Although postage stamps were introduced into Great Britain in 1840, the year when New Zealand became a British colony, it was not until 1855 that they came into use in this country. Before that time postage was paid in cash, either by the sender or the addressee. But the system was slow and unwieldy and complaints of corrupt practices were numerous. Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand, intended to have the stamps on sale on 1 April 1851 when a new postage proclamation came into force, but as there was no one in New Zealand capable of engraving the plates, they were ordered from Messrs Perkins, Bacon, and Co., stamp suppliers to the British Government. Three denominations were ordered, 1d., 2d., and 1s., and the sheets arrived in New Zealand in February 1855. The stamps were placed on sale in the different provinces at various times, but 18 July 1855, the day on which they were first sold at Auckland, then the capital, is recognised as the date of issue. These stamps were the famous “full faces” or “Chalon Head” which portrayed a full-face likeness of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes.
The next denomination was a 6d. “full face”. The plate was produced by Perkins, Bacon, and Co., but the stamps were printed in New Zealand and placed on sale on 8 August 1859 to meet a reduction in the postage rate to England. This beautiful rich, red-brown stamp has been regarded by many critics as the best ever issued by New Zealand. Later, on 1 January 1863, a 3d. stamp was added to the series because of further alterations in the postage rates to the United Kingdom, and on 1 June 1865 a 4d. value was issued. J. Richardson, of Auckland, printed the first stamps in this country, but in 1861 the Government decided to print its own stamps. John Davies was brought out from Perkins, Bacon, and Co., England, and served as the Government Stamp Printer from February 1862 until his death on Christmas Day, 1889. The stamps were first printed in the Post Office, Auckland, and many shades of colour and different types of paper were used. When the Government moved to Wellington in 1865, the Stamp Printing Branch was attached to the Government Printing Office and all stamps printed in New Zealand from 1865 have been produced there.
During the life of the “full face” set, the colours of the 1d., 2d., 4d., and 6d. were changed. The first stamp following the “full faces” was a humble halfpenny newspaper stamp which showed the Queen's head in profile. After 19 years the original plates began to wear. It therefore became necessary to issue a new set, ranging from 1d. to 1s., and was first sold on 2 January 1874. On 1 July 1878 the 2s. and 5s. denominations were added. In 1882 a set of “postage and revenue” stamps, also showing Her Majesty in profile, was introduced which did away with the need for special stamps for duty purposes up to 1s. A 2½d. value was added to the series in December, 1890, a 5d. in February, 1891, and a ½d. in April, 1895.