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Collecting U.S Stamps

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U.S. Stamp timeline, history, firsts and events

Here is a timeline of postal history in the United States from it's beginning to today. I show you the highlights of stamps over this period of time.


(1847)When and what was the first United States stamp? - Two stamps were issued in 1847. They were the Franklin 5 cent and the Washington 10 cent stamps. These are Scott catalog #1 and #2. These stamps in various condition can sell for upward of twenty thousand dollars!

(1857-1861) The first perforated stamps were issued. - Before 1857 stamps were issued in sheets and postal workers had to cut away individual stamps. A perforation machine was invented by an Englishman named Henry Archer and the US postal service quickly adopted it to make stamp separation easier. The post office re-issued the stamps that were issued between 1851 and 1856 this time as perforated stamps.

1857 Perforated Stamps were introduced - (often referred to as perfs or perfins) These were stamps that had perforated holes in them that spelled out letters or acronyms. Companies bought stamps and perforated them as a deterrent to theft. There are approximately 6400 different perfins that were issued in the US.

1861 - Earlier stamps were declared invalid - Yes, because of teh outbreak of the civil war all previous stamps were declared invalid. So, technically, they are still invalid and cannot be used as postage. But stamps from 1861 forward can still be used. Although I wouldn't want to use a valuable 1861 stamp as simple postage!!

First commemorative stamp - There can be a bit of disagreement about this but usually the 15 cent lincoln stamp issued in 1866 did commemorate Lincoln who was assassinated the year before. ( More about the official commemoratives down below)

The grill on the back of a stamp

(1867 - 1871) Grilled Stamps - By 1867 there was concern by the postal service that people were removing stamps and washing them. Thereby being able to use them again. This was a source of lost revenue for the postal service so they instituted a process called grilling where small breaks in the stamp were made in patterns. This would enable the cancellation ink to soak into the broken fibers of the stamps making them impossible to wash clean. These grilled stamps were issued for certain stamps between 1867 and 1871.

The picture at right shows the grill pattern on a stamp.

1869 - The first pictorials stamps were issued. Up until this year and world wide all stamps had a design of a president, statesman or other famous person. These stamps (Scott 112 thru 122) depicted various things like a Pony Express rider, the SS adriatic and even reproductions of famous paintings.

It is of note that these pictorial stamps were not well received by the public!

The Bank Note Years

(1870-1893) Three Bank Note Companies were contracted to print postage stamps. These companies were printers of currency. And because of popular outcry the postal service returned to portraits of famous people on stamps. Three different companies were contracted to print stamps during the years 1870 and 1893. The three companies were the National Bank Note Company, the Continental Bank Note Company and the American Bank Note company.


A special delivery stamp

1885-1997 - Special Delivery - in 1885 the postal service instituted special delivery at some of its post offices where once a special delivery envelope arrived at a post office a messenger would immediately deliver it to the recipient. This first stamp had a face value of 10 cents.


Twelve of the columbians

(Note about this picture: These are my Columbians. I only have the first twelve of the 16)

1893 - The First Commemoratives (The Columbians) These were a set of 16 stamps issued at the World Columbian exposition in 1893 in chicago. They commemorated the 400 year since Columbus. Some of these stamps, in mint condition are worth thousands of dollars and they are very popular with collectors. These are a purer form of commemorative and more in line with our current definition for what a commemorative is. This is a world renowned series of stamps! I have more about them here: The Columbians


1895 First Water Marked Stamps - Watermarking is a technique for embedding a mark on paper before the stamps are printed on it. This is a way of guarding against counterfeiting.

Watermarks were the letters U, S, P and S in a repeating pattern across full sheets so many stamps only have a portion of a letter or a portion of two letters. This picture shows a very nice watermark with a complete "U".

Want to learn how to detect a watermark? I have a tutorial right here.


1898 - The Universal Postal Union Colors - in 1898 the Post office set a standard for the color and the denomination that made it easier to recognize the stamps and what they were paying for. Green was for the 1 cent post card, Red for 2 cent stamps (domestic letter rate) and blue for 5 cent stamps (international letter rate). These were the most common three rates but other colors and rates were established. In the picture below you can see the 1 cent green Franklin, the 2 cent red Washington and the 5 cent blue Grant.

Universal Postal Union Color stamps



1906 - 1908 - Imperforate stamps return - Imperforate stamps made a temporary come back because they were suitable for stamp vending machines. The machine companies could cut the sheets of stamps into strips then attach the strips together and create large coils of stamps that could then be perforated horizontally or vertically for vending in their machines.


1918 - First Airmail Stamps -


1948 - The poultry stamp. Congress was looking for ways to promote business and industry and this stamp was the first attempt at using stamps to this measure. The stamp wasn't well received but it did change how stamps were perceived by government. You could say that this stamp was the first stamp used to promote something other than letter mailing!


1974 - The First Self Adhesive Stamp was issued - This was a Christmas stamp ( The Dove of peace Weathervane stamp) and it proved to not be very popular.

The First Self Adhesive Stamp


1993 - The Elvis Stamp - This stamp was issued in 1993 and it was a spectacular success. It also was part of a marketing campaign where the postal service asked the general public to decide which stamp would be the official stamp printed, a young Elvis or an older Elvis. The young Elvis won.



2007 - The first Forever stamps were issued. (The liberty bell stamp)



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