The Penny Red, issued in 1841, succeeded the Penny Black and continued as the main type of postage stamp in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until 1879, with only minor changes to the design during that time. The colour was changed from black to red because of difficulty in seeing a cancellation mark on the Penny Black; a black cancel was readily visible on a Penny Red.
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Initially some of the same plates that were used to print the Penny Black were used to print the Penny Red and about 21 billion Penny Reds were printed by Messrs. Perkins, Bacon & Co. Initially the stamp had no perforations, and had to be cut from the sheet using scissors in the same manner as for the penny black and the early printings of the Two pence blue. Perforations, (experimental gauge 16), first came into use in 1850 and were officially adopted in 1854, (in the same size as the experimental issue). The experimental issue can be distinguished from the general issue as the later was applied to stamp which used a different alphabet type for the letters in the lower corners. Each stamp has unique corner letters AA, AB, AC ... AL etc, so its position on the plate can be identified.
In January 1855 the perforation size was changed from 16 to 14 as it was found that the sheets were coming apart too easily. The reduced size allowed the sheets to remain intact until pressure was applied to force the separation.
The stamps were printed in sheets of 240 (20 rows of 12 stamps), so one row cost 1 shilling and a complete sheet one pound. This situation continued with all postage stamps issued until 1971 when decimal currency was introduced and the sheet size was changed to 200, (20 rows of 10 stamps) making the lowest value denomination, (half pence), one pound per sheet.
On the 1 April 1864 the stamp was issued with the plate number engraved in the design, in the left and right side lace work. At this time the stars in the top corners were also replaced with the same check letters as used in the lower corners, but in reverse order.
Because of wear, over 400 different plates were used to print the Penny Red. Two different basic watermarks were used for the paper, small crown, (on the early issues) and large crown, introduced on the 15 May 1855. The first stamps printed on the large crown watermarked paper showed two small vertical lines in the central portion of the crown. Later printings showed a revised watermark on which these central lines are not present.
The era of the Penny Red came to its close at the end of 1879, along with Perkins Bacon's contract. It was superseded by the Penny Venetian Red printed by De La Rue, which was in use for a little over a year before being succeeded in turn by the long-lived Penny Lilac.
- Stanley Gibbons Ltd, Specialised Stamp Catalogue Volume 1: Queen Victoria