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    

"extra Rare Letter Frm.us Gb Austria Lombardy With Us/gb Stamp Mix W/certificateDec 23 1918 Early Trip Cover Curtis Jenny C1 6c C2 16c C3 24c Airmail Stamps NorCivil War Letter 1865 Day Of Abraham Lincoln Assassination Death Niles Michigan1863 Gainesville, Ga - Civil War Letter To Confederate Georgia Infantry Soldier!1996b Food Coupons. Mint 5ea $1.00 & 1ea $5.00. U.s. Dept Of Agriculture. Usda1863 Wisconsin Infantry Civil War Letter In Tennessee - Negro Soldiers Etc... !Us(1940's, 1960's, 1970's), 300+ Fdc's In 4 White Ace Albums(2 W/covers)May 15 1918 First Trip Cover Curtis Jenny C3 24c Airmail Stamp NorsCivil War Patriotic Label On Cover With Blood's Philadelphia Local Stamp # 15l18Gemini 7 Complete Crew Handsigned Launch Cover Cc - Spacecraft !Three-color Franking, 1861 Issue (63 Pair, 65 & 76) New York To Downieville Cal.May 16 1918 Early Trip Cover Curtis Jenny C3 24c Airmail Stamp NorsHoward Hughes - Historic 1938 Flight - Incredible Flight-flown Cover & FlagCivil War Confederate Blue Ridge Rifles Va ! Hand Carried Stampless Capt Barber!1861 & 1862 Maine Infantry Civil War Letters, Written Aboard Steamer Etc...Us(1970's-1990's), 600+ Fdc's In 8 White Ace Albums W/casesMay 16 1918 First Trip Cover Curtis Jenny C3 24c Airmail Stamp NorsRegistered Mourning Cover Pres. Mckinley, Reg. Label, To South Africa, 19011864 Larkinsville, Alabama Civil War Letter Michigan Infantry - Awesome Content!Gemini 11 Complete Crew Handsigned Ksc Launch Launch - NasaCivil War Letter 1863 12th Michigan Niles Cover Stamp Stouchsburg PennsylvaniaOldhal-civil War/letter/dec 5, 1864/getting Ready For The Battle Of Nashville1853 Castalia Ohio Ms Postmark To Clipper Ship Flying Dutchman In San Francisco.May 23 1918 Early Trip Cover Curtis Jenny C3 24c Airmail Stamp Nors1930-32:u.s.s Akron, Lakehurst,nj Covers+related, Some Cam 9's Pilot Signed1920's-30's Mixed Lot. C.a.m. Routes,airports,mix Of Stamps, Some Pilot Signed. 1941 First Flight Nigeria Africa Cover Curtis Jenny C3 24c Airmail Stamp PairMr Fancy Cancel Csa 1 Pair Cover Tied New Orleans La Cds Addressed To Ark Cv$5001864 Fort Ethan Allen Near Washington Dc - Civil War Letter Ohio Infantry Death1920-30's C.a.m. Routes, Different Routes, Many Signed. 1 Ed Worden/1 Gov.signed3 Civil War Patriotic Covers And Letter. Circa 1861 & 18631861 Milan, Indiana Civil War Letter, Church Tension Over Slavery, Content !! 65 Civil War Patriotic - Rare Ornate Blue Valentine Type - Grand Rapids, MichRare 1950 Germany Cover To Us With Nice Stamp Sheet 03Stampless Cover To Major General Winfield Scott, Commanding Us Army In Florida.Mr Fancy Cancel 63 S&e Pm_cr16 Fancy Cancel Cover Philadelphia Us Penny Mail1861 Richmond Va Col Daniel Ruggles Hand Drawn Masonic ! Confederate Civil War !'87 Beulah Texas Cattle Long Horn Steer Wooten Oml Fort Worth Arkansas Kansas E5Crosby Cachet Pearl Harbor Ship Uss Tennessee Bbb-43 In "hawaiian Area" Feb 19411940 Cover Ill-fated Japanese Ship Survived Terrorist Bomb To Be Sunk By Us Sub1942 Marine Corps Postmark Wwii Patriotic Cover Gold Star No. 2 "blitz All Izms"May 25 1918 Early Trip Front Cover Piece Curtis Jenny C3 24c Airmail Stamp NorsNoblespirit~no Reserve~1556/6~fantastic U.s. Fdc's Album From 1993-19981854 Everts Snell Express + Adams On Alta California NewspaperCivil War Letter 1862 Cover Patriotic Reddington Indiana Soldier Antique 1 Old166 U.s. Gold Foil Cacheted Unaddressed First Day CoversRare 1933 Germany Graf Zeppelin Flight Cover To Us With Nice Stamps 01Nystamps E Advanced Old Us Stamp Cover Post History CollectionFree Frank, Schuyler Colfax As Speaker Of The House. Later, Vp Under U.s. Grant.Baseball Centennial - 1839 - 1939 - Babe Ruth Cachet - Cooperstown 6/12/1939Civil War Confederate Cv To Camden South CarolinaUs - Good Fdc Lot # 21863 Indiana Artillery Civil War Letter From Camp Near Hillsboro, Tennessee !1945 Reg Cover New York To Prisoner Of War FlUs - Good Fdc Lot # 38Us - Set Of 10 Fdc's Lot # 54#2417 Pete Rose (1989 Cincinnati Reds) Signed Auto (x12) August 3, 198954 American Freedom Train Covers From 1976 Various City And Date CancelsNoblespirit~no Reserve~valuable Us Fdc Shoebox Inventory High Cv1863 Camp Near Stafford Court House, Va - Civil War Illinois Cavalry Letter !!