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    

Qv Gb 1840 1d Sg2 Penny Black Collection 34 Stamps UnsortedChina 1878-83 1ca Large Dragon Unused. 1980 China Airmail Cover To Usa With T46 Monkey & T43 Stamps Etc,pin Holes, RarePrc China 1951 Regular Issue Stamps W/ Design Of Tian An Men, R5 Incomplete UsedItaly, Trieste, Amg, Spectacular Stamp Collection Mounted On Joe Bush PagesGreece 1896 Olympic Games Set Of 12 Originals Hinged MintGb 1880 2/- Brown (pl.1) Used, Sg#121 Cv£4200 Very Scarce Stamp1978 China Stamp,galloping Horses,miniature Sheet,og,wrinkles,mnh1941 China Cover To Denmark,last Flight China Clipper,detained+released 1946,rrrSg 403 £1 Green. Very Fine Used With A Guernsey Cds, Dec 24th 1913. Nice Deep...China Stamp - Prc China Stamp W1 Mao's Instruction Set - Mnh Og - UsedSg5, 2d Blue, Fine Used, 4 Margins. Cat £850. Red Mx. SlGb 1840 Sg2 1d Penny Black Lettered Ta 4 Margin Neat Red Mx1897 China Stamp,red Revenue 1c On 3c, Unused,vf,variety, Very Nice1883 China Stamps,large Dragon Thick Paper,full Set 1,3,5 Candarins,faulty,used1863 Italy To Chile Cover Via Panama, Incredible Franking, Unique Cover1962 China Taiwan Stamps,ancient Paintings Emperors,mnh,og,perfectGreat Britain Stamps 1840 Sg 2 Penny Black Large Margins Canc VfChina , 1980 , Original Top Stamp , Year Of The Monkey ( But Tooth Error ) , MnhImperial Coiling Dragon Lot C,120 Stamps,all Very Fine Used,varieties,very NiceUs, Csa, Excellent Assortment Of Old Unused Stamps, Singles/multiples, In AGreat Britain 1911-13 £1 Deep Green (sg 320) Fine L.h.m. (f001)1967 China Stamps,cultural Revolution 5 Stamps, Fine Used, Nice1878-1883 China Stamp,large Dragon 3 Candarins,very Nice Varieties,f UsedMarch 1897 Dowager Overprint 8 Cents M/mint1863 Russia Offices In Turkey 6k Blue Fine Used Stamp, Cv $2200.00 !!China , 1964 Peonies Set Mnh Original Gum , Superb Fresh High Cv Page Of Old China Stamps From Large DragonPrc China 1960 Goldfish Sc#506-517, S38, Complete Set, MnhChina- Dowengers- Mint- Various- Vf2016 Adelaide Emergency 30c Counter-printed Self-adhesive Mnh/muh Set Cat $4500China Stamp 1878 3candarins Red Used (dragon)Drbobstamps Us Scott #c13 Mint Vlh Og Xf Centered Sound Stamp15kg Box With 13 Collections - Sold As One Large Lot Includes ChinaImperial Coiling Dragon Lot D,119 Stamps,faulty But With VarietiesGreece 1906 Olympic Games Surcharge Set Of 14 Hinged Mint1840 1d Penny Black 4 Margin On An 1840 Cover - Rf013China, 1960 Chrysanthemuns Set Mnh , Original Gum High Cv Old Liberty Album With Stamps From 1840 Rare 1918- Australia 10/- Grey & Deep Aniline Pink Kangaroo Stamp Used 3rd W/mk1930 Us Zeppelin $2.60 Sc C15 Nh Cat $975Greece 1861 Paris Large Heads 10 Lep. Never Issued Vlastos#7a No Gum Cert.53811926 Russia To Switzerland Cover, 2 Scarce Advertising Stamps As FrankingNoblespirit No Reserve {th1}superb White Plains 630 Sht Mnh Gem Xf Uncut=$600 Cv1953 China Taiwan Stamps,3rd Anniv,imperf Set On Commemorative Sheet,unused,rareGreece 1861-62 Fine Large Heads 40 Lep. Vlastos #19a Mh Rrr Certificate No 18871950 China Stamps,foundation Of P.r.c Ne Set,original Print,mlh,very Nice & RareUs Columbian Sc # 241 1893 $1 Mint Nh Cat $3750[54] Usa 1873 Scott#158 Used Offset Printing Extremely Rare !!!Nystamps Us Air Mail Stamp # C15 Used $600Poland 1861 Number One Perf Used (ov2812s)Great Britain 1840 Penny Black (n H) 4 Margins Fine-used (f010)Nystamps British Gb Penny Red Stamp Rare Full Sheet Reconstruction CollectionGreat Britain 1 Penny Black Stamp C1840 Fine UsedQv Gb Sg185 K15 £1.00 Brown - Lilac (h-c) Fine Mint Super Rare Cv £32000.00 Drbobstamps Us Scott #404 Mnh Og Xf Gem Sound StampNystamps British Gb 1841 Penny Red Stamp Sheet Reconstruction £12000 / Us $14500Russia - Advertising Illustrated Stationery - Industry Stamp MedalsChina 1978 Galloping Horses Set + Miniature Sheet. MnhUs(1950-70's), Incl Blocks,1000's Of Mint Nh Stamps In Glassines(2 File Drawers)