US Stamps

National Postal Museum to exhibit Mulready-Penny Black early use

April 24, 2014 05:10 PM

  • Great Britain’s 1840 Penny Black stamp postmarked May 2, 1840, on the reverse side of a Mulready 1-penny lettersheet. This historic item will be exhibited May 3-11 in the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy National Postal Museum.

A British Mulready 1-penny lettersheet franked with a British Penny Black postage stamp and postmarked May 2, 1840, will be exhibited May 3-11 at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

It is the first time the cover has been shown in the United States.

The cover is described by the museum as the earliest known use of two different philatelic elements: the Mulready lettersheet and the Penny Black.

The prepaid Mulready lettersheet was issued May 1, 1840, the same day as the Penny Black. Both were officially valid for postage on May 6.

The postage stamp — the first issued by any national postal authority — proved to be more popular than the prepaid lettersheet.

The lettersheet, on temporary loan to the museum, was folded and mailed using the Penny Black stamp on May 2, 1840. According to the museum, the recipient of the letter then folded it inside out and used the Mulready side for postage on May 4.

“The May 2, 1840, cover connects us to the very beginnings of philately and the modern postal system,” said Allen Kane, director of the museum. “We are excited to bring this rare item to the United States for the very first time.”

The museum says the postal document is referred to by stamp experts as the “genesis of philately.”

It will be displayed in the museum’s new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery for nine days only.

The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25).

For more information, visit, or call 202-633-1000.