Arago: Exhibits

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Western Australia's Black Swan

Great Britain’s first adhesive stamp wasn’t the only Penny Black. Another was produced 14 years later, as the inaugural issue of Western Australia. It came from the very same printer, Perkins Bacon, but it looked very different. Instead of a portrait of Queen Victoria, its original and very distinctive central motif was a swan.

When annexed by Great Britain in 1829, the state had initially been known as Swan River Colony, and a black swan later became the official emblem of Western Australia. The Postage Stamp Ordinance, passed by the state legislature in 1854, duly decreed that all lawful stamps should bear ‘the figure of a swan, on a black or other ground, in addition to any other figure, mark or words (if any) thereon impressed.’ In fact, no Western Australia stamp would bear any other image until 1902.

Perkins Bacon recess-printed one million 1-penny black stamps and despatched them from Great Britain to Perth at the end of August 1853. This shipment allowed plenty of time for the stamps to be distributed to post offices around the state prior to their introduction on August 1, 1854.

Their use was accompanied by strict procedures, which decreed that unstamped or underpaid letters should not be delivered. Instead, a notice giving a list of the addressees to whom such letters had been sent was published in local newspapers. Another oddity was that customers at post offices were often asked to accept stamps in lieu of change when completing small transactions.

1p black Swan single

The 1-penny black Swan stamp was issued in 1854.