The Penny Red replaced the Penny Black because of the fact that the cancellation stamps on the Penny Black were not clearly visible and the public had found ways of removing the cancellations and re-using the stamps, which meant that the Post Office was not earning money for all the stamps issued. It was first issued in 1841 and was the main type of stamp in Great Britain until 1879. About 28 billion copies of the Penny Red were printed when the change was made from the Penny Black.
The first stamps had no perforations. They only came into use in 1854. Each stamp has its own unique corner letters, eg AA, BB etc, so that the position of the stamp on the plate could be identified. Because the stamps were coming apart too easily, the size of the perforations was changed in 1855 from 16 to 14. The sheets contained 240 stamps (20 rows of 12) and a full sheet cost one pound. When decimal currency was introduced in 1971, the sheet size for all British stamps was changed to 200 so that a sheet of the lowest value stamp cost one pound.
More than 400 different plates were used to print Penny Reds. This was necessary because of the high volume printed which caused the plates to wear. Two different basic watermarks were used, initially a small crown and after 1855 a larger crown. The stamps from the various plates vary in value, from plate 71 – 225 the stamps are often only worth a few pence. Stamps from plate 225 were very rare and can be worth a few hundred pounds, but the stamps from plate 77 are extremely rare and in 2016 a stamp from this plate was auctioned for £495 000. Usually one sheet was printed from a new plate and then sent to Somerset House to be approved. Any faulty sheets would be destroyed. However, some of the faulty 77 sheets survived and were circulated. It is not known how many sheets were printed from this plate, but according to those in the know, NOT MANY. It appears there are approximately 6 known copies of the Penny Red from this plate. These stamps can be identified as having been printed from plate 77 by the letters in the 4 corners.