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 Apple Grove, Nc - Confederate School Teacher Civil War Letter Rare Cachet !Michigan Infantry Civil War Letter From San Antonio, Tx - Terrific Content !!1861 Pennsylvania Infantry Civil War Letter - Great Content & Patriotic Cover !1862 North Carolina Infantry Confederate Civil War Letter - Near Petersburg, Va300 U.s. Fdc's * Unaddressed * 1944 - 2006 * Mint Condition In Plastic SleevesCover British Consulate Shanghai China To Usa 1861 Via Hong Kong & Chicago1863 New York Cavalry Civil War Letter From Newport, Nc - Great Content !1929 Autograph Franklin D. Roosevelt President Us Signed Paper Governor New YorkNoblespirit No Reserve Us Space Shuttles Collins Fdc 1989-2000 Hand Painted1842 Vicksburg, Mississippi Stampless Mexico War Letter To Fort Pickering, Tn1863 Massachusetts Infantry Civil War Letter From New Bern, Nc - Content !1932 Uss Akron (zr-4) Coast-to-coast Roessler Green Zepp Cachet Cover (r3)Mr Fancy Cancel 26 Civil War Patriotic Flag Lady Flag Balloon Buckley Md CdsNoblespirit No Reserve Celebrate The Century 1900-1960 Collins Fdc Hand Painted1863 New Hampshire Infantry Civil War Letter From Morris Island, South CarolinaMr Fancy Cancel Free Sc Pomeroy Civil War Patriotic Flag With Soldier's LetterMr Fancy Cancel 63 Strip Of Three Ad Cover Publisher & Book Seller New YorkNoblespirit No Reserve 3909/64 Superb 11 Vol Us Fdc Album Collection 1926-19601862 New York Infantry Civil War Letter - Enters Yorktown, Va After City Falls !1831 Charleston, Sc Stampless Nullification Crisis Threatens Civil War - Wow !!1863 Connecticut Infantry Civil War Letter - Remarkable Content From Louisiana !Noblespirit No Reserve Valuable Us Collins Legends Of The West Hand Painted FdcsMr Fancy Cancel 65 Civil War Patriotic Ex Rare Design Gdb Nov 10 Fancy CancelCivil War Letter 1864 95th Ohio Memphis Tennessee Antique 1 Cover Vtg Old Usa NrUx10 Columbian Exposition Postal Card Used To Switzerland, W/postage Due #1Noblespirit No Reserve Excellent Us Collins Civil War Hand Painted Fdc Set Of 20Civil War Letter, De - Bucks Co Pa, Libby Prison, 4th Delaware, Stuart's CalvaryMr Fancy Cancel 1c Collar Illustrated Ad Cover Dodd-buffalo Good Things To EatNoblespirit No Reserve Excellent Collins Hand Painted 1909 Express Eagle FdcNoblespirit No Reserve Popular Collins Columbian Commemorative Hand Painted FdcCkstamps : Large Unchecked Us First Days Covers Fdc Stamps Collection In BoxMichigan. Detroit 1851 Vg Blue Cds Pmk W/ Circle Grid Ties 5c #1 Franklin On Fl9c & 10c Cut Squares With Wells Fargo Express Cancels1864 Iowa Infantry Civil War Letter - Front Lines In Atlanta, Taking Rebel Fire!1860's Pro Union Illustrated Civil War Patriotic Cover Envelope Massive ArmyNoblespirit No Reserve Great Us Rw56 Collins 1989 Fdc Duck Stamp Hand Painted80c Airmail Stamp, Scott C46, 10c Prexie On 1954 Registered Cover To Hong KongNoblespirit No Reserve (951c) Excellent Us Albino Postal Stationery Error Coll.Noblespirit No Reserve Excellent 25x Us Collins Hand Painted 1997 Fdc SelectionNoblespirit No Reserve 55x Us Karen's Fdc 1982-84 Hand Printed CollectionNoblespirit No Reserve Excellent 24x Us Collins Hand Painted 1997 Fdc SelectionCivil War Letter 1864 Wounded Soldier 13th New Hampshire Concord Uncle Sam Vtg NVintage Usa Covers Lot. Includes Hundreds Of Us Covers. Mostly 1800's-1950's #3United States 1940 Air Mail Censor Cover To France Returned Service Suspended 1864 New Hampshire Infantry Civil War Letter - Chesnut Hospital In Philadelphia Mr Fancy Cancel 63 65 Carrier Ad Cover Boston Paid 63 Has Plate Scratch Ex-leeNoblespirit No Reserve U.s. Collins Classic Comics Fdc Set Hand 1995 PointedWwii V-mail Italy 1944Mr Fancy Cancel 65 Civil War Patriotic Seated Liberty In Frame Norfolk Va '641862 Massachusetts Infantry Civil War Letter - Great Camp Life Descriptions !1932 Uss Akron (zr-4) Coast-to-coast Roessler Blue Zeppelin Cachet Cvr (r1)1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition Stationery Envelope Uprated Noblespirit No Reserve 1992 Collins Wildflower Set Of 50 Hand Painted 264-96Washington Territory - Circa 1886 Neah Bay - Kicking Mule CancelMr Fancy Cancel 65 Civil War Patriotic Eagle Flag On Globe Us In Stars Fancy CanNoblespirit No Reserve Us Collins 50 Hand Painted American Wildlife Fdc SetNoblespirit No Reserve Nyc/1255 Excellent 4 Vol Us Fdc Coll W/ Colorano Cachets 3505b 2c Pan-american Inverts And Buffalo Art Kober Hand Painted [e56893]1958 Nov. 8 Space Pioneer Rocket Port Canaveral Fla Goldey Goldcraft CachetNoblespirit No Reserve Important 97x Us Karen's Fdc 1985-1993 Collection High Cv