Worth £2 million! First Ever Envelope Sent With A Penny Black Stamp

Sotheby's © First ever envelope sent with Penny Black stamp worth 2 million. Image features the outside of the envelop with address scrawled on it. The Penny Black stamp sits in top righthand corner and there's an ink stamp dating it May 2, 1840.

This piece of 184-year-old mail is considered the first ever envelope posted with a Penny Black stamp. It’s tipped to be worth £2 million at auction.

It’s an exceptionally rare find and now one of the most valuable stamp-related items ever to go on auction.

Not only was this sent using a Penny Black – the world’s first adhesive postage stamp – it was also a unique Mulready lettersheet.

In May 1840, the Penny Black and the concept of postal stamps was introduced. On route to a standardised, affordable rate of postage in the UK, the Post Office also offered prepaid lettersheets.

Prior to 1840, envelopes were rarely used because the price of postage depended on number of sheets in a letter. Once upon a time, an envelope counted as a sheet.

Hence, pre-paid lettersheets were introduced. These were sheets of paper that could be sealed and sent through the mail system without an envelope.


First ever envelope sent by Penny Black. Image shows a close up of the Penny Black and the ink stamp dating the mail "2 May 1840".

A close up of the Penny Black and the ink stamp dating the mail “2 May 1840”

The Mulready lettersheet

Artist William Mulready designed the Mulready, which acted as a pre-paid envelope. The design of the Mulready also allowed the recipient to turn it inside out, repurpose it and post something back to the sender. All for just one penny!

Prior to this and future improvements, sending mail was a laborious and expensive task. The lettersheets eliminated the need for postal workers to handle money, which kept them safer from theft. It also solved the issue of leaving recipients to pay for their own mail. Up until 1840, mail was treated like any other transaction where the recipient of the goods footed the bill.

The first ever envelope sent by Penny Black stamp on a Mulready was successfully mailed on May 2nd, 1840. This pre-dated the official start date for the stamp’s wide-spread circulation on May 6.


First ever envelop sent by Penny Black. Image shows a fascinating look at the early Muldready design.

A fascinating look at the early Mulready design. This is the first ever lettersheet which acted as an envelope to be sent by Penny Black.


The envelope goes to auction on February 2 at Sotheby’s auction house.

Richard Austin, head of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, told Mail Online, “This unassuming envelope marked a significant leap forward in the history of human communication.

“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.

“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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Hannah McLaren

I've worked at DC Thomson for six years! I began as an intern at My Weekly and The Scots Magazine, which was extended by a few months to help out at The People's Friend. I then covered maternity as Celebrity Editor for My Weekly, before I became Multimedia Journalist at The Scots Magazine. Currently I'm writing digital content across each title.