- A letter sheet bearing the famous Penny Black stamp went up for auction
- The document is the first ever to be sent using a postage stamp in 1840
- However, despite reams of publicity the envelope did not find a buyer
The first ever envelope sent using a postage stamp went up for auction for almost £2million – but no-one bought it.
The envelope, from 1840, was sent using the famous Penny Black stamp, the first of its kind.
The envelope was sent on 2 May 1840 from ironworks manager Willian Blenkinsop to Dalston Cumbria.
The Penny Black was introduced on 1 May 1840, meaning the envelope that was up for auction was sent the very next day. Strictly speaking the envelope is not an envelope at all, but a letter sheet.
Seal of approval: The first ever letter sent with a stamp went under the hammer to no avail
Letter sheets were pre-paid pieces of paper – in this case, with a Penny Black image to show postage had been paid – that could be written on then folded up for sending through the post.
This example has nothing written on it besides the address of the recipient and text explaining the terms and conditions.
The letter sheet was designed by artist William Mulready and features Britannia, a shield, a reclining lion, and representations of Asia and North America.
The public did not warm to Mulready’s artwork, which was mocked in several satirical cartoons of the day.
But the concept behind pre-paid postage lasted, and has been adopted around the world.
Doubling up: When folded, the letter sheet effectively becomes an envelope
The letter sheet was auctioned on Friday 2 February by Sotheby’s in New York with a guide price of $1.5million to $2.5million (£1.18million to £2million).
The news caught the imagination of many and the unassuming envelope received widespread coverage.
But despite the hype a spokesman for Sotheby’s told This is Money that the letter sheet ‘did not find a buyer’.
The Penny Black was part of a global lot titled ‘The One.’ It was described by Sotherby’s as ‘an auction showcasing an unprecedented selection of the finest products of human achievement in history, which together tell a story of excellence in craft, artistry and endeavor.’
Included in this auction was six pairs of trainers worn by basketball icon Michael Jordan in his six NBA Championships – these did sell for a record-breaking $8million.
About face: The Penny Black stamp carries a profile of the young Queen Victoria
Before the invention of postage stamps, a person getting a letter had to pay when it arrived.
That presented a problem for the postal service when recipients could not pay, or else refused to.
It also meant messengers had to carry money, leaving them at risk of robbery.
The solution to the problem was the Penny Black stamp, which featured a portrait of the young Queen Victoria along with the words ‘Postage One Penny’.
This stamp allowed a letter weighing less than half an ounce to be sent anywhere in the United Kingdom.