Crazy Stamp Facts

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Mail have been stolen from the day the mails have started. Important mail had the picture of gallows printed on them to warn illiterate thieves of what would happen if the mail was stolen. Stealing mail carried a death sentence. Some of the greatest robberies, however, have been the robberies of Railway Mail. On the 8th of August 1963 the biggest robbery of all time took place. The Royal Mail train on its way to London was robbed of two and a half million pounds. From that day it was known as The Great Train Robbery.

Before stamps were invented, the person who received the letter was charged by the number of pages, and also by the distance the letter had travelled. An Englishman called Rowland Hill came up with the idea of pre-paying for postage with 'postage stamps'. Today stamps just seem like common sense, but the Postmaster General at the time complained, 'Of all the wild schemes I have ever heard of, this is the most extraordinary'! However, Hill's idea was adopted and other countries soon started to issue stamps.

Stamps started out as purely practical objects and it is not generally known that Australia was a pioneer in their development. In November, 1838, the Colonial Postmaster-General in Sydney introduced a system of pre-payment for letters which used a form of postage stamp. This was probably a world first. For, although an Englishman, Roland Hill, thought up the idea of the postage stamp, pre-paid postage in New South Wales pre-dated the famous British 'Penny Blacks' (the first adhesive stamps) by about two years.

About one billion (or 1000 million) stamps are produced in Australia every year and about 1.3 million Australians collect them.

Mail has been carried by foot runners, bullock carts, camels and horses. Reindeers have been used in Scandinavia and Russia, dogs in Alaska. Cats were used for a mail service in Liege, Belgium, in 1879. In all, 37 cats were employed to carry bundles of letters to villages within a 30km radius of the city centre. The experiment was short-lived as the cats proved to be thoroughly undisciplined.

New South Wales issued the first stamps from the Australian continent on 1 January 1850 (although embossed letter sheets had been used by the colony since 1838).

It was not until January 1913 that the first Commonwealth of Australia stamps appeared - twelve years after the various Australian states were federated by the Commonwealth of Australia Act on 1 January 1901.

The first Commonwealth Country to issue a stamp specifically for postage on Christmas greetings cards was Australia in 1957. The first stamps issued specifically for postage on Christmas greeting cards appeared in Austria in December 1937.

In 1932 a gang of three men operating a racket in bogus sweepstake tickets forged quantities of the 2d George V red and 2d Sydney Harbour Bridge stamps, using the former to mail out circulars. An Adelaide philatelist detected the forgery and notified police, who arrested all three men and seized 60,000 forged stamps.

The Australian Commonwealth issued postage due stamps in July 1902 - eleven years before it issued ordinary stamps. Britain did not adopt postage due stamps until 20 April 1914. (The first in the British Commonwealth were issued in Victoria in 1890 and New South Wales in 1891).

The first stamps to bear the date of their production were the 'Tigers' of Afghanistan, which bore Moslem dates. Since 1935 Canadian stamps have had the date of their production concealed in tiny numerals in the design.

The first Australian miniature sheet was issued on 29 October 1928. It featured four 3d stamps with a Kookaburra on a branch of a gum tree. The miniature sheet commemorated the Fourth Australian Philatelic Exhibition held in Melbourne.

The first airmail stationery, consisting of postcards and letter sheets, was produced in Paris for carriage by balloon in 1870.

In 1849 the French Government introduced a law making it an offence to wash or otherwise clean used French postage stamps. This was to combat the practice of using the same stamps over and over again. In one six-year period almost 15,000 persons (including genuine stamp collectors) were charged under this law.

The world's rarest, and most valuable, stamp is the 1c British Guiana of 1856. It was acquired in 1873 by an English schoolboy who later sold it for 6/- to a fellow collector. The stamp is now valued at more than $1 million.

The numbering of houses for postal purposes began in Paris in 1463-4; the Pont Notre Dame district being the first so numbered.

Germany was the first country to adopt postcodes, introducing a two-digit system in 1942. Australia introduced postcodes on 1 July 1967.

The first person other than a head of state (living or dead) to appear on a stamp was Benjamin Franklin whose portrait featured on the 10c stamp issued by the United State in July 1847.

The first person other than royalty to appear on a British stamp was William Shakespeare in 1964.

Potato starch, wheat starch and acacia gum were the ingredients of the gum used on the back of the Penny Black. The Post Office called it cement and early stamps bore instructions printed on the sheet margins - 'In Wetting the Back be careful not to remove the Cement'. This created a panic that the gum was injurious to health and led to a Select Committee on Postage Label Stamps being convened in 1852 to enquire into its composition.

The first self-adhesive stamps were issued by Sierra Leone on 10 February 1964.

The earliest adhesive stamps were issued imperforate and had to be torn apart or cut with scissors, although the printers, Perkins Bacon, actually had a small perforating machine in 1840 to perforate cheque book counterfoils. They regarded the perforation of sheets of stamps as impracticable owing to the closeness of the stamps and unevenness of the layout caused by paper shrinkage after printing.

The NSW Stamp Council issued Australia's first maximum card set of three for Christmas in 1978.

The first Australian stamp pack featured the 50th Anniversary of the First UK/Australian Flight. It was issued in November 1969.

China issued the largest stamps ever - 210 x 65 mm. They were issued in the early 1900s and used on express letters.

The earliest postal markings date back to about 3000 B.C. They were used by Egyptian court officials and read: 'In the name of the living king, speed!'

The first stamp collector was John Bourke, Receiver-General of Stamp Duties in Ireland. He formed a collection of fiscal stamps in an album in 1774.

In 1973 Bhutan issued a stamp that looked like a record. Put it on a record player and it would actually play the Bhutanese national anthem!

The United Kingdom is the only country that doesn't have its name on its stamps. (Usually they have the monarch's head.)

The Pacific island of Tonga once issued a stamp shaped like a banana.

The smallest-ever stamp - 9.5 x 8mm - was issued in 1863 by the Columbian state of Bolivar.

Australia has issued several stamps which look just like gems. Special technology was used to create the look of real opals on stamps issued in 1995 and a real diamond in 1996.

The first stamp to be issued, in England on 6 May 1840, was the Penny Black. It's called the Penny Black because it cost a penny, and it was black. The face on the stamp is Queen Victoria, who was Queen at that time. Just because a stamp is old doesn't necessarily make it valuable. The Penny Black is not rare - 68 million of them were printed - but if you had one in excellent condition it could be worth $1000.

In Australia's early days, stamps were issued by individual colonies. The first stamp issued in Australia came from New South Wales in 1850. The one penny stamp which showed the seal of the colony is worth around $5000 in mint condition. The Kangaroo and Map series, first issued in 1913, were the first real Australian stamps. A whole range of stamps bearing this design was issued, valued from half a penny to £2 (about $4 in today's money). A mint copy of the £2 Kangaroo and Map could be worth as much as $4000 today.

The US Stamp glue is vegetarian. and consuming it by licking the stamp add only 1/10 of a calorie. A real fat free vegetarian gum!

It is said that the adhesive on that stamps in Israel is Kosher.

Early form of stamp collecting was to thread the stamps to make as long a "snake" as possible. Longer the snake better the collection.

In the remote island on St Kilda, Scotland, letters were placed in hollowed out driftwood attached to an inflated sheep's bladder. These were set adrift in the north Atlantic, where current, wind and luck carried mail to shore on the mainland. A similar method has been used in the Pacific Island of Niuafo'ou, Tonga, where mail was carried in sealed tin cans to waiting ships giving rise to the colourful "Tin Can Mail" markings on the letters.

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