From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

James Chalmers, Bookseller - 11th August 1807.

 

JAMES CHALMERS, BOOKSELLER. IN DUNDEE, WAS ADMITTED BURGESS BY THE
PRIVILEGE OF WILLIAM CHALMERS, MANUFACTURER, HIS FATHER.

JAMES CHALMERS, second son of WILLIAM CHALMERS, manufacturer, Arbroath, was born in that town on the 2nd February, 1782. In early life he left Arbroath and migrated to Dundee, where he joined his elder brother WILLIAM, who had for some time been established there as a bookseller. About the year 1822, and after a lengthened period of correspondence with the authorities, he effected a marked acceleration of the mail coach system north of London, whereby a saving of two days on the double journey betwixt London and the chief towns of the North was brought about. In 1830 he added to his business the printing and publishing of a newspaper, The, Dundee Chronicle, an undertaking soon rendered unsuccessful through the heavy taxation to which the press was then subject, generally known as the "Taxes on Knowledge," the repeal of which Mr CHALMERS consequently did his best to advocate.

From 1832 onwards this subject, conjointly with that of Post Office reform, was one of the leading topics of the day, and in both Mr CHALMERS was now able to take a prominent part by intercourse with such leading reformers as Mr JOSEPH HUME, Mr WALLACE of Kelly, and others. In the month of August, 1834, he invented and produced in his premises the adhesive stamp for postage purposes, printed on sheets of paper, afterwards gummed over by an adhesive substance, precisely on the principle now in use. On the appointment of the Select Committee of the House of Commons in November, 1837, upon the proposed uniform penny postage scheme of Mr ROWLAND HILL, Mr CHALMERS laid his plan of the adhesive stamp before the Committee, the plan of Mr HILL being that of an impressed stamped wrapper or cover. Again, in a communication of some length, under date, "Dundee, 8th February, 1838," he further laid his plan before the Mercantile Committee of the City of London charged with the support of the proposed reformed scheme. This document, now of historical interest, was bequeathed to the Library of the South Kensington Museum by the late SIR HENRY COLE, who was, at the period of its receipt from Mr CHALMERS, Secretary to the Committee.

The plan of the impressed stamp, as introduced by Mr ROWLAND HILL, not meeting the approval either of the House of Commons Committees or the Government, that of the adhesive stamp was brought forward by its advocates in Parliament to solve the difficulty, and was ultimately adopted by Treasury Minute, of date 26th December, 1839. The Mulready envelope proved a failure, but the adhesive stamp saved the penny postage scheme, and has gradually been adopted by all countries. The credit due to JAMES CHALMERS in this matter having been claimed for SIR ROWLAND HILL, much difficulty has been experienced in vindicating the title of the Dundee bookseller, but at length the leading biographical works in this country have acknowledged that title; while abroad, more especially in the United States of America, the name of JAMES CHALMERS is accepted as that of the original inventor.

On the 1st January, 1846, Mr CHALMERS was presented in the Town Hall of Dundee with a public testimonial in recognition of his services in improving the postal system, and as the originator of the adhesive postage stamp. On the 3rd March, 1883, the Town Council of Dundee formally passed the following resolution -

"That, having had under consideration the pamphlet lately published on the subject of the adhesive stamp, the Council are of opinion that it has been conclusively shown that the late James Chalmers, bookseller, Dundee, was the originator of this indispensable feature in the success of the reformed penny postage scheme, and that such be entered upon the Minutes."

In the course of his career, Mr CHALMERS served in many positions of importance in the Town Council of Dundee, and in the public institutions of the town. Early in life he married BARBARA DICKSON, eldest daughter of BAILIE DICKSON, Montrose. He died in August, 1853, aged 71 years, and lies buried, in the Howff. His son, CHARLES DICKSON CHALMERS, merchant, Dundee, was admitted Burgess on 17th December, 1840.