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.

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

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Recent News: Stamps

Source: Google News

Leave food by your mailbox for collection; post offices help 'stamp out' hunger
The Times (subscription), May 5th

For the 23rd year, postal workers from around the nation will join together to Stamp Out Hunger. All day Saturday, May 9, Streator, Ottawa and Marseilles post offices will be collecting nonperishable food items for families in need. More than 10,000...Read more

Local Church in Process of Losing Food Stamp License
NBC 7 San Diego, May 4th

CalFresh Program Specialist Matthew Heffernan, from the County's Health and Human Services Agency, says group homes are not typically permitted to collect food stamp benefits, unless they have a rare and special license from the U.S. Department of ...Read more

Stamp out hunger aims deliver food to those in need, May 4th

The U.S. Postal Service is encouraging people to help by putting together cans or nonperishable foods for the mail carrier to collect along normal routes. I say two things every year. Hopefully some day I'm going to stand here and say we don't need it...Read more

Stamp of approval for an avid Sharjah collector
The National, May 4th

Mutaz Osman owns so many stamps and coins he cannot even count them. The 41-year-old operations director of Sharjah Expo Centre, the centrepiece of a planned Expo City in the emirate, started his collection as a child. In 2000, he also started writing ...Read more

Foxborough Charter School: Remembering the Holocaust, one stamp at a time
Wicked Local Foxborough, May 2nd

FOXBOROUGH — At almost the halfway point, some 5,000,000 stamps have been collected at the Foxborough Regional Charter School to raise awareness about the Holocaust. The Holocaust Stamps Project was spearheaded six years ago by retired ...Read more

Riot Act explores the seedy side of stamp collecting
Jackson Hole News&Guide, April 29th

What do you do when you discover a book of rare stamps following your mother's death? Sell it, or keep it for sentimental reasons? That is the quandary facing two half sisters in the play “Mauritius,” by Theresa Rebeck, which will be performed by the...Read more

Schlegel: Will stamp collecting endure as snail mail continues to dwindle?, April 12th

When was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter? Other than last year's Christmas cards, my last holdout of hand-written communicating, I can't even recall. Over the past two years, I've reluctantly, but regularly, relied on the Internet to send...Read more

Shropshire stamp collector's life's work go under the hammer at auction, April 7th

“This chap must have been collecting since he was a boy – I would think it must have been something of an obsession, it would have certainly kept him out of mischief, lets put it that way. He collected stamps from Britain, the Commonwealth, Jersey...Read more