Home Classic stamps The History of Stamp Collecting Part 11 – Dr. John Edward Gray

The History of Stamp Collecting Part 11 – Dr. John Edward Gray


John Edward GrayIn the late 1970s a fascinating series of articles written by Mr. K. Kouwenberg about the history of Stamp Collecting, appeared in the Dutch magazine Philatelie. This series has been the source of inspiration for PostBeeld owner Rob Smit to rewrite the history of stamp collecting in instalments. This is Part 11 – Dr. John Edward Gray.

Dr. John Edward Gray was mentioned earlier in this series. Because he deliberately, in 1840, purchased a block of four Penny Black stamps not to use, but to preserve as a curiosity. Accordingly, he is generally regarded to be the first stamp collector.


He was born in 1800 and in 1823 he became assistant in the natural history section of the British Museum. He had very broad interests and a strong work ethic and as a result wrote no less than 1162 scientific papers.
Many facets of social life were therein discussed. A standout is a treatise on the introduction of a decimal monetary system in England. Over one hundred years later, Gray’s prophesy became a fact. And he was interested in the postal system long before he began writing about stamps.
He had already made a proposal in 1834 for reform of the post, where solutions were put forward to simplify the complicated and costly system. Gray lacked time to complete it and Rowland Hill was allowed to take over his proposal and, with more perseverance created a system of postal reform implementing postage stamps as the method of payment. There was even a mocking poem made about this event;

Who invented the postage stamp?
‘I, Dr. Gray,
Think I may say
‘T was I who invented the postage stamp.’

Who invented the postage stamp?
Says Rowland Hill,
‘Take it not ill,
But you did not invent the postage stamp.’

‘Yes I did invent the postage stamp,’
Says Gray; ‘I’m right,
I told Charles Knight,
On the Blackheath coach, of the postage stamp.’

‘Nay’ says Charles Knight,  ‘the postage stamp
was my idea.
The fact is clear
As daylight: I found out the postage stamp.’

‘Now, who did invent the postage stamp?’
The public cries,
‘do all tell lies,
Who paternity claim to the postage stamp?’

There exists correspondence between Charles Knight and Rowland Hill about Dr. Gray’s claim. Dr. Gray lived in Blackheath and travelled every day with the Blackheath coach for his work in London, where he apparently had contact with Charles Knight.
At the request of the editors of ‘Young England’, in 1862 Dr. Gray wrote a series entitled “The Postage Stamps of the World”. This series was further edited and issued as a separate catalogue. The first edition appeared in 1862. In total six editions appeared, the last after his death.

gray catalogue 3rd edition

[popuppress id=”2634″]

Gray’s catalogue was characterised by its well-organised content. This, and the fact that the third edition of the catalogue (1865) was issued by the commercial stamp dealers and philatelic publishers Stafford and Alfred Smith, made it a very popular edition that had a wide circulation.
Dr. Gray had a stroke and died at the age of 70 on March 7, 1875. After his death, one more edition appeared (the sixth edition) edited by Overy Taylor.

 9,956 total views,  2 views today

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Previous articleAuthor’s surprising discovery
Next articleSuperlatives on stamps

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.