Here are two specimens of the first stamp, issued in 1840 by England (now U.K.). The stamp was printed from 11 plates, some of which were later printed in red brown, which is the color that was adopted in 1841 and used until the mid 1860s. The stamps do not bear a plate number as is the case for the later penny stamps, and I have made a novice attempt at plating these two specimens. At bottom is a scan of the small crown watermark. The pages for each stamp show backscans that show both stamps to be free of defects. Quality is a major issue for these oldest of stamps. These specimens were printed in hand-made paper and are often handled by many collectors.
Both of these specimens have been cancelled with a red Maltese Cross. The stamp proved easy to tamper for reuse since the red cancel, if faint, enabled reuse. For this reason, the cancel was changed to black and the stamp to red brown in 1841.
The penny black, along with the two pence blue stamp, was issued May 6, 1840, although there is an instance of postal use before this date. The use of stamps became such an important innovation for England that, within 20 years, most countries had adopted the use of stamps (for example: Brazil in 1843, the United States in 1847, France in 1849, Spain in 1850).
The stamp was printed in sheets of 240, with the check letter placed at bottom left of the design referring to the row, and the check letter placed at bottom right of the design referring to the column. A sheet sold for one pound sterling.