Although stamp covers and postal history are closely related collecting categories, collectors tend to treat the two pursuits separately. Cover collectors seek out envelopes with stamps affixed to them, usually cancelled and often featuring interesting markings or graphics. These collectors are after first day covers, as well as covers bearing historic dates, unique graphic themes, and fancy cancellations. Of course, they are also interested in a unique and collectible stamp.

Postal history collectors are interested in all that, too, but they tend not to be as fixated on stamps. For postal history collectors, being able to chase down the evidence of a letter’s journey from Point A to Point B is often more important than the letter itself, let alone the stamp affixed to it.

One popular cover type is the advertising cover, which is usually collected more for the quality of the illustration, or cachet, on an envelope than for the rarity of its stamp. Advertising covers give the cover collector a lot of information about the sender, and are historical snapshots of a range of goods and services from a particular time.

Disaster covers are letters and envelopes that have been salvaged from shipwrecks, train derailments, airplane crashes, and the like. Mail salvaged from the Hindenburg fire of 1937 is especially collectible (only 200 pieces were salvaged out of the 17,000 that were on board).

More-recent examples of disaster covers are the letters and other pieces of mail that were hand-cancelled on April 3, 2006, the first full day that the U.S. Postal Service resumed normal operations after Hurricane Katrina. Also of interest to collectors is mail that was irradiated during the anthrax scare of 2001. A radiation-burned envelope with the words "Mail Sanitized" on it tells you a lot about that moment in American society.

First day covers, or FDCs, are one of the most popular pursuits of cover collectors. Some collectors focus on events like the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, others gravitate toward FDCs for that day in July of 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

Other first day covers honor individuals. The Series of Famous Americans from 1940 put 35 people like Samuel Clemens, Walt Whitman, Alexander Graham Bell, and Luther Burbank on p...

Patriotic covers get us into postal history—some of the most interesting and collectible examples date to the Civil War. In addition to simply looking for evidence of a functioning mail-delivery system from a moment in time (the cancellation stamps, the rates imposed, franking marks, etc.), postal-history buffs try to use that evidence retrace a piece of mail back to its sender. If possible, they will also collect evidence and ephemera associated with the mode of delivery itself, be it Pony Express in the 19th century, Graf Zeppelin in the early part of the 20th, or steamship sailing through the Suez Canal after World War II.

Another collecting category that touches on both covers and postal history is military mail. Here, collectors sometimes look for mail that has been through a particular Army Post Office (APO). Cover collectors can choose from first day covers with cachets of General Eisenhower to the quintet of Civil War Centennial stamps, which were printed one a year from 1961 to 1965.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

PhilaMercury

PhilaMercury

Richard Frajola's incredibly rich database of over 11,000 U.S. and foreign 19th Century postal stamp covers. This s… [read review or visit site]

Universal Ship Cancellation Society

Universal Ship Cancellation Society

Compiled by the Universal Ship Cancellation Society, an international philatelic club, this web site is filled with… [read review or visit site]

The Stamp Collecting Round-up

The Stamp Collecting Round-up

Don Schilling's long-running, in-depth blog on stamp collecting and postal operations. Schilling stays up on all th… [read review or visit site]

National Postal Museum

National Postal Museum

If you're into postal history or collectibles, check out the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum. This extensive s… [read review or visit site]

R. A. Siegel Auction Galleries

R. A. Siegel Auction Galleries

This auction house site offers an extensive online database of US stamp information. Includes PDF catalogs of past … [read review or visit site]

Post Office in Paradise

Post Office in Paradise

Post Office in Paradise showcases Hawaiian postal history from the years before Hawaii became a part of the United … [read review or visit site]

Private Die Proprietary Stamps

Private Die Proprietary Stamps

Bob Hohertz's impressive database of U.S. Private Die Proprietary stamps from the Civil War and Spanish American Wa… [read review or visit site]

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

First shown in 2008 to celebrate the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's 15th anniversary, Alphabetilately is esse… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Most watched eBay auctions    

1861-62 Us Portrait Sc 63, 68, 75 Cover Cat $16321861-67 Us Portrait Sc 63, 68 Cover Cat $4851861-67 Us Portrait Sc 63,65,68 Cover Cat $unlisted1861-67 Us Portrait Sc 63, 68, 75 Cover Cat $8821861-62 Us Portrait Sc 63, 68 Cover Cat $2071861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63 Cover Cat $675Drbobstamps Us Scott #7 On Postal History Cover Cat $180Drbobstamps Us 1857 Blood's Bronze & Scott #1 On CoverCkstamps : Large Us Airmail & First Day Covers Stamps Collection In 3 Albums1861-67 Us Portrait Sc 63, 65, 76 Cover Cat $unlistedDrbobstamps Us Scott #116 On Postal History Cover To Germany Cat $425Rare Civil War Patriotic 34 Star Allover Flag Design 1861-62 Us Portrait Sc 63, 68 Cover Cat $207Wwii Pow Cover Wake Island Usmc Usa To China And Japan 1942 Censored1861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63 Cover Cat $6751861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63 Cover Cat $460Drbobstamps Us Scott #15l18 On Postal History CoverScott # 914 Fdc With Dorothy Knapp Hand Painted Cachet1846 Fort Atkinson Wisconsin Territory Stampless Troops Mustered For Mexican WarDr Jim Stamps Us Cover Airmail Via Uss Akron Lake Hurst Nj 1932Mr Fancy Cancel Csa 12 Charleston Sc Flat Rock Nc 1863 Cvr #127Michigan Infantry Civil War Letter In Texas, Confederates Killing Union Soldiers1861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63,65 Cover Cat $4501861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63 Cover Cat $675Us Postal History Entire Cover 1859 To Ft Vancouver Washington TerritoryUsa Chemical Censor Air Mail Cover To Sweden Oct 24 1944Noblespirit No Reserve Jg Fantastic 65 U.s. 19th Century Cover Collection1863 New Hampshire Infantry Civil War Letter - Marching Through Kentucky !Wow Usa Franklin Imperf Stamp #7 On Cover C1850s Mailed To Virginia Cv $180 Noblespirit No Reserve 4051/57 Impressive Us Cover Album Beginning W/ 614 !!!1882 Tombstone Arizona. Arm And Hammer Illustrated Advertising.1861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63,65 Cover Cat $300Noblespirit No Reserve 4051/55 Incredible U.s. 1853+ Covers With Ad Classics1861-67 Us Portrait Sc 63, 68 Cover Cat $20719th Cent Covers From Damaged Lot-few Keepers?1857-61 Us Plate I 12c Sc 36 Cover Cat $750Goodyear Zeppelin Uss Akron Multi-signed & Cacheted Tied Airship Fabric 19311861 New York Infantry Civil War Letter - Jefferson Davis Black Horse Cavalry !Civil War Letter 1863 Wagon Trains Stevenson Alabama Chattanooga Tennessee Vtg NWar Of 1812 Stampless Letter Athens, Ga To Ohio - War Content, Terrific Find !!Early 1792 Philadelphia, Pa Quaker Stampless Letter Harbor Crowded With Ships !!1862 Mississippi Cavalry Civil War Letter - Going North To Win Back Tennessee !Us Fdc First Day Covers # 2975 Civil War 1995 Set Of 20 Colorano Silk1784 Belmont(rowan Co, Nc) Stampless Cover To Col. Martin Armstrong From Col. Aug 1945 Apo 336 Tinian 509th Composite Group Atomic Bomb Squadron Soldier1861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63,65 Cover Cat $3071930 Graf Zeppelin Air Mail Flight, Ny To Hamburg On Coney Island Post CardVery Scarce Signed Ocean To Ocean Submarine Cover Uss C-3 May 1919Rare 1799 Raleigh, Nc Stampless Cover 12 1/2 Pence From Jones To Montfort StokesEnvelope From Timely Comics Stan Lee Logo Special Delivery 3c Prexie1861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63, 65 Cover Cat $681861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63 Cover Cat $185Xx469b Macks Blowout - World's Altitude Record Breaking Flight La Cal 19301861-62 Us Portrait 1c Sc 63 Cover Cat $450New Hampshire Civil War Soldier Letter Gen Grant, Longstreet In Tennessee Etc...Dr Jim Stamps Us Cover Airmail Via Hindenburgh 19361865 Crete Illinois Will Co Manuscript Civil War Letter ! Greenwich Sta Oh Stamp1863 Iowa Infantry Civil War Letter - Attacking Confederates In Mississippi !!14 Letters 1825-1880 Prominent Kentucky Family, Stampless Covers, MementosTexas Refinery Corp. Fdc  #1355 Walt Disney