Patrick Chalmers.

The adhesive postage stamp. Decision of the Encyclopaedia britannica ... Also, papers on the penny postage reform, bequeathed by the late Sir Henry Cole online

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Online LibraryPatrick ChalmersThe adhesive postage stamp. Decision of the Encyclopaedia britannica ... Also, papers on the penny postage reform, bequeathed by the late Sir Henry Cole → online text (page 1 of 4)
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_James Chalmers was the Inventor of the Adhesive Stamp - "Mr. Pearson
Hill has not weakened the Evidence" to that effect._


Papers on the Penny Postage Reform,





_Fellow of the Royal Historical Society_.



_Price Sixpence._


When a man of note dies, the journalist of the day can only reproduce in
an obituary notice the accepted position of his life and works - it is no
part of that writer's duty to examine, so as fully to certify, all the
statements at hand, or to ransack old volumes dealing with the times
when such reputation was established. That is the duty and the task of
the later historian, or of some one specially interested. Such has been
my duty, my task, as respects that public benefactor, the late Sir
Rowland Hill, with the result arrived at in this and former

Upon the death of Sir Rowland Hill in August, 1879, a series of letters
with comments thereon appeared in the Dundee press, recalling the name
and services of a townsman who, in his day, had taken an active interest
in post-office improvement, and had worked in that field to some
purpose. Mr. James Chalmers, bookseller, Dundee, who died in 1853, had
been an earnest postal reformer. Through his efforts, and after a long
correspondence with the Post Office in London, he brought about such an
acceleration of the mail as to lessen the time necessary for the reply
to a letter from Dundee to London, or betwixt the chief commercial towns
of the north and south, by two days - a day each way. Subsequently he
conceived the idea of an adhesive stamp for postage purposes; and it was
this invention, made known to such post-office reformers as Mr. Hume and
Mr. Wallace - with both of whom, as with others, he was in
communication - that formed the origin of the adoption of the adhesive
stamp in the reformed Penny Postage system of 1840, the plan proposed by
Mr. Rowland Hill in 1837 having been that of the impressed stamp.

These letters in the Dundee press from old townsmen and friends of Mr.
Chalmers, personally unknown to me as I was to them (I having left
Dundee while a youth, over fifty years ago, and passed much of the
interval abroad), with the consequent attention drawn to the subject,
naturally called upon me to make an endeavour to vindicate my father's
claim to the merit of such an important feature in the success of the
Penny Postage scheme as was, and is, the adhesive stamp. These letters,
moreover, acquainted me with what I was previously unaware of - that on
the 1st January, 1846, a public testimonial had been presented in the
Town Hall of Dundee to Mr. Chalmers, in recognition of his postal
services, and of his having been the originator of the adhesive postage
stamp; thus all the more calling upon me to investigate a subject of
which hitherto I had only a dim and partial idea. This investigation was
further facilitated by my withdrawal just before the same period of 1879
from active business, thus enabling me to examine at the library of the
British Museum the papers, documents, speeches, and motions in
Parliament, Reports of Parliamentary Committees, and all such evidence
and information tending to throw light upon, from the year 1832 onwards,
the history and events preceding the reformed system of postage
introduced to the public in the year 1837 by the then Mr. Rowland Hill.

My father long since dead (while I was abroad), and his establishment
long ago broken up, difficulty was at first experienced in obtaining the
specific evidence necessary to enable me to establish my claim on his
behalf, but the attention publicly drawn to the matter by former
publications of my own, and of Mr. Pearson Hill to which I was called
upon to reply, brought forward ever-increasing evidence of the most
conclusive nature, and to which I am now enabled to add material and
interesting confirmation from papers left by the late Sir Henry Cole,
whose connection with the Penny Postage Reform of 1837-40 is well


My business, of course, in the investigation just named, was to
ascertain what plan Sir Rowland Hill had proposed in his pamphlet of
1837 for the purpose of carrying out his Penny Postage Scheme, and to
trace therefrom the adoption on his part of my father's plan of the
adhesive stamp. But a discovery of much more historical importance
before long presented itself, namely, that neither the conception of
uniform penny postage itself, nor of any one of the valuable principles
and figures of the penny postage scheme, were original conceptions on
the part of Sir Rowland Hill.

The reformed system of postage was not the work of one year nor of one
man. For some years prior to 1837 the abuses and mismanagement of the
post office were a constant theme of complaint, both in and out of
Parliament - many able and earnest men combined to bring about some
reform demanded by men of business and public opinion. Commissions of
inquiry were held, evidence and suggestions taken, reports issued.
Early in 1835 Mr. Wallace, M.P. for Greenock, a prominent post-office
reformer, obtained a Commission of Inquiry on the subject, which
Commission issued in all ten Reports; while, in addition to
Parliamentary returns, a commission, termed the Commission of Revenue
Inquiry, had sat for many years prior to the Commission of merely Post
Office Inquiry, and had issued twenty-three Reports, in more than one of
which post-office affairs were dealt with.

In that large field of complaint, suggestion, information, and proposal
may be found the substance, origin, and foundation of the subsequent
writings and proposals of Sir Rowland Hill.

It will be remembered that the old system of postage, prior to 1840, was
that of a high and variable charge according to distance, of, say,
twopence to one shilling and sixpence a letter, charged by sheet; and
two sheets, however light in weight, were charged double. The same with
circulars. But in these Reports, including the evidence of the numerous
witnesses, are to be found embodied all the valuable principles and
figures of the reformed system. And that all these Reports had come
under Mr. Hill's review is left in no doubt, having been sent to him by
Mr. Wallace, after Mr. Hill, freed from other occupations, had, in 1835,
joined the circle of post-office reformers, when he "commenced that
systematic study, analysis, and comparison which the difficulty of my
self-imposed task rendered necessary." - ("Life," page 246.)

But to be looked upon as the _inventor_ of that scheme which he had
introduced and (saved and rendered practicable by the adhesive stamp)
had successfully carried out - to have this scheme understood as having
been the unaided conception of his own mind - was with Sir Rowland Hill
simply a mania, and to that mania James Chalmers, the originator in
every sense of that adhesive stamp, was sacrificed.

The bearing of all this non-originality of conception on the part of Sir
Rowland Hill is obvious when the question of the stamp is under
consideration. In propounding the scheme itself, what were only acquired
ideas were assumed, or allowed to be assumed, as inventions or
conceptions. As with the scheme, so with the stamp - the stamp also was
an acquired idea, not Rowland Hill's invention.

Having now, however, obtained from a quarter of the highest standing,
after an impartial investigation, a full acknowledgment of my father's
services, and this in addition to an already large amount of recognition
from the press in general, further observations as to the
non-originality of the scheme may be here dispensed with, for the
present at least, and left to history. And if I have been compelled to
show that, so far from the adhesive stamp having been the invention of
Sir Rowland Hill, originality of conception formed no element whatever
in any one of the proposals of even the Penny Postage Scheme itself,
such course has been forced upon me by the unfortunate proceedings of
Mr. Pearson Hill in denying, against the clearest evidence, my just
claim in the matter of the stamp, without a pretence of proof that such
was at any period an invention on the part of Sir Rowland Hill.


The plan by which Mr. Rowland Hill, in his pamphlet of 1837, proposed to
carry out in practice his uniform penny postage scheme was, shortly
stated, first, simply to pay the penny or money with the letters; but
secondly, and more especially, by stamped sheets of letter paper, and
stamped wrappers or covers. "Let stamped covers and sheets of paper be
supplied to the public, from the Stamp Office or Post Office, or both,
and at such a price as to include the postage." ... "Economy and the
public convenience would require that sheets of letter paper of every
description should be stamped on the part used for the address; that
wrappers, such as are used for newspapers, as well as covers made of
cheap paper, should also be stamped," and kept on sale at the post
offices. "Stationers would also be induced to keep them."

What Mr. Hill overlooked in this proposal, was the broad fact that he
sets up the Stamp Office or Post Office to do the business in letter
paper of the stationers throughout the kingdom - some huge Government
establishment against which competition would be hopeless, as the Stamp
Office was to sell the writing paper at cost price, while the stationer
requires a profit to pay his rent and expenses, and to live upon. The
effect upon the stationers, consequently would have been
confiscation - and against this plan the united body of paper makers and
stationers subsequently protested.

The Select Committee of the House of Commons of 1837-38, again, took
exception to Mr. Hill's plan mainly on account of its liability to
forgery - a stamp of the nature proposed would be extensively forged.
After evidence on the part of the Stamp-Office authorities and paper
makers had been taken, it was decided to recommend - that the paper for
all stamped covers should be manufactured at the paper mills of a Mr.
Dickenson, or of another, solely, under strict excise supervision. This
paper of Mr. Dickenson's was of a peculiar make, having threads of
cotton or silk so interwoven in the paper that a post-office clerk could
readily know by the look or feel that a stamped cover was genuine. The
paper makers protested and petitioned against this, objecting to one of
the body having all the work. Besides, the proposal involved permanent
excise supervision over the manufacture of paper. This proposal,
however, extended only to covers or envelopes; how forgery was to be
prevented in respect to the stamps upon the sheets of letter paper the
Committee do not say. The whole position, in fact, remained in a state
of chaos, only relieved by the ultimate adoption of the adhesive stamp,
which plan Mr. Chalmers had laid before this Committee through Mr.
Wallace, the Chairman, and likewise through Mr. Chalmers, M.P., a member
of the Committee, and which plan had been publicly discussed, not
without finding adherents, including Mr. Cobden, one of the witnesses in
favour of the scheme.

To the solution proposed by the Committee that all stamped covers should
be made of Dickenson's peculiar paper the Government again highly
objected, further adding to the dilemma; and when the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, on the 5th of July, 1839, introduced and carried a resolution
sanctioning a Penny Postage Bill being brought forward, he distinctly
only "asked hon. members to commit themselves to the question of a
uniform rate of postage of one penny at and under a weight hereafter to
be fixed." Everything else was to be left open. "If it were to go forth
to the public to-morrow morning that the Government had proposed, and
the House had adopted, the plan of Mr. Rowland Hill, the necessary
result would be to spread a conviction abroad that, as a stamped cover
was absolutely to be used in all cases, which stamped covers were to be
made by one single manufacturer, alarm would be felt lest a monopoly
would thereby be created, to the serious detriment of other members of
a most useful and important trade. The sense of injustice excited by
this would necessarily be extreme. I therefore do not call upon the
House either to affirm or to negative any such proposition at the
present. I ask you simply to affirm the adoption of a uniform penny
postage, and the taxation of that postage by weight. Neither do I ask
you to pledge yourselves to the prepayment of letters, for I am of
opinion that, at all events, there should be an option of putting
letters into the post without a stamp."

"If the resolution be affirmed, and the Bill has to be proposed, it will
hereafter require very great care and complicated arrangements to carry
the plan into practical effect. It may involve considerable expense and
considerable responsibility on the part of the Government; it may
disturb existing trades, such as the paper trade." ... "The new postage
will be distinctly and simply a penny postage by weight." ... "I also
require for the Treasury a power of taking the postage by anticipation,
and a power of allowing such postage to be taken by means of stamped
covers, and I also require the authority of rating the postage according
to weight."[1]

In this dilemma, as to _how_ to carry out the scheme in practice, Mr.
Wallace favourably suggested the adhesive stamp, the adoption of which
plan, he had no hesitation in saying from the evidence adduced, would
secure the revenue from loss by forgery. Mr. Warburton, also a member of
the 1837-38 Committee, "viewing with considerable alarm the doubt which
had been expressed of adopting Mr. Hill's plan of prepayment and
collection by stamped covers," recommended that plans should be applied
for from the public.

Again, in the House of Lords on the 5th of August, Lord Melbourne, in
introducing the Bill, is as much embarrassed as was the Chancellor of
the Exchequer in the Commons. The opponents of the Bill use, as one of
their strongest arguments, the impossibility of carrying out the scheme
in practice. The Earl of Ripon says: - "Why were their lordships thus
called upon at this period of the session to pass a Bill, when no mortal
being at that moment had the remotest conception of how it was to be
carried into execution?" Here Lord Ashburton, like Mr. Wallace in the
Commons, favourably suggested the adhesive stamp, "which would answer
every purpose, and remove the objection of the stationers and paper
makers to the measure."

Let it, then, be clearly noted that, up to the period of the Bill in
July and August, 1839, not a word is said in any way connecting Mr.
Hill's name with other than the impressed stamp on the sheet of letter
paper, or, more especially, on the stamped covers. That, _and that
alone_, is taken on the one part as _his_ plan by all the speakers,
official or otherwise - for that alone does the Chancellor of the
Exchequer ask for "powers." The adhesive stamp is brought in, on the
other part, as a distinct proposal, in no way entering into the
proposals of Mr. Hill.

(The above is given in more detail in my former pamphlet, entitled "Sir
Rowland Hill and James Chalmers, the Inventor of the Adhesive Stamp,"


[1] See "Hansard," Vol. 48.


In my pamphlet entitled "Sir Rowland Hill and James Chalmers, the
Inventor of the Adhesive Stamp," I have already proved from overwhelming
evidence, both general and specific, the invention of the adhesive stamp
for postage purposes by the late James Chalmers, bookseller, Dundee, in
the month of August, 1834. In addition to friends and fellow-townsmen,
several of those in his employment at that period have, unknown to me,
come forward from various quarters to describe the process and to fix
the date. The setting up of the form with a number of stamps having a
printed device - the printing of the sheets - the melting of the gum - the
gumming the backs of the sheets - the drying and the pressing - are all
described, and the date already named is conclusively fixed.[2] That
this was the first instance of such invention is clear; earlier
instances of an _impressed_ stamp proposed for postage purposes are on
record, but not one of a proposed adhesive stamp - while Sir Rowland Hill
himself has left it on record, in his "Life," referring to the same
period and occasion when an impressed stamp was proposed in 1834 for
newspaper covers by Mr. Knight, "of course, adhesive stamps were yet
undreamt of." (See page 69 of my pamphlet above named).

I have further shown that Mr. Chalmers was one of the early postal
reformers prior to the period of Mr. Rowland Hill, that he had done
great service in the way of accelerating the mails betwixt London and
the north, and that he was in communication with several of those early
reformers, such as Mr. Hume, Mr. Wallace, and Mr. Knight - the publisher
subsequently of Mr. Rowland Hill's pamphlet of 1837 - so that his
proposal of an adhesive stamp for postage purposes, a matter of
notoriety in his own locality, would further have become well known in
the general circle of postal reformers, amongst whom, and from whom, on
joining same in the year 1835, Mr. Rowland Hill obtained the information
which enabled him to draw up and publish his Penny Postage Scheme of
1837. (See page 5 of my pamphlet named.)

One of those pioneers of postal reform, the Rev. Samuel Roberts, M.A.,
of Conway, gives his personal testimony of the adhesive stamp having
been originated by James Chalmers. (Page 42.)[3]

My pamphlet goes on to show (page 44) that on the appointment of the
House of Commons Committee of 1837-38 on the proposed uniform Penny
Postage Scheme, Mr. Chalmers sent in his plan of an adhesive stamp to
Mr. Wallace, the Chairman, and to another Member of that Committee. Mr.
Wallace's reply, stating that he will lay the plan before the Committee,
is of date 9th December, 1837. In the dilemma in which the Government
found itself (upon introducing on the 5th July, 1839, the Resolution
preliminary to the Bill) as to _how_ to carry out the Penny Postage
Scheme in practice (page 21) Mr. Wallace favourably suggested the plan
of the adhesive stamp. The statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer
upon this occasion, with the interposition of Mr. Wallace in the
Commons, and of Lord Ashburton in the Lords, in favour of the adhesive
stamp have already been given, conclusively showing that, up to this
period, Mr. Hill had not included the adhesive stamp in his proposals.

On the passing of the Bill in August, Mr. Hill was relegated to the
Treasury for the purpose of carrying out the scheme. The first step
taken was to invite plans, by Treasury Circular of 23rd August, from the
public; some time was taken up in receiving and considering these plans,
until, by Treasury Minute of December 26th, 1839, the adhesive stamp was
at length officially adopted, in conjunction with Mr. Hill's stamped
covers, or stamp impressed upon the sheet of letter paper itself. (See
page 46.) But the adhesive stamp, indeed, had been practically adopted
by Mr. Hill before the plans were received, considered, and nothing
better found, a concurrence of opinion having set in in favour of same.
It will be seen that Mr. Chalmers, in his published statement of date
February, 1838, now produced from Sir Henry Cole's papers, called for
petitions towards the adoption of the adhesive stamp. In August, 1839,
both the Associated Body of Paper-Makers and certain Merchants and
Bankers of the City of London pressed for the adoption of this stamp;
Mr. Rowland Hill himself, in a paper entitled "On the Collection of
Postage by means of Stamps," circulated by him about the period of the
Bill being before Parliament, included the adoption of the adhesive
stamp, in conjunction with his own impressed stamp. Mr. Cole also drew
up an able paper on the stamp question, including the advocacy of the
adhesive stamp. So general, indeed, had then become opinion in its
favour, that of the plans sent in no less than forty-nine others besides
Mr. Chalmers, who again sent in his plan, recommended the adoption of
the adhesive stamp, invented by Mr. Chalmers in 1834, laid by him before
the Committee of the House of Commons in December, 1837, and further, as
we shall now see, sent in to Mr. Cole as Secretary to the Mercantile
Committee of the City of London, in February, 1838, and acknowledged by
Mr. Rowland Hill in a letter to Mr. Chalmers of date 3rd March, 1838. In
this letter Mr. Hill makes no pretension to the merit or proposed
adoption of the adhesive stamp on his part, for, as will be seen, Mr.
Chalmers subsequently returned to Mr. Hill a copy of this very letter
for the purpose of pointing out this fact to Mr. Hill. It was not until
the propriety, and indeed necessity, of adopting Mr. Chalmers' plan - not
until its final official acceptance - that, in a letter dated 18th
January, 1840, Mr. Hill, then in despotic power, putting Mr. Chalmers
aside upon the pretext afterwards mentioned, assumed the whole merit to


[2] Since publishing my evidence specifically proving what is here
stated, I have been favoured with the following letter: -

_9th October, 1883_


"When I penned my anonymous note to the _Dundee Advertiser_ in
August, 1879, expressing the hope that there might be still
living some who could corroborate my statement that the late
Mr. Chalmers was the inventor of the 'Adhesive Stamp,' I hardly
expected it would be followed by such an amount of

"With regard to the _date_ of the invention, you appear to have
received ample proof, and I am able to add thereto. It was in
the autumn of 1834 that I left Dundee to reside here, and the
Stamp was in existence in Mr. Chalmers' premises before I left.

"I may add that when I wrote in 1879, I was not aware of the
existence of a son of Mr. C. My sole object in writing was that
_Dundee_ might claim and receive the honour of being the place
of birth of the 'Adhesive Stamp.'

"I am, &c.,
"(_Signed_) DAVID PRAIN.


A Portrait of Mr. Prain, by the talented Scottish artist, Mr. Irvine,
subscribed for by Mr. Prain's fellow-townsmen and former pupils, has
just been presented in his honour to the Mechanic's Institute of
Brechin. The proceedings upon this occasion, including the able speeches
of Provost Lamb and of Mr. Prain, will be found in the _Brechin
Advertiser_ of 16th June, 1885. On a former occasion Mr. Prain was
presented with a Service of Plate and Testimonial to the value of
several hundred pounds, subscribed for by former pupils at home and
abroad. It is at the testimony of such men as this, including the late
Mr. William Thorns, of Dundee, that my opponents sneer as being "the
mere wandering fancies of a few old men!" The general testimony is that
of an entire locality.

[3] An interesting obituary of Mr. Roberts, lately deceased, will be
found in the "_Times_" of 30th September, 1885. Mr. Roberts is there
recognised as the pioneer of postal reform and originator of the
proposal of a low and uniform postage.




In his "Fifty Years of Public Life," lately published, Sir Henry Cole
gives much information with respect to the Penny Postage reform, a boon
with the obtaining and carrying out of which he was intimately
associated - first as secretary to the Mercantile Committee of the City
of London, and afterwards as coadjutor to Mr. Rowland Hill at the
Treasury. "A General Collection of Postage Papers," having reference to
this reform, elucidating the efforts made by this Committee of London

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Online LibraryPatrick ChalmersThe adhesive postage stamp. Decision of the Encyclopaedia britannica ... Also, papers on the penny postage reform, bequeathed by the late Sir Henry Cole → online text (page 1 of 4)