Soon after postal reform became law in 1839, the Treasury requested proposals from the public “as to the best manner in which the stamp may be practically adopted.” The word “stamp” at this time could mean a wrapper, an envelope, a lettersheet, or an adhesive label.
The Treasury planned to award 200 pounds for the best suggestion, and 100 pounds for the next best. Each proposal would be judged by four criteria:
- convenience for the public
- safety from forgery
- ease of identification for postal clerks
- low cost of production
More than 2600 entries were submitted, most of which no longer exist. The vast majority of the proposals were too complicated, too expensive, or too time-consuming. Most were written proposals. Only a small number were visual designs, known as essays.
The Royal Philatelic Collection has the largest number of surviving Treasury essays, as well as additional designs submitted to the Treasury after the competition ended on October 15, 1839. Together, they offer a unique window onto early Victorian graphic design.
Working with his assistant, Henry Cole, Rowland Hill reviewed every entry, completing a comprehensive report in December 1839. In effect, the Treasury declared a four-way tie, with each of four winners receiving 100 pounds. All of the winning proposals included visual designs. None of them, however, resembled the actual stamps and stationery produced in 1840.Pre-Treasury Competition »