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The collection

Museum and gallery staff put their favourite artefacts on display: Week 29 The Bath Mulready Bath Postal Museum.

When Sir Rowland Hill reformed the postal services in 1839-40, many changes were introduced.

Up to that time, it had been the practice to write letters on a quarto sheet (similar to the present A4 but a little shorter); this was then folded several times, tucked into itself and sealed, with the address written on the outside.

Charges were according to weight and the distance travelled. A single sheet letter from Bath to London, a distance of just over 100 miles, would have cost ninepence.

The charge was normally paid by the recipient, not the sender. Hill proposed a uniform charge of one penny to be levied on letters weighing up to half an ounce sent to any address within the UK and the postage was to be prepaid. The prepayment was acknowledged by applying an "adhesive label", which is how Hill described the new postage stamps. These were then cancelled by the receiving office to avoid re-use.

Hill was not sure whether the new-fangled stamps would catch on and so, as an alternative to the stamps, wrappers and envelopes were introduced with a printed design by a contemporary artist, William Mulready RA. These had values of one and two pennies. The world's first postage stamps, the Penny Black and the Twopenny Blue, with the Mulready wrappers and envelopes, were distributed to Post Offices early in May 1840, ready for the first day of official use - May 6.

A reproduction of the museum's twopenny Mulready envelope is currently on view as part of our 20th anniversary display. It is addressed to Miss I Tudor, Kelston Knole. The design is printed in blue and cancelled with a red maltese cross. On the reverse is a circular Bath date stamp May 6 184-. The final digit could have been 0 or 1.

A little research on the part of Harold Swindells, one of the founders of the Bath Postal Museum, settled the matter. He discovered that Isabella Tudor was the daughter of a well-known local surgeon. Further research in the Weston Parish register at Bath showed that she married Mr George Frere on December 3, 1840. By May 1841 she would no longer have been Miss Tudor and the envelope's first day credentials were established. Only three such envelopes used on the first day are known to have survived. Ours is quite a rarity.

Although we have chosen a philatelic item for "The Collection", Bath Postal Museum is not just about stamps. It is concerned with 4,000 years of written communication, including Babylonian clay tables from 2,000BC right up to e-mail.

Ivan Holliday is a trustee of the Bath Postal Museum and editor of 'Posted!' magazine. The Bath Postal Museum is at 8 Broad Street, Bath BA1 5LJ. Tel: 01225 460333

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