A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and fixed to a piece of mail as evidence of payment of postage.
Stamps are made from special paper, with their country of origin and price on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side.
The stamp is affixed to an envelope, or other postal cover that the customer wishes to send.
The item is then processed by the postal system, where a postmark, sometimes known as a cancellation mark, is usually applied over the stamp and cover; this marks the stamp as used, to prevent it from being re-used. A postmark also shows the date and place of origin of the mailing. The mailed item is then delivered to the address applied to the envelope or cover. Backstamps are often applied to show in-transit transfer of mail and eventually to record the date and place of delivery.
Main article: Philately
The study of postage stamps and their use is referred to as philately.
Stamp collecting can be both a hobby and a form of historical study and reference. Government-issued postage stamps and mail systems have played a vital role in communication, which has always been an important part of the history of nations.
History and development
The first postage stamp
The first adhesive postage stamp, the Great Britain 1840 Penny Black, was issued by Great Britain on May 1, 1840.
The invention of the stamp was a part of Sir Rowland Hill’s reformation of the postal system in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
This meant the postage fee was now to be paid by the sender instead of on delivery, though it was still possible to send mail without prepaying.
The postage stamp offered convenience for both the mailer and postal officials and ultimately resulted in a far better, faster postal system.
With the conveniences stamps offered, their use resulted in greatly increased mailings during the 19th and 20th centuries and revolutionised communication around the world.
The first stamp, the Penny Black, was put on sale on 1 May, to be valid as of 6 May 1840; two days later the Two Penny Blue was introduced. Both show an engraving of the young Queen Victoria. The stamp is without perforations.
As no other countries had developed the system, there was no reason to include the country name Great Britain on the stamp. Great Britain remains the only country not to identify itself by name on postal stamps, as it simply uses the current monarch’s head as identification.
(Subsequent notable designs featuring British royals include the Edward VII Great Britain 1910 2d Tyrian Plum, the George V ‘Seahorses’ issues and the Edward VIII designs which used photographic instead of artistic portraits.)
19th century stamps
However, other countries soon followed with their own stamps.
The Canton of Zürich in Switzerland issued the Zurich 4 and 6 rappen on 1 March 1843.
Although the Penny Black could be used to send a letter less than half an ounce anywhere within the United Kingdom, the Swiss did not initially adopt that system, instead continuing to calculate mail rates based on distance to be delivered.
Brazil issued the Bull’s Eye stamp on 1 August 1843.
Using the same printer as for the Penny Black, Brazil opted for an abstract design instead of a portrait of Emperor Pedro II, so that his image would be not be disfigured by a postmark.
In 1845 some postmasters in the United States issued their own stamps, but it was not until 1847 that the first official USA stamps were created, 5 and 10 cent issues depicting Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
A few other countries issued stamps in the late 1840s, and by the 1860s the majority of countries had their own stamps.
As postage stamps with their engraved imagery began to appear on a widespread basis, historians and collectors began to take notice.
The world's most valuable stamp
There is much debate over which stamp is considered to be the most valuable in the world. Auction results support the case of the Swedish Treskilling Yellow.
On 22 May 2010, the stamp was auctioned by David Feldman in Geneva, Switzerland.
It sold "for at least the $2.3 million price it set a record for in 1996". The buyer reportedly was an "international consortium" and the seller was a financial firm auctioning the stamp to pay the former owner's debt.
The exact price and the identity of the buyer were not disclosed, however, and all bidders were reportedly sworn to secrecy.
The Treskilling Yellow has previously been deemed the most valuable commodity on earth by weight. Weighing in at 0.02675 grams it is valued at US$85.98 billion per kilogram.
Other philatelists consider the British Guiana 1c Magenta to be a more valuable rarity should it ever appear at auction. The 1c Magenta is believed to be in a private collection held in a bank vault in Philadelphia, USA.
Other notable postage stamps
Main article: List of notable postage stamps
Notable stamp collectors and stamp collections
Stamps by country
Great Britain was the first country to issue a pre-paid postage stamp on May 1 1840, followed by the Canton of Zurich in Switzerland, and then Brazil. Since then stamps have been issued by the majority of countries worldwide. The European country of San Marino lists postage stamps as it's most valuable export.
Main article: List of stamp issuing Countries
A stamp dealer is a person or business that trades in postage stamps. Dealers often specialise in certain areas, from themes such as chess on stamps, to countries or historical periods.
In the United Kingdom the Philatelic Traders' Society issues a code of ethics for stamp dealers to abide by.
Main article: List of postage stamp dealers
Clubs and societies
Main article: List of postage stamp collectors' clubs and societies
Main article: List of postage stamp dealers' associations
Main article: List of postal museums
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