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]

1847USA

1847USA

Bob Allen's beautiful and well organized catalog of US stamps from 1847 to 1970 is a fantastic resource for all US … [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    

Usa Registered Airmail Postcard With 30c Prexie (1951)Elizabeth Taylor 'national Velvet' Hand Signed Autographed First Day Cover FdcMr Fancy Cancel 63 Strip Of Three Tied Grid Danbury Ct 1861 Ex-jim LeeMr Fancy Cancel 68 (3) Cover Red New York Paid To Paris France Unlisted Nyfm '651862 Evansville, Indiana Civil War Nurse Letter Treats Rebel & Union Soldiers !Rare 1942 Wwii Uss Juneau Return To Sender V-mail Letter In Envelope. Sunk 1942Good Collection Of Stampless Folded Letters With Content - See Scans !1863 Georgia Infantry Civil War Letter & Cover From Richmond, Va To Stone Mntn!1863 Ohio Infantry Captain Civil War Letter From Tennessee Killed In ActionNoblespirit~no Reserve~my/978~us #750-799 Cachet Premium Fdc Collection1861 Confederate Letter From Richmond Dated July 21st-1861-manassas/volunteer On Piece! - Scott 310 ($700) Scott 311($1,500) And Others - Look & Bid!Mr Fancy Cancel 113 Pair Cover Chicago Cds 1c Overpayment Scarce Ex-jim LeeCivil War Letter 1862 Lt. Colonel Staff Officers Sword Rifles Horse Equpment VtgNoblespirit~no Reserve~my/983 Wonderful Us Fdc's Collection!!!Civil War Letter 1861 Patriotic Letterhead Drilling New Orleans Antique 1 Army NWwii Pow Return To Sender V-mail 390th Bg 8th Aaf Schweinfurt Regensberg1936 Germany #c57 On Graf Zeppelin Hindenberg North American Flight To Frankfurt1864 Fort Warren (boston) Civil War Letter - Awesome War & Slavery Content !!1862 New York Infantry Civil War Cover & Letter - Camp At Aquia Creek, Virginia 65 Civil War Patriotic - Rare Overall Female,flag,cannon & Ship - Key West, Fla1933 Welcome Col Charles Lindbergh To Iceland * Roessler ? 1863 Spring Valley, Va - Confederate Civil War Letter - Terrific Content !!1936 Spain Cover To President Fdr Marked From Roosevelt Collection Ship Cancel Graf Zeppelin First Day Flight Cover C15 Fdc Beautiful!!!Noblespirit~no Reserve~extremely Rare Us #610 Harding Planty #1 1st Linn CachetMr Fancy Cancel 65 Civil War Patriotic 11 Reg't Mass Volunteers Gen Mcclellan1865 Mattapoisett, Ma Civil War Cover & Letter To Blockade Squadron - Great FindMr Fancy Cancel 65 Civil War 42nd Reg't Mass V M Alexandria 1864 Cds Ex-walcottNoblespirit~no Reserve~my/973~colossal Us H. Ioor Cachet Cover Collection!!1837 - Canton China / Opium Trade Stampless Deal Ship Letter To William Wetmore1864 Georgetown, Dc Civil War Letter Sister Writes Brother In Confederate Army !1939 Sc 855 Baseball Centennial 3c Us Stamp On L.w. Staehle Fdc Difficult Find1835 Derby, Ct Stampless Letter To Hartford Insane Asylum Founded By GallaudetImperf 1c Franklin On Cover Ny To Morristown OhioProject Mercury Little Joe 6 Launch - Goldcraft Cachet - Classic Space - RareNoblespirit~no Reserve~1650/2~retailers' Dream Usps Fdc Prepackaged Supply1946 Roosevelt 930-933,928 Combo Staehle Cachet Unaddressed 5by7.5 Envelope65 Civil War Patriotic - Rare Dual Panel Magnus - Woman/globe & Us Patent OfficeMr Fancy Cancel Stampless Fls Woburn Ms Straight Line Postmark Ascc (1997) $150Noblespirit~no Reserve~(l)o4~desirable U.s. Fdc Collection W/ DuplicatesNoblespirit~no Reserve~my/976~excellent Us Rice Cachet Covers Collection1813 Groton, Ma Stampless War Of 1812 Navy Doctor Letter, Dartmouth GraduateUsa - Express Cover Forgery- Rhodes & Whitney Express Weaverville & Wells Fargo1864 Maine Infantry Civil War Letter - Excellent & Descripive Virginia Content1830 Free Frank Stampless Letter Pension Revolutionary War ! Signed 1812 MarinesMr Fancy Cancel 8c + 2c Entire Stamford Ct To Guatemala 1903 Scarce Ex-jim Lee1862 Ohio Infantry Civil War Letter, Pictures & Document - Great Find Here !Showpiece Graf Zeppelin C13 Signed Earle Ovington Cam 4 Fam 5 & 9? Very Busy!!!Wwii Pow Return To Sender V-mail Letter 44th Bg 8th Aaf Mr Fancy Cancel Civil War Soldier's Letter On Patriotic Stationery Camp Leslie1862 Indiana Infantry Civil War Letter From Camp Wabash - Died Only Months LaterJohn Glenn Project Mercury Original Signed Fdc Encapsulated Psa Dna GuaranteeImperf 1c Franklin Strip Of 3 Ny Cancel To Oakland Female Institute Noristown PaNoblespirit~no Reserve~my/977~fantastic Us W.s.e. Cachet Collection1894 Baseball Related Postcard65/26 Civil War Patriotic - Rare Red Lincoln Caricature (a.l. Kicking J.d.) Jeff1829 Cheraw, Sc Stampless Letter To Natchez Mississppi Plantation & Slave Owner1836 New Orleans, La Stampless Jewelry Merchant, Seminole Indian War Etc...Stampless F/l Dual Paid 10 & 5 Forwarded New Orleans La To London Ct To Ny