The envelope that changed the world of communication—the first-ever sent letter, aged 184 years and featuring the renowned Penny Black stamp—is up for auction at Sotheby's, expected to reach an incredible $2.5 million.
Nothing sells quite like nostalgia, and the proof lies in the unique Mulready letter. This item is the first letter ever sent with a pre-paid stamp and is anticipated to be sold for $2.5 million. It is considered one of the greatest leaps forward in human communication and will be offered at auction by Sotheby's in New York next month. The letter dates back to May 2, 1840, and the recipient was a 35-year-old manager named William Blenkinsop Jr., residing in Beddington, Northern England.
Sotheby's states that all that is known about the sender of the letter is that it was sent from London and paid for with the Penny Black stamp, the world's first adhesive postage stamp. More fascinating in the era of messaging and video calls is that after receiving the letter, Blenkinsop Jr. turned the envelope upside down and transformed it into a Mulready, a wrapper that served as another method of pre-paid postage introduced at the same time as the Penny Black. This second envelope was addressed to another Mr. Blenkinsop, likely his father. Over time, the contents of both letters have been lost.
"Surviving over 180 years, the ornamental Mulready envelope sealed with the Penny Black stamp revolutionized the way people from all walks of life correspond, exchange ideas, share news, and express themselves," said Richard Austin, Global Head of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby's auction house. "At the dawn of the artificial intelligence era, this exceptional item speaks to our inherent human desire for connection and the ways it has evolved over two centuries."
Before the introduction of postage stamps, mail recipients in Britain paid for their postage. Teacher and social reformer Sir Rowland Hill introduced the adhesive Penny Black postage stamp, bringing standardization to a complex and expensive postal system. The Penny Black features a portrait of Queen Victoria. Although the stamp became extremely popular and successful, the Mulready envelope was withdrawn after it was ridiculed by the public.