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    The first Penny Black postage stamp comes up at Sotheby’s Treasures sale in London on December 7. The world’s first postage stamp is part of a unique document from the archive of British postal reformer Robert Wallace. It is dated April 10, 1840 and estimated at £4-£6 million.

    This small Penny Black – a pristine impression, unused, and from plate 1a (the very first printed sheet) and lettered A-I – represents the birth of a device that would be central to the birth of mass communications across the globe for more than a century and a half and that still has not been completely supplanted by newer technologies. Rediscovered nearly three decades ago but not fully recognised until much more recently, the stamp’s identification began when British businessman and philatelist Alan Holyoake came into the possession of The Wallace Document, to which the stamp is attached, almost ten years ago. Holyoake was to instigate a three-year research project – which culminated with the document being issued with certificates of authenticity from The Royal Philatelic Society, London (2016) and The British Philatelic Association (2015), and its subsequent exhibition at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington DC.

    ‘The Wallace Document’, which will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s, is considered the most important piece of philatelic history in the world. It is from a now dispersed personal scrap-album assembled by MP Robert Wallace, and brings together two highly important philatelic artefacts: the Penny Black and a proof of the ‘Mulready Stationery’ that had been commissioned by the government as an alternative means to prepay postage. Both were given to him in thanks by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Francis Baring, for everything that Wallace had done to overhaul the postal system and bring these innovations to fruition.

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