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THE SECRET WORLD OF STAMPS; There's 5.9 calories a lick One smells like chocolate Another is worth pounds 1.5m.


FOR philatelics and timbromaniacs (that's stamp fans to you and me), the news was as exciting as it gets. The Penny Black, the world's first and most famous stamp, went on sale again yesterday, 164 years after it first came out.

The Royal Mail has reprinted the black stamp, depicting Queen Victoria, to commemorate the 250th birthday of the Royal Society For The Encouragement Of Arts, Manufactures And Commerce.

Not sure what all the fuss is about? Well, here's 20 reasons why there's more to the humble postage stamp than you might imagine...

Be careful how many you lick - the gum on regular Royal Mail stamps contains 5.9 calories. The gum contains animal-byproduct gelatine but in America it's vegetarian, while on Israeli stamps it's kosher.

A tiny piece of yellow paper became the world's most valuable stamp when an anonymous buyer paid pounds 1.5million for it in 1996. The 1880s Swedish Treskilling Yellow, was also the most valuable thing ever sold by weight and size. It fetched so much because it should have been green.

BRITAIN invented and issued the world's first stamp, the Penny Black, on May 6, 1840, after Sir Roland Hill thought of pre-paid postage. It was called a stamp after the wax seal previously "stamped" on envelopes. Out of 68,158,080 Penny Blacks issued before it was axed after just one year, there are about 1.3million still around. First-day covers now fetch pounds 45,000.

THERE are 2.5million collectors in Britain and 30million worldwide. The oldest dealer in the world is Stanley Gibbons in the Strand, London, established in 1856.

EVERY Royal Mail design must receive royal approval before being issued. But in October 1994 the Royal Mail forgot and went ahead with a 26p stamp without consulting the Queen. On it her head appeared to be coming out of a chimney. Millions were printed before she eventually approved them.

THE Queen is also the world's biggest collector - not surprising as her face is on the stamps of 54 countries. Her priceless collection - started by Prince Alfred in 1890 - fills more than 2,000 albums.

CHOCOHOLICS rushed to buy a chocolate-smelling stamp issued by Swiss Post in May 2001 to celebrate chocolate makers. It wasn't the first "scratch and sniff" - a series of Indian stamps smelt of ripe mangoes, jasmine, rain and hot masala dosas.

NON-lick, self-adhesive stamps were introduced in the UK in 1997 and now account for 3.1billion of the 4.5billion stamps sold each year. Eight months ago came the UK's first digital stamp - SmartStamp - which can be bought over the Internet and printed directly on to envelopes.

UNLIKE the rest of the world British stamps don't have the country's name on them - just the monarch's head. The head must always face inwards towards the stamp image and be at the top left or top right.

WILLIAM Shakespeare became the first non-royal on a British stamp in 1964. And in 1999 the Royal Mail also broke the convention that no living people other than royalty appear. The 19p stamp depicted the late Freddie Mercury but Queen drummer Roger Taylor was also identifiable.

Sierra Leone and Tongo have issued stamps in the shape of parrots, bananas and water melons, and in 1969 Gibraltar issued one shaped like the famous rock.

THANKS to the British stamp, the Queen's 1967 portrait by Arnold Machin (for which she had four sittings) has been reproduced well over 150billion times - more than any other image in history.

THE world's smallest stamp measured 8x9.5mm and was issued by Colombia in 1856. The largest was issued in 1972 by the Sheikdom of Fujeira at 81x147mm.

DURING a period of high inflation in Hungary in 1946, a stamp worth 500,000,000,000,000 pengos was issued - the biggest-ever number printed on a stamp.

BRITISH stamps are printed by Walsall Security Print, Birmingham and De La Rue in High Wycombe. A gravure press running at full speed prints around 24,000 per minute. The wood pulp used for the paper is a mix of eucalyptus and Scandinavian pine and birch.

THE most famous error was on a 24 cent American stamp in 1918 showing a plane, which was printed upside-down. The Inverted Jenny can fetch up to pounds 85,000. Botch-ups are still common. In May, an Irish 65 cent stamp placed Cyprus where Crete is on a map.

THE first stamp riots broke out after England won the World Cup in 1966, when fans craved the 4d commemorative stamp.

ITALY issued a 3-D stamp in 1956, which showed an image of the world. And the kingdom of Bhutan issued a set which had a small electronic gadget which played their national anthem.

DEAN Gould, 39, of Felixstowe, Suffolk, holds the world record after he licked and affixed 450 on to envelopes in four minutes in November 1995.

NOT stamp-mad? You could still make a mint. For instance, if you bought last year's Coronation 50th Anniversary collection, you could sell the pounds 1 stamp for pounds 45. The Princess Diana presentation pack in Welsh (pounds 1.50 in 1999) is worth pounds 150, while the 1964 Forth Road Bridge collection, then three shillings (15p) is valued at pounds 350... so start collecting now!


FAME AND FORTUNE: The world's first stamp and, right, the pounds 1.5m Treskilling
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 11, 2004
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