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”)



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 1962 Mei Lan Fang Issue Used No Defekt No Thins No Gum High Fine Condition1882 China Large Dragon Stamp,5 Candarins, Wide Margin, Very Fine Used,rare1897 China Stamp,red Revenue 1c On 3c,variety,3mm Spacing, Position 25,rare1923-1933 China Stamps,junk, Hall Of Classic, $10 & $20 Key,very Fine UsedExcellent Collection Qv 1880-87 Blocks Um/mm - Rf141Nystamps Us Stamp # 313 Mint With Gum H $2250Us, A Few 1000 Mint/used Stamps In 5 Stockbooks1840 Penny Black On Original Cover (jan 1841) 4 Margin File Fold (f822)1897 China Stamp,red Revenue 1c On 3c, Unused,vf,variety, Very NiceChina Small Dragon & Dowager Stamps Faulty Lot,mint & UsedChina Stamp - Prc China Stamp W1 Mao's Instruction Set 1967 - Mnh Og - Used RareSiam Thailand 1883 1939 Nice Lot 45 Diff Mh Stamps Rama V Vi Hcv 410 €Nystamps Russia Stamp # 1 Used $850Us Bureau, No Watermark - Perry Sc # 261a 1894 $1 Mint Nh Cat $65001878 China Large Dragon Stamp,5 Candarins, Fine UsedNoblespirit No Reserve (th1) $1 Cattle Us No. 292 Used Xf Centering = $725 CvChina,1980 Year Of Monkey, T46, Guaranteed Genuine1918 Thailand Siam Stamp King Rama Vi Victory Issue Complete Set Sc#176-184 MhJapan, Ryukyu Islands, Excellent Stamp(2000+) & Sheet Collection Hinged On PagesChina Prc Mnh 1984 T89m 'chinese Beauties Wearing Flowers' Minisheet & Set XfUs, Airmails, C18, C1-c3 Are All Mnh, Excellent Accumulation Of Stamps In A Safe1885-1888 China Stamps,small Dragon Full Set A, Fine UsedItaly-italia-1954 Cavallino 1.000l [wheels ] Fine Mnh 4.500 Euros 2o13Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Excellent Stamp Collection(100's) & Souvenir SheetsPr China, 1951 Registered Cover W/ 8 Stamps, Tied Harbin 1951/11/29 To Germany1978 China Stamp,galloping Horses,miniature Sheet,og,wrinkles,mnh, Lot BChina 1971 50th Anniv. Of Ccp Set. Umm.1 Candarin Large Dragon In Good Used ConditionAustralia Bulk Lot Unfranked On Paper Mixed Denominations $ 240+ Face ValueGermany, Reich &, Much Is Nh!, Fantastic Stamp Collection In A Lindner Stockbook1885-1888 China Stamps,small Dragon Full Set B, Fine Used3 Candarin Large Dragon In Good Used ConditionSuperb 1840 1d Mulready Lettersheet Doncaster To Boston With 2 Red Maltese Cross1897 Dowager Large Figures Surcharge Complete Set MintChina 1982 T46 Monkey MnhNystamps Us Air Mail Stamp # C13 Mint Og Nh $275Norway 1855-1925 On 4 Album PagesImperial China Stamps Faulty Lot, Mint & UsedExcellent Collection Of Surface Printed Issues 21/2d - 2/- Unchecked - Rf141Us Washington Franklin Mint Nh Stock With 2c #519 Pfc $1 #342 Cat $40,000China Small Dragon & Dowager Stamps,mint & Used,all Fine Condition,very Nice LotNoblespirit No Reserve (th1) Excellent $3 Columbian Us No. 243 Mlh = $1,500 CvNystamps Us Stamp # 241 Mint Og H $1100China Stamps G199Noblespirit No Reserve (th1) Desirable $1 Columbian Us 241 Mlh Vf = $1,000 CvUs, Csa, Ducks &, Excellent Accumulation Of Old Stamps In Glassines & OthersUs 1857-61 Type Ia H 1c Sc 19 Cat $425001943 Completete Set MnhogNystamps Us Stamp # 245 Mint Og H $2500China 1 Dollar Mint Genuine Scheller CertificateSg 404 1£ Blue-green Seahorses China, 1970 Tiger Mountain Set , Mnh Superb White Gum High Cv 1840 1d Black Pl.9 Fi Christmas Day Cover From Dublin, Ireland, To Castlecomer Nystamps Sweden Stamp # 92 Mint Og H $2100Feb 043 China - Shanghai Local Post Municipality & Postage Due Stamps Used/mh $$Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Thrace, 2000+ Stamps & Souvenir SheetsUs Mint Banknotes To 90c #155 Ex Post Office Archives Cat $100,0001883 China Large Dragon Stamp,1 Candarin, Thick Paper, Fine UsedUs Trans-mississippi Sc # 292 1898 $1 Mint Nh Cat $3500Pr China 1959 C71 Fdc Mao Ze Dong First Day Cover