3rd February 1782

Inventor of self-adhesive postage stamps is born

Who invented the self-adhesive stamp is debatable, but James Chalmers’ son was adamant that it was his father. In December 1837, he had proposed a series of 1p and 2p stamps to Robert Wallace, MP for Greenock, and argued against using envelopes, which would add to the weight of each item and, thus, the cost of sending it.

However, he might have got to the idea second, as Sir Rowland Hill, in his campaign to reform the postal system, had proposed a system of 1p stamps in January. The idea was to simplify matters while also encouraging more people to send items through the post by bringing down prices.

The result was the introduction of the Penny Black stamp in 1840. It proved so successful that other countries swiftly followed suit. As the originator of the stamp, Britain is the only country in the world that doesn’t need to include its name on its stamps.

James Chalmers credited

The book Eminent Arbroathians by JM McBain, published in 1897, defends Chalmers’ claim as the adhesibe stamp’s originator, stating, “for a considerable number of years this invention was very unfairly claimed for Sir Rowland Hill, but now, by all but universal consent, the honour is given to him to whom it is undoubtedly due. It is not needful to detract from the credit due to Rowland Hill for the ability and energy he displayed in connection with the organisation and introduction of the penny postal system of the country, in order that others, who contributed so largely to its success, should receive the credit due to them. It is not creditable to that portion of the British press, nor to some of the descendants of Sir Rowland Hill, who continue either to ignore or deny the fact, which has been proved beyond dispute, that to James Chalmers, and to James Chalmers alone, we owe this important invention and proposal.”

Press used by James Chalmers in the production of the first postage stamp, on display at the McManus in Dundee
Press used by James Chalmers in the production of the first postage stamp, on display at the McManus in Dundee

James Chalmers’ death

Upon Chalmers’ death in Dundee, his son, Patrick, erected a tombstone detailing his father’s claim to being the “originator of the adhesive postage stamp which saved the penny postage scheme of 1840 from collapse, rendering it an unqualified success, and which has since been adopted throughout the postal systems of the world”.

Aside from his involvement in the invention of the adhesive stamp, Chalmers was a bookseller and publisher. He published the Dundee Magazine and Caledonian Review, and The Dundee Chronicle.

Memorial to Patrick Chalmers, son of James, inventor of the postage stamp, at Dundee Cathedral
Memorial to James Chalmers, inventor of the postage stamp, at Dundee Cathedral



Other events that occured in February

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