Postage Stamp – a small piece of art


A postage stamp is a small piece of paper with a special image that is used as a decoration or a kind of symbol bearing some information. This item is usually used as a payment for the postal services, to be precise - sending a letter. A traditional stamp shows a national designation and a denomination (value) on the front, and has a gum adhesive on the back. These small items can be purchased in a Post Office or with the help of stamp dealer who usually sells the stamps to collectors.

Although the usual shape of a stamp is rectangular there are a great variety of items that have triangular, oval and other odd forms. While sending an envelope with a stamp on it, a postmark, sometimes known as a cancellation mark, is applied. It marks the stamp and is used to prevent its reuse. In modern usage, postmarks generally indicate the date and point of origin of the mailing.


Invention of a Postage Stamp

A postage stamp has a long and rich history. The first items that were used to pay for mail services were made of wood or cork while a traditional variant of a stamp was invented in UK in 1840. It was the first self-adhesive stamp. This invention helped to improve the postal system of the country getting rid of disarray and corruption that governed in this branch those days.

Before the postage stamps were introduced into circulation the mail had been paid by the recipient. This sum was usually quiet high and when a person wasn`t able to cover these costs a letter was sent back. The postage stamp resolved this issue in a simple and elegant manner, with the additional benefit of room for an element of beauty to be introduced.

This new convenient and cheap way of postal service led to the fact that during the 19th and 20th centuries a number of mailings greatly increased. As postage stamps with their engraved imagery began to appear on a widespread basis, historians and collectors began to show interest in them. Gradually such a study as philately or stamp collecting appeared. This term is viewed in a different way – as a fascinating hobby and a form of historical study.

Stamp invention has been accredited to different people. Among them are Rowland Hill, William Dockwra, James Chalmers and Lovrenc Kosir. But most of the scientists believe that it is essential to assign this merit to Rowland Hill who is usually considered to be the true inventor of this small piece of art. 

A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837, an act for which he was knighted. Through his efforts the first stamp in the world was issued in England in 1840. Rowland Hill also created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight rather than size. Hill's stamps made the prepayment of mail postage possible and practical.


The Penny Black, the world’s first Postage Stamp

The first stamp, known under the name Penny Black, was introduced into circulation by the Great Britain Postal Service in 1840. The stamp shows a portrait of the young Queen Victoria on the black background. The peculiarity of an item is that it hasn't any perforations as it was separated from the sheet with the help of simple scissors. At the time of issuance, given no need for indication of origin, no country name was included on the postage stamps.

That is why the UK remains the only country that doesn`t print its name on postal stamps, using the reigning monarch’s head as implicit identification. Following the introduction of the postage stamp in the UK, the other countries soon followed in example the United Kingdom with their own stamps. 


Postage Stamp Design

The first stamp had a rectangular shape that is why other countries followed this standard. All the Post Offices s from other countries began to issue similar items bearing the images of different influential persons such as Queens, Presidents or popular political figures. The stamps of all the countries bore a denomination except of those that were released by the UK Post.

After the introduction of the postage stamp, other subjects and designs began to appear. New design ideas for the items were often criticized. An example for such a situation is U.S. Post for stamps introduced in 1869 that depict the images of train or animals. This innovation was widely criticized not only in the USA but also worldwide.


Postage Stamp Perforations

The peculiarity of each stamp is its perforations - small holes made between individual items that are used for their convenient separation. The result is that a stamp acquired a frame like shapes that characterize almost all philatelic items of this kind. The first stamps didn't have this peculiarity as they were cut out with the help of simple scissors. But this technique was inconvenient and took much time to fulfill.

The UK was the first country that introduces a new method of separating the stamps. This technique became very popular as it made the separation more convenient, and what is more less time consuming. It is believed that the machine specifically designed to perforate sheets of postage stamps was invented in London by Henry Archer. The next country that followed the example of the UK Post's innovation was the United States.


Shapes and Materials of Postage Stamps

The first stamps, as it was already mentioned, had a simple rectangular stamp. But people are such creatures who cannot limit their imagination. Soon after the introduction of the first postage stamp the items that had other geometrical (circular, triangular, pentagonal) and irregular forms appeared. The United States issued its first circular stamp in 2000 as a hologram of the earth.

Traditionally, the most unusual shape for a postage stamp is considered to be an item issued by Tonga in a form of a banana. Nowadays the Post Offices from around the world give rein to their imagination by issuing stamps shaped in various ways: like a heart, a cup, a fish etc. Stamps are most commonly made from paper designed specifically for them, and are printed in sheets, rolls, or small booklets. Less commonly, postage stamps are made of other materials, sometimes even odd. Today stamps can be made of wood, plastic, fabric, silver, gold or even chocolate.


Graphic characteristics

The subjects found on the face of postage stamps are generally what defines a particular stamp issue to the public and are often a reason why they are saved by collectors or history enthusiasts. The themes for a new issue are usually selected in order to celebrate some important event or honoring influential people of a particular country. Although in the beginning of philately only dead influential political figures were depicted on a stamp, nowadays the range of graphical characteristics is quiet large including the images of pop stars, animals, plants, cars, symbols etc.

Early stamp images were almost always produced from engravings — a design etched into a steel die, which was then hardened and whose impression was transferred to a printing plate. In the mid-20th century, stamp issues produced by other forms of printing began to emerge, such as lithography, photogravure, intaglio and web offset printing. These later printing methods were less expensive and typically produced images of lesser quality.


A great number of stamps led to the need to classify them in special types. Such a classification is essential not only for users of postal services but also for stamp collectors who specialize in collecting items with a set of particular characteristics. There are a great number of types of stamps such as booklet, coil, newspaper, personalized stamps but the most widespread items that are essential for philately lovers are divided in the following categories.


Airmail Stamp

Airmail Stamp — for payment of airmail service. The term "airmail" or an equivalent is usually printed on special airmail stamps. Airmail stamps typically depict images of airplanes and/or famous pilots and were used when airmail was a special type of mail delivery separate from mail delivered by train, ship or automobile.

Aerophilately emerged in 1930. It became one of the most popular fields for stamp collectors who were extremely fascinating with the various types of airmail stamps. These types are official and semi-official airmail items that differ in their value and the level of popularity. One of the best-known airmail stamps is Inverted Jenny that gained the status of one of the rarest and most expensive stamp errors.

Nowadays, there are a great number of specialized catalogues and albums that are produced for collectors of airmail stamps and other aerophilatelic items. These stamps usually feature various airplanes and that is why these items are extremely popular for topical stamp collecting.


Commemorative Postage Stamp

Commemorative Postage Stamp — a stamp that is issued for a limited time to commemorate a person or event. Anniversaries of birthdays and historical events are among the most common examples. Commemorative stamps are very popular among stamp collectors as they stand out for their special design, interesting themes and a high value. Postal Services from around the world issue several commemorative stamps in a year thus sometimes these philatelic items are difficult to purchase.

Unlike definitive stamps that are often reprinted and can be purchased over a long period of time, commemorative items are released in limited quantities and are sold for shorter period of time. So, it is a real rivalry among philately lovers who are eager to add some commemorative items to their stamp collections.


Non-denominated postage

Non-denominated postage — postage stamp that remains valid even after the price has risen. Also known as a permanent or "Forever Stamp". This kind of stamps does not show a monetary value or denomination on the face. These stamps are issued with one purpose: to reduce the cost of printing large series of cheap stamps to "top-up" old issues. Forever stamps are very popular in the United States and many European countries.

USPS is one of the postal services that release the greatest number of non-denominated stamps or better to say “forever stamps”. The most well-known examples of such issues are various editions of breast cancer research stamps, Global Forever stamps on Christmas theme etc.



Overprint — A regularly issued postage stamp, such as a commemorative or a definitive issue, that has been changed after issuance by "printing over" some part of the stamp. Denominations can be changed in this manner. In simple words, overprint is a special layer of text or graphics that added to a postage stamp, currency or other philatelic items after they have been printed. 

This technique became very popular in the world of philately. It is used by Postal Authorities for the variety of purposes. The most popular variants of overprints are recognized to be commemorative overprints that are being produced specially for stamp collectors.


Souvenir sheet

Souvenir sheet — a commemorative issue in large format valid for postage often containing a perforated or imperforate stamp as part of its design. Souvenir sheets may be ordinary or commemorative issues. Each of them has the special design and philatelic purpose.

The stamps on the sheets may be perforated or not as well as contain some additional ornamental details such as designs, price, emblems and logo which are not actually the part of stamp. Souvenir sheets and stamps in them can be used for mailing purposes although they are usually sold to stamp collectors. The philately lovers prefer souvenir sheets in mint conditions rather than to collect used ones.


First Day Covers

A first day cover is a stamped envelope, postal card or other postal material that was introduced by the post office on the day of stamp issuance. Depending on the postal authority there may be a ceremony to commemorate. One of the most well-known components of First Day Cover collecting are cachets. Cachets are the artwork that is added to the envelope, complementing the stamp subject.

The cancellation are often specially designed for some important occasions and many philately lovers frequently will call them “First Day of Issue" or something similar. Depending on the postal authority there may be a ceremony to commemorate the first day of issue.