The world’s first adhesive postage stamp was the Penny Black, printed for the British postal service by an American named Jacob Perkins on May 6, 1840. Two days later, a blue two-penny or “Tuppeny blue” stamp came off the Perkins, Bacon & Co. press. Both stamps featured an engraved portrait of Queen Victoria, as would the Penny Red, which replaced the Penny Black in 1841.

Now you might think the Penny Black would be worth a small fortune, but more than 68 million imperforate versions of the stamp were printed, and it’s estimated some 21 billion Penny Reds were produced, none of which were perforated before 1854. If you want rare, go for the Tuppeny blue—only six-and-a-half million of those beauties were printed.

Thanks to their ubiquity, Penny Blacks and Reds are relatively affordable. Less attainable are stamps such as the 1918 Inverted Jenny, a 24-cent U.S. stamp depicting a Curtiss JN-4H biplane flying upside down, of which only 100 are known to exist. Rarer still is the 1847 Mauritius “Post Office” stamp, a British colonial issue whose scarcity and multi-million-dollar prices at auction inspired a Broadway play.

For many philatelists, these stamps are impossible Holy Grails. More attainable are the countless pieces of postage from the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Australia, and China. Each piece of postage produced by these nations tells a story about their unique histories.

Collectors of U.S. stamps might try for commemorative and special issue stamps, such as a set of all four horizontal Zeppelin stamps, printed between 1930 and 1933, or the set of 10 National Park stamps issued in 1934. Definitives, or regular issue stamps, are also popular—many bear portraits of presidents from Washington to Kennedy, while others depict the likenesses of scientists (Albert Einstein), architects (Frank Lloyd Wright), and playwrights (Eugene O’Neill).

Formal portraits of royalty grace most British stamps, but the imagery gets more picturesque as one moves away from the country’s main islands to current territories such as Gibraltar and former ones like Malta. The rise and fall of the Third Reich can be followed on German stamps, which are littered with swastikas before and during World War II. French stamps frequently honor intellectuals and art expositions, such as the one in 1925 that gave rise to the term Art Deco, while Australian stamps naturally feature numerous depictions of indigenous animals such as the kangaroo and platypus.

Chinese stamps are also steeped in their country’s history. Pre-Mao-era stamps reveal the hyperinflation of the early 1930s, as seen in the 500-yuan stamps of that period. During the Mao era itself, the chairman’s smiling face, as well as compositions celebrating the country’s military might, were common, but there were also stamps meant to encourage exercise, such as the series of 40 stamps printed in 1952, when millions listened to, and exercised along with, a daily radio program promoting fitness.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alphabetilately

Alphabetilately

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



Most watched eBay auctions    

China Stamp 1980 Geng Shen Monkey T46 Mnh Og Great Britain One Pound Stamp C1891 UsedChina Stamp Jh-ns4.1 1971 50th Ann Communist Party China, Place, Building MintSg 133 £5 Orange On Blued Paper. Fine Used With An Upright West Central...China, Pr - Large Lot Of Mint Never Hinged Stamps - High Value - No Reserve!Momen: China Prc Stamps #996a Strip Unfolded Used $ Lot #200410676aj Gb Mint & Used Collection Good Early 1d Black Also Qv £1s & Seahorses?Great Britain One Pound Congress Stamp C1929 Fine UsedChina Prc 1981,sc.#1749-61 Set (blks 4)-dream Of The Red Dragons,by Cao Xuegin1950 £2 Coat Of Arms, Imprint Block Of 4, Mint Never HingedMomen: China Prc Stamps #566a Sheet Mint Nh $ Lot #2000China 1878 Large Dragon 3ca, Fresh Mint. MhChina 1897 Red Revenue Unused Mounted Mint Top Left Corner Light Thin.full Gum Gb 1929 £1 P.u.c Marginal Fine Used Example Sg43888/china 1908 Psc Han 5 Hand Painted Coiling Dragon 4 Cents Tientsin To France(750) Very Good Lightly Cancelled 4 Margin Qv 1d Black (sg2)b-g Plate 4 On CoverItalian States Naples 1860 Crocetta Di Napoli 1/2 Tornese / Used Rare G74962China 1878 Large Dragon 5ca Fresh Mint, MhMomen: China Prc Stamps #566a Sheet Table Tennis Used $ Lot #2001China Prc 1976,oct 19: #1290-92 Set, Imprint Blocks Of 10 Mnh1869 France Sc# 37, 5 Francs Napoleon Mint, Cv $9500.00, RarityU.s. #315 Mint Superb Pair - 5c Lincoln Imperf ($675)A Stockpage Of Mint And Used Chinese Stamps All PeriodsMomen: China Prc Stamps #566a Sheet Table Tennis Used $ Lot #2003Momen: China Prc Stamps #661-680 Mint Nh Butterflies $ P1394r #2056Nystamps Us Stamp # 242 Mint Og H $1150Great Britain 10/- Stamp C1883-84 Fine UsedMomen: Japan Stamps #c8 Airmail Sheet Mint Og Nh $2,000 Lot #24051912 London Overprint By Waterlow Roc Ovpt On $5 Imperial Geese Sg#232 Vf MlhSouth Korea, Wonderful Stamp Collection(many Sheets) Hinged/mounted On Scott PagNystamps France Stamp # 126 Mint Og Nh $600Momen: China Taiwan Formosa Stamps #1355-1358 Mint Og Nh $515 P1394r #2100#122 Used Xf Scott Cv $4250.Momen: China Prc Stamps #834-841 Mint Og Nh $338 P1394r #2057Momen: Netherlands Stamps #48 Mint Og Nh *po Fresh* Rare €2,750 Lot #2596-16Germany To Third Reich On Printed Album Pages, 99p Start, All PicturedTurkey 1919 Overprints Sg 960a/d Mnh FreshRare 1918- Australia 5/- Grey Black & Chrome Kangaroo Stamp Mint 3rd WatermarkUs 90c Pictorial 1869 Sc 122 Used Cat Value $2100Momen: China Prc Stamps #566a Sheet Table Tennis Used $ Lot #2002China 1897 Red Revenue Unused Mounted Mint Little Strong Hinged Full Gum. Fine Nystamps Us Stamp # 245 Mint Og H $2600France Very Nice Collection From Classic To 1968 In Big StockbookItaly Sicily - Lot Of Used Stamps36 Mixed Old Album Pages Of Gb Stamps Few Pages Are Musty Old And DoublesidedLot:15810 Gb Qv Mounted Mint Sg48 1/2d Plates 1-19 Some Duplicate PlatesAustralia 1913 Kgv Roo 1d Red Die I Mint Corner Marginal W Double Perfs Sg2 VarUs 1893 Columbian $4 Crimson-lake #244 Mint Nh Cat Val $7000Us 1930 Zeppelin $2.60 Blue #c15 Mint Nh Cat Val $975Nystamps Korea Stamp # 33 Used $8001840 Great Britain Sc# 1, Famous Penny Black Used, Cv $515.00 RareTurkey 1930 Ankara-sivas Railway Trains Set Mh Fresh RareValuable Berlin Mnh 1948 To 1979 In Album, Huge Cat, 99p Start, All PicturedUs 30c Pictorial 1875 Sc 131 H Cat Value $2450Us 1893 Columbian $4 Crimson-lake #244 Mint Lh Cat Val $200010760aj Gb C2000s First Day Covers & Covers Collection Including 2012 Olympics?Momen: Japan Stamps #179-187 1923 Blocks Unused $800 N1517p #2520U.s. #244 Used - 1893 $4.00 Columbian ($1,050)Nystamps Us Stamp # 534b Mint Og Nh $3250 WashingtonChina 1963 - Used Stamps. Mi: 744-759 Cv: 400 $..........................a1951