understand a bit more about this famous stamp and what affects its value.

Rarity
The Penny Black is not that rare a stamp, as there were 68,808,000 issued, yes 68 million! A substantial number of these have survived, largely because envelopes were not commonly used yet, letters being written, folded and sealed with wax, with the stamp and the address on the obverse. This meant that whenever a letter was filed in a lawyer’s office, bank, etc., the whole thing would be kept.

penny-black-crown-watermark.jpg

Small crown watermark

 

Printing plates
The stamps were printed in sheets of 240, from engraved steel plates, on gummed paper with a single small crown watermark on each stamp. They were imperforated and had to be cut out with scissors. Over time, due to excessive wear, eleven different printing plates were used (plate 1 is usually differentiated into plate 1a and plate 1b), and it is possible in almost every case to work out which plate any individual stamp was printed from by little characteristics. Things like the positioning of the corner letters within their squares, the presence of the “O flaw”, which rays of the stars in the upper corners are broken at what points, and so on, can point to a correct plate identification, but specialized literature is required in order to do this. Some plates are scarcer than others, plate 11 being the rarest, intended originally solely for the new red stamps, only 16800 stamps were printed from this plate. These are now very rare.

Penny Black Printing Plates

Plate number

Registered Number issued
1a, 1b 15 Apr 1840 10,052,400
2 22 Apr 1840 7,659,120
3 9 May 1840 4,786,800
4 19 May 1840 6,701,760
5 1 June 1840 8,616,480
6 17 June 1840 9,095,040
7 8 July 1840 8,137,680
8 31 July 1840 7,180,320
9 9 Nov 1840 3,840,000
10 9 Dec 1840 1,920,000
11 27 Jan 1841 168,000


Cancellation

Penny Black with red cross

Penny Black with red cross

Penny Black with red cross

Penny Black with red cross

A special postmark was also introduced to cancel the stamps. Popularly known as the Maltese Cross. It was to begin with, in black. But since it was difficult to see a black postmark on a black stamp the color was changed to red. Many used examples of the period have killer cancellations, so that it could not be used again. The postal authorities were clearly worried that people might ‘clean’ the stamp so that it could be used again. The colour of the Penny Black was later changed to red for this very reason. Used examples with a light cancellation command a much higher premium on the market than heavily obliterated ones.

 

Corner letters

Corner letters

Corner letters

The stamps were printed in sheets of 240 (20×12) and the stamps had corner letters (bottom left and right of the stamp) corresponding to its position on the plate. Starting with AA, AB, AC…to AL for the top row, the second row goes from BA to BL and the twentieth row from TA to TL. Four different alphabets were used in the course of time to form the corner letters. A penny black with the corner letters «JF» is shown below, as well as its position on the sheet.

 

 

AA

AB AC AD AE AF AG AH AI AJ AK AL
BA                     BL
CA                     CL
DA                     DL
EA                     EL
FA                     FL
GA                     GL
HA                     HL
IA                     IL
JA         JF           JL
etc                     etc
.                     .
.                     .
SA                     SL
TA TB TC TD TE TF TG TH TI TJ TK TL


Main factors affecting Value
1-
The condition grading and centering. An unused or mint stamp is generally worth much more than a used one. The number, size, and regularity of the margins make a big difference to value. The stamps were not perforated, and had to be separated using scissors. As there is only about 1mm between one stamp and another, it is very easy to wander off just a little and cut into the printed design of the stamp. A stamp with two full margins and perhaps a couple of other part margins is about average. Collectors will pay higher prices for examples with four good, wide, and even margins.
2- The plate the stamp was printed from.
3- The overall appearance of the stamp. Any fault such as a thin, tear, crease, or stain will lower the value

Conclusion
The Penny Black is readily available on the collectors’ market today. However, because of its significance, this stamp in fine condition is in demand by collectors and therefore not cheap. It can be dangerously misleading to suggest values, as some readers of this will be naturally optimistic, others being natural pessimists (or realists!). In 2009, a used Penny Black in poor condition can cost as little as $20 and up to $300 for one in very nice condition, an unused or mint example would average around $1000 to $7000, depending if it has the original gum or not and if the margins around the stamp are close or wide. The retail price on these is steadily rising. By contrast, a used Penny Red is only $20 and a mint $450 in nice condition.

About Daniel Arpin

President and owner of Arpin Philateliy, since 1999.
This entry was posted in Stamps. Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to The Penny Black, how to determine its value

  1. Rolland Hagedorn says:

    Very informative! I enjoyed reading the article. The plating process is not as complicated as I had first thought. Thank you.

  2. kris says:

    hi
    i just wondered if you could help me with the age of the stamp that i have.

    It is s burgubdy red colour, one penny with the letters L top left and O in the top right

    The bottom right is also an L but it is difficlut to see what the bottom wleft is

    any advice would be appreciated

    regarsd

  3. Daniel Arpin says:

    Your stamp is probably the Penny Red. The Penny Red was Great Britain’s longest running stamp, from February 1841 to the end of November 1879. It was used for the standard letter postage rate of 1d and approximately 21 billion were issued.

  4. Ade Lunn says:

    A very informative article and has been useful in helping me to make my purchase. Tell me how does one know which plate the stamp came from, I understand the length of rays on the stars on the top left & right corners is the key is this true and are there any other clues ?

  5. Daniel Arpin says:

    Yes Ade, other clues like the presence of the “O flaw” can point to a correct plate identification, but specialized literature is required for precise identification.

  6. Stu Mullage says:

    What would a 4 block of mint penny blacks be worth?
    I haven’t seen the stamps yet to determine their condition but have been informed that they are mint.
    Just a ball-park figure as I’m sure the owner would wish to sell!

  7. James says:

    i have a pennyblack 1840 plate 8 JL initials, how much would this be worth?

  8. hamayun says:

    i have black one penny

  9. Penny Money says:

    We have a Penny Black on a marriage certificate dated 1919 what would an estimated value be for this?

  10. My penny black has four margins, one is a bit wonky,one thinner than the other 3 and 2 fairly even.It has the red stamp mark which is quite pale over head neck and face.It has the letter I and E in the bottom corners,it is in excellent condition.Can you give me a rough valuation,thanks Catherine

  11. G.DFlynn says:

    I have a Penny Black on cover dated August 4 1841 with an accompanying letter of Mr Grodeski from Gibbons,my brother
    paid 1765 Pounds for it 30 years ago,he gave it to me ,but any Idea of its worth now ?
    Many Thanks
    G.D.Flynn

  12. karen says:

    Dear Sir,

    We got a letter dated Jan 1841 with penny black stamp with letters M and F on corners and the wax seal at the back of the letter , the stamp have good even egde all around , any ideas of the value ?

    Thanks

  13. Jo Ann says:

    I have a Penny Black Stamp/ May of 1840/ Issued in England/ Portrait of Queen Victoria. #0560. I would like to know the value if possible and I am interested in selling it.

    It is in a plastic case in excellent condition. The bottom left has letter T and right G.

    Please help me what this stamp is worth. Jo

  14. Terry says:

    I have a 1840 ( December 6th) cover penny black with letters JA on the corners. I purchased it in 2004 for £195 any idea of it’s value now?

    many thanks

  15. Gibson says:

    can you please tell me the value of penny black stamp with letters pl (philympia 1970)

  16. j white says:

    hi there, I have a used penny red , J and E corner letters and a nice clean bold number 9 in black , it also has one penny printed on the top end of the stamp below perperations and nothing at bottom , is this a common fault ,

  17. j white says:

    can you give me any info and possibly a value on a particular stamp details as follows, queen victoria , 3 shilings, light green in colour, titled judicature fees, C.R.O 77 perforated in the center. thank you

  18. lesley says:

    i have a penny black , used , in bottom corners it has A , D , could you please give me any idea of its worth , thank you it is in good condition

  19. Lesley. M says:

    Hi there

    I was just wondering if you would give me an idea how much a never used penny black is worth. It has the letters AA on the bottom and the glue is still on the back.

    Thank you

  20. Nicki says:

    Hi,

    I have ‘The Penny Black’ May 6, 1840 stamped with the red Maltese Cross.
    ‘O’ in the bottom left and ‘C’ in the bottom right. The stamp comes with a Certificate of Authenticity and is housed in a capsule.

    Is this stamp valuable?

    Thank you!

  21. marianne says:

    Hello
    Very informative.
    My father has a penny black with a pale red Maltese cross over part of the Victoria’s head. Three of the margins are good but the right one goes in slightly at the top by the star. The bottom left reads G and right reads C. It’s in a black presentation wallet with the Summer collection printed on the back.
    Would you be able to give us an idea of it’s value?
    Thank you

    • barrie says:

      i would like to know how mutch is a penny black letters 1d in the corners with a red maltease mark on the stamp would be valued i know it was the first issue and it was the forth row when printed

  22. durai says:

    dear sir
    can you please tell me the value of penny black stamp with letters pl
    durai from tamil nadu

  23. tony says:

    hi i have a rare black stamp whitch has a crown and the letters v and r on it and it was printed in 1866,can anyone help me with what it is plz

  24. saghir chowdry says:

    I have used penny black with letters dh in corners is it worth anything.

  25. saghir chowdry says:

    I have penny black with penny black gold coin from london mint company letters d and h in corners how much is it worth

  26. Chris Duguid says:

    I have an unused Penny Black Plate 9 cut close one margin and regummed.
    Certificate. What would be it’s value?

  27. Andrea Whitelaw Jones says:

    I have a penny black plate with the letters P and L. It has 4 markings on the back : RC in a five sided box, and star within a circle, a lion, and the letter D in italix. What would this be worth?

  28. Barry Hilton says:

    Are you sure about the Maltese Cross colour change from BLACK to RED

    Surely it was RED to BLACK !!

  29. mark reeve says:

    i have two sheets each has 25 stamps (5 across 5 down) marked on aa to ee (both identical sheets). Is there any value in these?

  30. Steven Stuart says:

    Hello, I have a used Penny Black with letter E and G.
    Any idea how much it’s roughly worth please?
    Thanks.

  31. Will Gardner says:

    I have a 1840 Penny Black with letters G L. Clear to large margins. Fine used. Any idea of the worth please?

  32. luke says:

    i have a used 1840 penny black stamp with 4 margins with the letters J on bottom left and letter A bottom right.. how muchis this worth??

  33. john northrop says:

    I have 5ea. penny black stamps, i’ve been trying to find out the price of these unused stamps, no one seems to know, can’t find any info on the plate letters… 1ea. 1840 mk., 1ea.1854-57ba., 1ea.lb., 1880-81ce., 1883-84 1ea. Ia…need some help from anyone… john northrop

  34. zhang says:

    I also have a Penny Black, SK, but I don’t know how much.

  35. Tracey says:

    I have a penny black with the letters m e at the bottom, 3 good margins, the top margin has part of the above stamp. Need to know what plate it is from, many thanks.

  36. mikki bishop says:

    i have a penny black stamp and the letters in the bottom are k and c could u help determine what it might be worth the paper i have with it says it is from 1840 in may

  37. james says:

    hi iv a pennt black stamp the letters b.l at the bottom its been used but in v good conditon. not even eges black stamp very fant. eny one no the value. very good conditon i think. thanks jim

  38. james says:

    eny one i can send a photo
    penny black

  39. margaret says:

    The penny black i have has got G & D in the bottom corners can any one help me find out more

  40. TIM SEDGWICK says:

    I have a letter, written January 1st 1841, with a Penny Black stamp. The two letters are ‘M’ at bottom left, and ‘G’ at bottom right. The stamp is slightly stained, and has been franked with a red Maltese Cross, and has a circular frank on the letter saying ‘South Molton’. The borders are not central, but a white border can be seen all around. A possible value, please?

    • Plater says:

      If the stamp is stained from the oils used in making the ink for the red obliterator, then it’s acceptable, if not, then it detracts from the value.

      On a full cover [not piece, [part, front, etc.!] they are worth about double those ‘off cover’.

      Your margins sound like a ‘fine’ copy in British Grading, so about 60% of the generic, non-plated price of £350 as full retail.

      With Penny Blacks, appearance is ALL!

  41. Amy Upshall says:

    Hi,I have a penny black with red cross. In great condition and the letters on left and right side are both “F”.
    Says its 172 years old on the paper I got.
    Just wondering if you could tell me approx value.
    Thanks,

  42. vivek says:

    i have ablack penny 1840 stamp certified by the westminster collection what would be the value please

  43. vivek says:

    i have the victorian line engraved stamp collection 19th century certified by westminster collection request for vale of the 8 stamps

  44. John S says:

    I don’t understand many of the people here. “I have a (blah blah blah) How much is it worth?” What part of “It can be dangerously misleading to suggest values….” do you people not understand? This article is largely common sense.

    • michael says:

      u are right. John. surprisigly but i am rather than a joyful of getting to know more about the stamp, the postmark, having an envelope dated 6th May 1840 and so on and others per advised by stamps echo.

  45. racine king says:

    Hello

    I have an 1840 one penny black stamp with a red cross over it..it is on envelope dated July 16th 1840 . I would like to know if it has any value to it please.

    Kind Regards

    Miss King

  46. Steve lundrigan says:

    Hi I have a penny black,letters o bottom lift h on right.interested in selling. Would like to here from somebody who know’s about the value, if anybody can help me with that call me 1 519 305 0577 or email me thank you.

  47. Tony says:

    I have blue stamp with a black ink marking on it. it is hard to make out the date, at the bottom it has TWOPENCE HALFPENNY. I can just make out the letters RSA ON TOP. There is no markings on the back. Please can you let me know if there is any value. It is in fair condition. Thank you.

  48. Max says:

    Hello i have a black penny with gold in the middle and at the top left is A and at the top right is B and and writes that it is 22 karat gold stamp 1996 has some value?

    • Ramaz says:

      Hello Max, I have the same Penny Black 22 karat gold one, but A and B are at the bottom. Please inform me if any idea about price. thnx

  49. felicia roman says:

    Hi i when to this thrift store where i found a red nice carpet like a book.when i open it it have a stamp which is the black penny.
    It have the story about the blak penny and is one of first postage stamps. It says may 6 1840 and its a letter fold inside and stamp with the black penny. It says first day issue in london may 6 1840 and is sing by james a. Helzer president. It got letter j a in each corner and the other stamp letter t f the floder is in good condiction so the letter. I want to know how much it worth and both stamps are market in red. Plz let me know any informtion thank you.

  50. Nigel says:

    I have had a Penny Black since I was a child in my collection, with the letters P L on the bottom.
    Does anyone have any idea the value of this.
    Thanks for your help.

  51. Nigel says:

    I have a stamp which is pale black and it one penny, is this classed as a penny black?

  52. david says:

    Hya I have a very large collection of stamps from my uncle starting dates from 1840 with penny black / red / and others so much to say if would like to know more just email me thnx

  53. steve de grey says:

    trying to i.d. plate no for 1d black. 4 very good straight margins, slight thinning 1 small patch, very slight. letters t left k rt bottom, centre of top lt star four pointed cross in centre 12 pointed outer star lt top,2-8 th star point thick, top rt star centre black dot only, not cross like lt,2 3 and 11th point of rt star appear small. red mx cancellation clear, rest of stamp is crisp and sharp, any help appreciated

  54. Michael Kane says:

    What is the difference between a penny black sg1 and sg2.

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