History of US postage stamps

The first United States stamps in early American philately

City Despatch Post firsr issues
City Despatch Post first issues

The history of US postage dates back to the 1600s when America was still under British rule. When the US postal service was formalized, they began to issue the official US stamps. You can just imagine how many postage stamps has been produced since the US postal service was established in 1774 up to the present time.

The earliest American postal service

In the 1600s, when North America was still under the British rule, King William and Queen Mary authorized Thomas Neale to establish an office for sending and receiving letters and money.

Independent postal services running from Boston to New York has already been established as early as 1639. Two centuries later, in 1842, another private postal service called the “City Despatch Post” sprouted in New York City and began issuing the first American adhesive stamps.

Later on, when the US government acquired the private postal service, its name was changed to “United States City Despatch Post”.

The US provisional postage stamps

From 1842 to 1847, the local postmasters were allowed to issue postal stamps that they made on their own. Stamps and envelopes issued during this period in American philately came to be known as the postmasters’ provisionals.

Until 1844, the postage stamp price was so expensive that it crippled the postal service. Only a few people could afford the high postal rates. Luckily, the US Congress ordered that all American provisional stamps from the year 1845 onwards will have a uniform postage stamp price.

However, the provisional stamps were only valid at the post office they were issued. It was not until two years later that the US Post Office standardized all American stamps.

The first American definitive stamps

The first federally issued postage stamps in the United States
The first federally issued postage stamps in the United States, 1 July 1847.

Did you know who were the first Americans depicted on US stamps?

The first Americans on US postal stamps were Benjamin Franklin (on a 5-cent red brown US postage stamp), and George Washington (on a 10-cent black US post stamp). The black Washington stamp was then called the American Penny Black after Europe’s famous postage stamp.

The official US postage stamps that were released on July 1, 1847 were warmly received by the American public. Over 3, 700, 000 pieces of the 5c American stamp were sold. The 10c US stamps were also produced in 865, 000 pieces. However, the first definitives in the history of the US postage stamps did not have perforation marks.

The first US perforated stamp

Adapting perforation marks on US post stamps were introduced in the late 1850s. The first perforated American postage stamps were also issued in new denominations of 24c, 30c, and 90c. Like its imperforated counterpart, the earliest issues of the perforated US stamps bore the images of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

US stamps during the American civil war

Andrew Jackson, 2 cent black stamp also know as “Black Jack”, issued in 1863

When the Civil War broke in 1861, the entire postal service was badly affected. John H. Reagan, who was then the Postmaster General of the Confederate States, ordered that all US postage stamps issued by the local postmasters should be returned to Washington DC.

After the country-wide postal stamp embargo, new issues of US postal stamps were circulated. The new American stamps were incorporated with the “US” initials on the design.

In 1863, a 2cent black stamp was issued with the image of Andrew Jackson, which is now called by stamp collectors as the “Black Jack”.

The American bank note stamps

From 1870 to 1893, the postmaster general decided to produce a special series of US stamps that featured the portraits of great Americans. To make the stamps even more special, they were designed by the American Bank Note Company. Thus, these US postal stamps earned their nickname “banknote stamps.”

The US bank note stamps were enhanced with security features such as the grills and the secret marks incorporated into the stamp design.

The Z grill stamp

The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill, a 1-cent postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in February 1868

The postal authorities were concerned about postage stamp reuse because the stamp cancellation inks can be easily washed out. In an attempt to solve the problem, American postage stamps were embossed with tiny indentations that absorbed the cancellation ink.

The 1 cent z grill stamp printed has the profile of Benjamin Franklin on the stamp design. The use of the US z grill stamps started in 1867 until they were phased out in 1871. Today, the Benjamin Franklin z grill is one of the rarest American stamps in the history of US postage stamps.

The first American commemorative stamps

15 cents President Abraham Lincoln 1866 grey black stamp, relased in 1866

A year after his assassination, Abraham Lincoln’s image graced the design of the 15c grey black stamp which was released in 1866. Philatelists consider this stamp as the first American memorial stamp.

But the first US commemorative stamp came out in 1893 to add publicity to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The earliest American commemorative stamps also included the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition stamps and the 1901 Pan-American Exposition stamps.

US watermark stamps

The year1893 also marked another breakthrough in the history of American stamps. Aside from the introduction of the US commemorative stamps, this was also the year that the United States postal service started to use the watermarked stamp paper.

Since then, stamp watermark became synonymous with postal service security. However, the popular usage of the stamp watermarks on US postage stamps waned after 1917. The USPS eventually stopped making American watermarked stamps in 1938.

The US stamp sets

Several American stamp series have been issue already. Some of the most popular sets USPS stamps that philatelists aim to complete are the:

• US Presidential stamp series (1954 to 1965)
• Liberty issue stamp sets (1854)
• Prominent Americans stamp set or the Americana stamp series (1965 to 1981)
• Great Americans stamp set (1980 to 1994)
• American celebrities stamp series (2000)

The USPS forever stamps

In April 2007, the US postal service devised a new stamp for First Class one-ounce mails. What is so special about the US forever stamps is that they will never expire and their stamp value remains the same.

Though the forever stamps only have a single design featuring the Liberty Bell, they are not usually collected for American philately.

Instead, the USPS forever stamp sets are bought by consumers who take advantage of their flat rate. The value of US forever stamps remains the same even if the price of one-ounce mail increases.