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    

Gb 1913 Gv Waterlow Seahorses Um £1 Sg Spec N72(1) (sg 403) Cat £4800China 1982 T46 Monkey MnhChina Stamp - Prc China Stamp W1 Mao's Instruction Set 1967 - Mnh Og - Used RareHuge Mint Gb & British Colonies Stamp Collection High Face Value / CvSuperb 1840 1d Mulready Lettersheet Doncaster To Boston With 2 Red Maltese CrossWeeda China Prc Registered 1951 Airmail Cover Shanghai-vancouver, Via Hong KongCkstamps : Massive Mint & Used Worldwide Stamps Collection In Minkus AlbumGreat Britain 1840 Penny Grey Black (sg 3) Four Margins Fine Used (m053)China Old Postcard Shantung Shanghai To Duisburg Germany 1906 !!Italy-italia-1954 Cavallino 1.000l [wheels ] Fine Mnh O.g.cat 4.500 Euros 2o13 Feb 052 China - Chinese Empire Small Imperial Dragon 1, 3 & 5 Candarin High $$$China Old Cover Foochow Fukien Dragon Stamp !!Feb 040 China - Chinese Empire 5 Dollar Bird Mh Single Stamp High Cat.$$$China Prc 1960 S38 Golden Fish Set, Mint, MnhGb 1883 Qv Um 9d Sg 195 Cat £1250Nystamps Us Stamp # 245 Mint Og H $2500China- Dowengers- Mint- Various- VfPr China 1958 C50m 700th Anniv. Of Guan Hanqing's Dramatic Works S/s Mint, MnhUs Trans-mississippi Sc # 292 1898 $1 Mint Nh Cat $3500Russia Ukraine 1923 Unusual Franked Reg-cover Vinnytsia To Germany , Cccp, Ussr1840 1d Black Pl.9 Fi Christmas Day Cover From Dublin, Ireland, To Castlecomer China Old Postcard Govenor Yuan Shih Kai Of Shantung !!Nystamps France Stamp # 21 Used $3250Sg 2 1d Black Lettered A.l. Fine Used Red Maltese Cross. 4 Margins Close To...Sg4, 2d Deep Full Blue, Fine Used, 4 Margins. Cat £1100. Black Mx. Lf1897 Dowager Large Figures Surcharge Complete Set Mint#467 Mint Original Gum Error Strip Of 12Us Imperf Sc # 1a 1847 5c Mint H Cat $8750Feb 039 China - Chinese Empire Dragon 5 Candarin Thin Paper Ochre Very High $$$China Old Postcard Dragon Stamps Canton To Germany 1906 !!Gb 1913 Gv Waterlow Seahorses Um 10/- Sg Spec N69(1) (sg 402) Cat £2200China 1878 Large Dragon 1 Candarin Mint 1879/1897 £100 Stamp Duty, Used, Fiscal CancelGb. Qv. Mounted Mint Jubilee Selection.Gb 1929 Gv Puc Um £1 Sg 438 Cat £1100Us Perf 15 Sc # 39 1857-61 90c Mint Og H W Pse Cert(2) Good Lightly Cancelled Sg212 Qv £1.00 GreenChina 1878-1929:large Dragon Stamp,mint Dragons,mausoleum $1, Junks-magnificent!China Ipc Postal Card 1c. Uprated 4c. Dragon Peking Boxer War To Germany 1901Sg 54 1/- Pale Green Mint Cat Value £22500 +1933 Germany Mi Block 2 10. Years German Charity Mnh Philacall (b085Nystamps Us Stamp # 244 Mint With Gum H $2150Nystamps Us Stamp # 292 Used $700Gb. Qv. Sg 43, 1d Red Collection. Approx 1100. Many Plates. (2 Photo's)Gb 1847/54 Embossed 10d (sg 57) With Ireland 'green' Postmark (f902)Victoria Rare 5/- Blue On Yellow UsedUs Trans-mississippi Sc # 293 1898 $2 Mint Nh Cat $6000China- Large Dragon- 1cd- Pair- Lh-vfUs Parcel Post Sc # Q12 1913 $1 Mint Nh Cat $650#293 Used Black Town Cancel $2 Trans-mississippiA Russia/soviet Union: Fantastic Old Stock Auction Lots, Collection Parts Etc.Germany French Occ In 64 Sided Stockbook, Huge Cat, 99p Start, All PicturedRare 1858- Tasmania Australia 4 X 1/- Vermilion Imperf Chalon Head Stamps MngSweden 2002-2010 Beautiful Mnh Collection In Lighthouse AlbumGreat Britain 4 Margin Penny Black On Original Envelope (file Crease) (f1015)Gb 1913 Gv Waterlow Seahorses Um 5/- Sg N66(2) (sg 401var) Cat £14001879/1897 £8 Stamp Duty, Used, Fiscal Cancel1879/1897 £50 Stamp Duty, Used, Fiscal CancelDt. Reich Nothilfe Block 1933 Mnh ExpertisedRussia - Illustrated Advertising Stationery - Champain Hat Kitchen