James Chalmers


from an article by Rhoda Spence



James Chalmers was a native of Arbroath who moved to Dundee and established himself there as a bookseller, printer and publisher, eventually serving as a Town Councillor and becoming Convener of the Nine Incorporated Trades. Like many mild—looking people, he seems to have been a slayer of the dragons which retard progress, battling repeatedly in the cause of Burgh Reform, and fighting for the repeal of taxes on newspapers and newspaper advertisements, and the removal of the excise duty on paper.

His most burning enthusiasm, however, was postal reform, and to the delight of his fellow business-men, he managed to induce the authorities to speed up the mail between Dundee and London by a day each way, convincing them that this could be done without extra cost.

That he was far advanced in his scheme for an adhesive postage stamp in 1834, six years before the Penny Post was introduced, was later borne out not only by Dundee and Arbroath men of standing, but by employees in his printing-works. These afterwards recalled their work in applying gum to the slips and clipping the sample stamps apart—for the perforation was a subsequent refinement and came from another source.



Nor was James Chalmers’ plan imperfect, for he had worked out all its details, and had suggested the now universal means of paying for letters and packages of different weights by stamps of different colours. He even costed the expense of producing the stamps so accurately that his figure varied by the merest fraction from the estimate of those who later printed stamps for the government.


When the subject of a universal rate of postage came up in Parliament in 1839 James Chalmers submitted the plan he had worked out six years earlier, and when suggestions for making the Penny Post feasible were invited from the public, he sent it in again, this time backed by a testimonial from the merchants, bankers, and other leading citizens of Dundee. This is perhaps the most striking evidence that his reputation as originator of the stamp was already established, for shrewd business men do not back cranks or visionaries.



But with the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840, no recognition came to the quiet man whose adhesive stamp had made it possible. This was fought for much later by his fifth son Patrick, then resident in London after many years in the East. Patrick Chalmers’ ardent propaganda, carried on for twelve years, had support not only from many postal reformers in this country, but from philatelic experts on the Continent. After his death the cause was furthered by his elder daughter Leah, who worked untiringly to vindicate her grandfather’s claim to the title now engraved in stone above the site of his bookseller’s shop in Dundee” Originator of the Adhesive Postage Stamp.”


The above text taken from an article in the Scottish Magazine published in 1987

© 2009 Arbroath & District Stamp & Postcard Club