|Country of production||United Kingdom|
|Location of production||London|
|Date of production||1 December 1860–|
|Engraver||Jean Ferdinand Joubert de la Ferté|
|Printer||De La Rue|
|Perforation||14, 121⁄2 or 14 x 121⁄2|
|Notability||First Maltese stamp|
|Nature of rarity||Classic stamp|
|No. in existence||1,223,760[a]|
|Face value||1⁄2 penny|
The Halfpenny Yellow is Malta's first postage stamp. It was first issued on 1 December 1860 and was only valid for local postage. It continued to be used until Malta's first definitive set was issued on 1 January 1885, and during its 25 years of use, it was reprinted 29 times.
From 10 June 1853, local mail had been free of charge in Malta. In 1859, the Council of Government decided that this was to be withdrawn and a new halfpenny stamp was needed to pay the local rate. On 30 April 1859, the Crown Agents for the Colonies were informed, and they commissioned De La Rue to engrave a die for the stamp. The engraving was done by Jean Ferdinand Joubert de la Ferté, who later engraved stamps of the Confederate States of America. Specimen stamps were sent to Malta later in 1859, and they were approved. The stamp, in buff on blued, unwatermarked paper, was sent to Malta on 21 July 1859 and was issued on 1 December 1860. The new stamp was sold from the Post Office at Valletta, police stations and various stationers. The earliest known use is 13 December 1860, on a cover from Valletta to Mosta. It sold for £5800 at an auction in December 2009.
The stamp was later reprinted, in several shades, for 28 more times. The paper was changed from blued to white in 1861, and from 1863 Crown CC watermarked paper was used. All printings had the perforation of gauge 14, but in 1868 the stamp was issued with a rough perforation of 121⁄2. Two years later a stamp with the same perforation but clean-cut was issued. The perforation was reverted to 14, but in 1878-1879 there were two printings with the perforation of 14 x 121⁄2. These were the first Malta stamps to have a gutter in between the panes of the stamps in the sheet. Prior to this, the stamps had wing margins. In November 1879 the perforation was once again reverted to 14 and all subsequent printings used the same perforation. The last major change came in 1882 when paper watermarked Crown CA began to be used. These last printings are the cheapest versions of the stamp, and are catalogued at just €18 to €30 unused. A complete sheet of the final printing is also known to exist.
In July 1883, it was proposed that the colour would be changed to green, and stamps were printed in this colour and delivered to Malta later that year. However they were not put on sale until late 1884, and they became valid for postage on 1 January 1885 along with Malta's first definitive set of stamps. The green stamps remained in use until around 1903, and because of their long period of use, they are very common. In 1899, some of the halfpenny greens were overprinted for fiscal use.
In 1960, Malta commemorated the centenary of its issue by issuing a set of three stamps on stamps depicting the halfpenny yellow. The 150th anniversary was celebrated by various exhibits about the halfpenny yellow at the Maltex 2010 philatelic exhibition held at the Hotel Phoenicia in Floriana between 8 and 10 October 2010. For this anniversary, MaltaPost also held an exhibition of Maltese postal history and original artworks by Maltese stamp designers at the Bibliotheca in Valletta in December 2010, and issued a miniature sheet showing the cover with the earliest known use of the halfpenny yellow.