Postage stamp

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Everyday life

A postage stamp is evidence of pre-paying a fee for postal services. Usually a small paper rectangle that is attached to an envelope, the postage stamp signifies that the person sending the letter or package may have either fully, or perhaps partly, pre-paid for delivery. Using postage stamps is the most popular alternative to using a prepaid-postage envelope.

Stamps have been issued in other shapes besides the usual square or rectangle, including circular, triangular and pentagonal. Sierra Leone and Tonga have issued self-adhesive stamps in the shape of fruit; Bhutan has issued a stamp with its national anthem on a playable record, etc. Stamps have also been made of materials other than paper, commonly embossed foil (sometimes of gold); Switzerland made a stamp partly out of lace and one out of wood; the United States produced one made of plastic, and the German Democratic Republic once issued a stamp made entirely of synthetic chemicals. In the Netherlands a stamp was issued made of silver foil.


The world's first stamp was the Penny Black
The world's first stamp was the Penny Black

The adhesive postage stamp and the uniform postage rate were devised in Great Britain by James Chalmers around 1834. The same ideas were brought forward by Lovrenc Košir, a Slovenian postal clerk at the Viennese court in 1835, but did not meet a favorable response. Later, the concept of the adhesive postage stamp was published by Rowland Hill, in Postal Reform: its Importance and Practibility in 1837. In it he argued that it would be better for the sender to pay the cost of delivery, rather than the addressee who could refuse the letter if they could not or did not want to pay, as sometimes happened at the time. He also argued for a uniform rate of one penny per letter, no matter where its destination. Accounting costs for the government would thus be cut; postage would no longer be charged according to how far a letter had travelled, which required each letter to have an individual entry in the Royal Mail's accounts. Chalmers' ideas were finally adopted by Parliament in August, 1839 and the General Post Office launched the Penny Post service the next year in 1840 with two prepaid-postage pictorial envelopes or wrappers: one valued at a penny and one valued at twopence.

Three months later the first prepaid-postage stamp, known as the Penny Black, was issued with the profile of Queen Victoria printed on it. Because the United Kingdom issued the first stamps, the Universal Postal Union (U.P.U.) grants it an exemption from its rule that the identification of the issuing country must appear on a stamp in Roman script for use in international mails. Before joining the U.P.U. many countries did not do this (e. g. the " bull's eye" stamps of Brazil); there are very few violations of the rule since this time, though one example is the U.S. Pilgrim Tercentenary series, on which the country designation was inadvertently excluded. Because of this the numerous early issues of China and Japan often confound new collectors unfamiliar with Oriental scripts. A stamp may also show a face value in the issuing country's currency. Some countries have issued stamps with a letter of the alphabet or designation such as " First class" for a face value. The U.P.U. formerly restricted the use of such stamps to domestic mail, but current U.P.U. regulations allow non-denominated stamps to be used in international mail as well. Examples of such stamps include the British "E" stamp (intended to pay the rate for mailing letters to Europe) and the South African "International Letter Rate" stamp.


Since their inception there have been numerous innovative developments in how stamps are dispensed and sold. In the United States, the introduction of Information Based Indicia (IBI) technology has allowed newer ways to sell stamps. IBI is an encrypted 2-dimensional bar code that makes counterfeiting harder, makes counterfeiting easier to detect, and offer value beyond postage. Unlike traditional postage meter indicia, each IBI is unique. The IBI contains security critical data elements as well as other information, such as point of origin and the sender. The IBI is human and machine readable.

Prior to IBI being introduced, postage vault devices were used on personal computers to allow postage stamps to be printed from one's computer. The postage vault device is a tamper resistant postal security device to disable postage equipment when tampered with. The postage vault can be also identified as the means to store (and keep track of) monetary funds in the postage vault. You can think of this as prepaying for the right to print postage from your personal computer. The Internet is used to reset or replenish funds in the postage vault.

In March 2001, the United States Postal Service authorized Neopost Online and Northrop Grumman Corporation to test an innovative purchasing stamp system. This self-service stamp vending system allows the consumer to peruse through a variety of denominations and quantities, select the desired purchase and swipe his/her credit card to submit a purchase order. The stamp vending system then authorizes the purchase order, prints the stamp sheet(s) and finally dispenses them to the consumer. The ability to peruse, request, authorize, print, and dispense a stamp purchase using the Internet makes these the world's first browser-based stamps. This is the first instance were IBI was first utilized on adhesive labels. The product from this self-service stamp vending system is aptly named by collectors as Neopost web-enabled stamps. These stamps were available from March 2001 through August 2003 and were denominated (fixed value) stamps.

In 2002 the United States Postal Service authorized to issue NetStamps. The NetStamps utilizes IBI technology and can be printed from personal computers with postal vaults.

In 2004 the United States Postal Service introduced the Automated Postal Centers (APC). These kiosk provided non-denominated (1 cents to $99.99) stamps. The intent of the APC is to reduce labor required to service consumers at the postal counters.

Recently, personal pictures have been paired with IBI technology to provide a personalized stamp for the consumer. These stamps are customed made and require a period of time (days) to produce.

The push towards using IBI technology aids the United States Postal Service in finding new venues to sell stamps. It also reduces the burden of maintaining the mechanical machines to sell stamps. The United States Postal Service still relies on cosigning stamps to retailers and banks (via automatic teller machines (ATMs). They must be the same size and thickness as currency in order to be dispensed by the ATM.

Types of stamps

1897 Newfoundland postage stamp, the first in the world to feature mining
1897 Newfoundland postage stamp, the first in the world to feature mining
  • Airmail - for payment of airmail service. While the word or words "airmail" or equivalent is usually printed on the stamp, Scott (the dominant U.S. cataloguing firm) has recognised as airmail stamps some U.S. stamps issued in denominations good for then-current international airmail rates, and showing the silhouette of an airplane. The other three major catalogs do not give any special status to airmail stamps.
  • ATM, stamps dispensed by automatic teller machines ( ATMs)
  • carrier's stamp
  • certified mail stamp
  • coil of stamps, tear-off stamps issued individually in a vending machine, or purchased in a roll of 100
  • commemorative stamp - a limited run of stamp designed to commemorate a particular event
  • computer vended postage - advance secure postage that uses Information Based Indicia (IBI) technology. IBI is an encrypted 2-dimentional bar code that provides the means to verify the stamp's authenticity and also provides other information that can be used to track and trace the mail piece.
  • customised stamp - a stamp the picture or image in which can in some way be chosen by the purchaser, either by sending in a photograph or by use of the computer. Some of these are not truly stamps but are technically meter labels.
  • definitive - stamps issued mainly for the everyday payment of postage. They often have less appealing designs than commemoratives. The same design may be used for many years. Definitive stamps are often the same basic size. The use of the same design over an extended period of time often leads to many unintended varieties. This makes them far more interesting to philatelists than commemoratives.
  • express mail stamp / special delivery stamp
  • late fee stamp - issued to show payment of a fee to allow inclusion of a letter or package in the outgoing dispatch although it has been turned in after the cut-off time
  • military stamp - stamps issued specifically for the use of members of a country's armed forces, usually using a special postal system
  • official mail stamp - issued for use solely by the government or a government agency or bureau
  • occupation stamp - a stamp issued for use by either an occupying army or by the occupying army or authorities for use by the civilian population
  • perforated stamps - while this term is often used to refer to the perforations around the edge of a stamp (used to divide the sheet into individual stamps) it is also a technical term for stamps which have been additionally perforated across the middle leaving a distinctive pattern or monogram. These modified stamps are usually purchased by large corporations to guard against theft by their employees.
  • personalised - allow user to add his own personalised picture or photograph
  • postage due - a stamp applied showing that the full amount of required postage has not been paid, and indicating the amount of shortage and penalties the recipient will have to pay. (Collectors and philatelists debate whether these should be called stamps, some saying that as they do not pre-pay postage they should be called "labels".) The United States Post Office Department issued "parcel post postage due" stamps.
  • postal tax - a stamp indicating that a tax (above the regular postage rate) required for sending letters has been paid. This stamp is often mandatory on all mail issued on a particular day or for a few days only.
  • self-adhesive stamp - stamps not requiring licking or moisture to be applied to the back to stick. Self-sticking.
  • semi-postal / charity stamp - a stamp issued with an additional charge above the amount needed to pay postage, where the extra charge is used for charitable purposes such as the Red Cross. The usage of semi-postal stamps is entirely at the option of the purchaser. Countries (such as Belgium and Switzerland) that make extensive use of this form of charitable fund-raising design such stamps in a way that makes them more desirable for collectors.
  • test stamp - a label not valid for postage, used by postal authorities on sample mail to test various sorting and cancelling machines or machines that can detect the absence or presence of a stamp on an envelope. May also be known as "dummy" or "training" stamps.
  • war tax stamp - A variation on the postal tax stamp intended to defray the costs of war.
  • water-activated stamp - for many years "water-activated" stamps were the only kind so this term only entered into use with the advent of self-adhesive stamps. The adhesive or gum on the back of the stamp must be moistened (usually it is done by licking, thus the stamps are also known as "lick and stick") to affix it to the envelope or package.

First day covers

On the first day of issue a set of stamps can be purchased attached to an envelope which had been post-marked with a special commemorative post mark, or a normal post mark. These enveloped usually bear a commemorative picture of the subject the stamp is created for.

Souvenir or miniature sheets

Postage stamps are sometimes issued in souvenir sheets or miniature sheet containing just one or a small number of stamps. Souvenir sheets typically include additional artwork or information printed on the selvage (border surrounding the stamps). Sometimes the stamps make up part of a greater picture. For example, a picture of the Royal Family with the stamps bearing the faces. Additionally a set of stamps which may be identical to that on the sheet are sometimes part of the issue.


Stamps should be distinguished from cinderellas, stamp-like labels that resemble, but are not, postage stamps. Cinderellas might be commemorative labels, such as those issued in Buffalo, New York to support the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1901 (one of these has now been converted into an actual postage stamp), or may be postage stamps for imaginary countries or micronations.


Stamp collecting is a popular hobby, and stamps are often produced as collectibles. Some countries are known for producing stamps intended for collectors rather than postal use. This practice produces a significant portion of the countries' government revenues. This has been condoned by the collecting community for places such as Liechtenstein and Pitcairn Islands that have followed relatively conservative stamp issuing policies. Abuses of this policy, however, are generally condemned. Among the most notable abusers have been Nicholas F. Seebeck and the component states of the United Arab Emirates. Seebeck operated in the 1890s as an agent of Hamilton Bank Note Company when he approached several Latin American countries with an offer to produce their entire postage stamp needs for free. In return he would have the exclusive rights to market the remainders of the stamps to collectors. Each year a new issue of stamps was produced whose postal validity would expire at the end of the year; this assured Seebeck of a continuing supply of remainders. In the 1960s certain stamp printers such as the Barody Stamp Company arranged contracts to produce quantities of stamps for the separate Emirates and other countries. These abuses combined with the sparse population of the desert states earned them the reputation of being known as the "sand dune" countries.

The combination of hundreds of countries, each producing scores of different stamps each year has resulted in a total of some 400,000 different types in existence as of 2000. In recent years, the annual world output has averaged about 10,000 types each year.

Famous stamps

  • Penny Black
  • Post Office Mauritius
  • Treskilling Yellow
  • Inverted Jenny
  • Inverted Head 4 Annas of India
  • British Guiana 1c magenta
  • Perot provisional
  • Hawaiian Missionaries
  • Basel Dove
  • Uganda Cowries
  • Scinde Dawk
  • Gronchi Rosa very rare Italian stamp

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