Extremely Rare Stamp Goes On The Auction Block

[Rosser1954, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons]

It’s potentially the rarest piece of mail you could ever buy, especially if you’re a stamp collector. On February 2, the first-ever piece of mail to use an adhesive stamp will go up for sale. The auction house thinks the envelope, which is 183 years old, could sell for over $2 million. 

It’s time to look in the couch cushions.

Smithsonian Magazine has been following the story of this rare bit of postal history, writing

The upper right corner of the envelope features a “Penny Black” stamp—a small, black square featuring a profile of Queen Victoria in the middle, with the words “postage” above and “one penny” below. Invented by a social reformer and teacher named Rowland Hill, the Penny Black was the world’s first adhesive stamp.

The envelope also still bears the two dates on which it was mailed: May 2, 1840, and May 4, 1840. On the first date, an unknown sender mailed the letter from London to William Blenkinsop Jr., who lived and worked in Bedlington, England, a town located roughly 300 miles north of the city. Blenkinsop managed the Bedlington Iron Works, which produced rail lines and locomotives, according to Sotheby’s.

After receiving the mail, Blenkinsop removed the letter and turned the envelope inside out. He then sent the envelope to a man named “Mr. Blenkinsop”—probably his father—in Dalston, a village some 75 miles away.

The younger Blenkinsop was able to reuse the envelope because it was a “Mulready,” an elaborately decorated wrapper that served as an early form of pre-payment for mailing letters.

“Surviving over 180 years, the ornate Mulready envelope sealed with a Penny Black revolutionized the way people from all walks of life correspond, exchange ideas, share news and express themselves,” Richard Austin, Sotheby’s Global Head of Books & Manuscripts, told CNN.

“At the dawn of the AI age, this remarkable object speaks to our innate human desire for connection and the ways in which it has evolved to new heights in the two centuries since.”

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