30 Fascinating Facts About Stamps

Stamps aren’t always square. Some are round and holographic, like the one released in 2000, depicting the earth, and others are shaped like fruits, like the Tonga banana-shaped stamp. 

People have tasted glue from the back of stamps for decades, but did you know that there’s actually chocolate flavored stamp collection? 

Collecting stamps is an ancient hobby that started back in 1840 (read our article on the history of stamps for more information). There’s a queen, a celebrity tennis player, a member of the Beatles, and a french ex-president among the celebrity collectors.   

Read on to find out who they are, and many more fascinating facts about stamps!

1. A Stamp with a Chocolate Flavor

In 2013, Belgium decided to print half a million chocolate-flavored stamps. They have various chocolate images and as you feast your eyes on the vivid life-like prints, you’ll notice the distinct fragrance of cocoa!

The team that graced humanity with this irresistible stamp collection wasn’t solely Belgian. There were contributions by other experts from Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.  

The delicious stamps were issued to celebrate the chocolatiers of Belgium and their unparalleled sweet innovations. 

2. A Stamp Without a Country Name

The very first postage stamp appeared in 1840. It was nicknamed ‘the Penny Black’, and it was sufficient to send a half-ounce package. 

Before that stamp, the sender didn’t pay anything for dispatching mail, and it was up to the postal services to collect the fees from the recipient. You must’ve noticed the potential complications with that system. 

That’s how the English stamp came into the world without a country name printed on it. This is still the case, and English stamps are identifiable primarily by their royal cameos. 

When you’re the first to create something, you get to enjoy such privileges. 

3. The Most Popular Stamp in the USA

There’s a list of the most popular stamps in the USA. These were generally issued to commemorate people, places, or events. 

The spread and popularity of some of these stamps are staggering! Naturally, the response is related to the popularity of the face on the stamp. 

Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elvis_Presley_Forever_stamp.jpg

The highest entry on this list is the Elvis Presley stamp, which was issued in 1993. Until a few years ago, 124 million copies were saved. The design probably has much to do with that success. It’s bright, vibrant, bold, and so Elvis!

4. The Wonders of America Collection Goes Big 

The wonders of America collection is among the stamps that sold millions of copies and were easily recognized in pop culture. 

It consists of forty mega things. Some are natural sights, and others are high achievements. The common factor between all of these items is their being the biggest, tallest, largest, or similarly larger-than-life descriptions. 

5. Superhero or Sci-Fi Stamps 

This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but the Marvel heroes stamp collection of 2006 is among the best-selling stamps of all time. 

It’s a group of 10 Marvel characters, including Ironman, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and the amazing Dr. Strange. 

The Star Wars collection is a close successor to the Marvel collection, and it came out in the following year, 2007. It had 15 stamps featuring Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and master Yoda, among other icons. 

6. Floral Stamps Are a Total Favorite!

In 1992, a North American wildflower commemorative stamp collection reached 11 million in sold and saved copies. There are 50 pretty flowers in this collection, all of them highly valued. 

So what does that say about popularity and good taste? Pretty much! People celebrate many things, and they might favor some themes more than others, but natural beauty is forever.   

7. The Most Expensive Stamp in the World 

The most valuable stamp in the whole world was worth 1 cent when it was first issued in 1856. The British Guiana 1 cent magenta reached about $9.5 million in 2014 when Stuart Weitzman acquired it. 

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:British_Guiana_1856_1c_magenta_stamp.jpg

8. The First Non-Royal Face on a British Stamp

British stamps constantly featured kings and queens on the stamps. When something like that goes on for decades, it becomes a tradition. Until someone breaks it!

The first man to crash the party deserved an appearance, and his presence was hugely applauded worldwide, so who owns the mystery cameo? 

Yes, you guessed right! Shakespeare earned his spot. In 1964, the world-famous face decorated a stamp commemorating his 400th anniversary. 

At first, the Post Office claimed that they were celebrating the festival, not the man, but later on, the royals-only tradition loosened up. 

Shakespeare appeared again and again in the world of stamps. Hamlet and the skull depiction were especial favorites for stamp designers and collectors alike.  

9. When the Simpsons Became a Bestseller and a Flop 

The Simpsons stamp collection came out in 2009 and featured four designs, the one everyone loved had Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa together in one immortalizing family photo. 

It sold about 318 million copies, which makes it a huge hit in the world of stamps. It’s considered a flop though! 

The USPS had printed around a billion Simpsons stamps, which is a bit of an over projection! This optimistic estimate caused a loss of around $1.2 million.

The moral of the story is that success and failure quite often walk hand in hand! 

10. The Elvis Stamp in Public Debate 

Elvis was always controversial, and this didn’t change after decades of his passing. The icon’s appearance on a stamp was heatedly debated in various cultural circles and even reached the congress. 

A verdict was finally reached, Elvis was approved by the officials. 

The Postal Services then had the brilliant idea of including the public in the design selection process. 

A poster appeared overnight in every post office, and eventually, People magazine decided to feature it on its cover. The poster had two designs of the Elvis stamp; one when he was starting out and another at his prime. 

The poster had a tagline that drove endless discussions later on: “Decide which Elvis is king.” The stamp garnered staggering fame even before it was issued. 

The people voted for ‘Young Elvis’. That was back in 1992.

11. The First Commemorative Stamp 

The first time stamps were used to commemorate a public figure was in 1893. The first commemorative stamp was part of the 400th-anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus.  

The stamp was issued at a 2-cent rate. It’s based on a work of art featuring Columbus and his fleet. The engraving was made by Alfred Jones and Charles Skinner.

12. Self-Adhesive Stamps From Sierra Leone 

The very first self-adhesive stamp saw the light of day in 1964. That was an innovative and bold decision from Sierra Leone. It had a green background and featured a map of the country. 

The world of stamps had expected this to happen, but who’d take the first the first step wasn’t very clear. 

Stamp collectors have issues regarding the durability and life-expectancy of these stamps. Officials have concerns of their own about the paper procurement and processing logistics. 

That’s why this ‘novelty’ took its time and it’s still not a fait-accompli!

13. Celebrity Stamp Collectors 

Collecting stamps is one of the oldest hobbies known to man. It’s not surprising to see numerous celebrities among these hobbyists. 

Charlie Chaplin was an avid stamp collector, and so were Freddie mercury, Jacque Costeau, Ayn Rand, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. 

Currently, Maria Sharapova has let the public in on her passion for stamp collection. Patrick Dempsey shares her interest, as well as Nicolas Sarkozy, Warren Buffet, and Queen Elizabeth. 

14. Bhutan’s Music Stamp

A Brilliant Businessman was led by a series of adventures to the Kingdom of Bhutan. Burt Todd fell in love with that exotic land and two years later, returned back with his bride. 

Todd was the ultimate Scientist-Maverick, and when he realized that Bhutan had financial difficulties, he offered to help. 

His unorthodox contribution was unusual stamps. He created eye-catching designs to generate revenue. The most outlandish of them all was the ‘Talking Stamp’. It was a mini-vinyl record that you could play on a regular turntable. That was in 1972.     

15. A Stamp With an Ad on the Back

The clever ad-campaign stamp appeared in NewZealand, back in 1893. Postmaster-General Sir Joseph Ward thought it was a good idea to place a little ad on the back of stamps, and he went on full throttle! 

The ads brought in plenty of cash to the postal service, but many users frowned upon it. The ink plus the adhesive made for an unsavory taste. People rarely used a sponge to moisten stamps, as you might know, the tongue was often an easier device. The printed ads stopped around 1895.

This comes to prove that you can find an ad anywhere, even on the back of a stamp!

16. Britain’s First Christmas Stamp 1966

*Thank you to Roger West from Avion Stamps who supplied us with this fact.

The first Royal Mail Christmas stamps were issued in 1966 using designs created by two six-year-old school children. The designs were selected after the post office organized a stamp-design competition for schoolchildren that attracted 5,000 entries.

The winning designs were the King of the Orient drawn by T Shemza that featured on the 3d stamp and a snowman drawn by J Berry that featured on the 1s 6d stamp. In a famous printing error one stamp on each sheet of the 3d design was missing the T in T Shemza’s name and this error affectionately became known as the “Missing T” (SG 272c). 

The competition was so popular that it was launched again in 1981. For those who remember the release of these first Christmas stamps in 1966 it is quite a thought that the six year olds that designed these stamps are now retirement age. 

17. 1972 Ajman Stamp

*Thank you to Roger West from Avion Stamps who supplied us with this fact.

In 1972, Ajman issued 1,773 stamps and 193 miniature sheets. Many of the stamps issued by Ajman were available perforate and imperforate. This is a colossal feat, to put it into perspective Great Britain hadn’t produced its 1,733rd stamp until 20 years later in 1993 and many countries have still not reached this number yet.

St Helena began issuing stamps in 1856 and after 150 years they had just passed the one thousand mark, leaving quite some way to go.

18. Austria’s Innovative Stamps

When it comes to unique stamps there is one country that immediately comes to mind, Austria. Making stamps interesting, the innovative designers in Austria have created a far few head-turners that collectors love.

Utilizing all the techniques they could possibly use for a stamp, Austria has created an eclectic mix of designs including; porcelain stamps featuring the Viennese Rose, leather Lederhosen stamps created in cooperation with Swarowski featuring six Swarowski crystals and even a glass postage stamp featuring a glass painting of the Virgin Mary mourning over her son.

Another interesting stamp is an embroidered stamp featuring the Dirndl, a local Austrian outfit. The embroidered stamp is made into the shape of a Dirndl and features three colours.

19. Inverted Jenny Stamps of 1918

When it comes to stamp collecting, errors are celebrated and are extremely popular. One of the most popular stamp errors is known as the ‘Inverted Jenny’ and is an airmail stamp that features an upside-down airplane.

An unused, original ‘Inverted Jenny’ stamp is highly prized and is valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are only around 100 Inverted Jenny stamps that still exist.

20. Perfins to Prevent Stamp Theft

During the 19th century, stealing stamps from offices was common among employees. The stamps could be used to send mail without charge and could even be used to pay for small purchases.

To stop this theft from happening companies began to perforate initials onto stamps as a way of marking ownership and preventing private use of the stamps. The perfin stamps could then be easily identified as stolen property and stores would refuse to accept them as payment.

Perfins were introduced in Britain in 1868 and in America in 1908.

21. The Barbuda Bird Stamps Decline in Value

*Thank you to Roger West from Avion Stamps who supplied us with this fact.

Sometimes stamp designs skyrocket in value, other times they lose their value. It can be luck of the draw but many collectors bank on their stamps increasing in value over time.

There are stories of Stanley Gibbons pricing items very low when they didn’t have them in stock and then raising the price considerably once they had built up stocks. Whether there is truth to this or not is unknown but the price of stamps doesn’t always increase.

A key example is the 1976 Barbuda bird stamp set. In 1992 a set of 6 was catalogued at £20. Now, the same set is priced at just £1. Anyone who invested in these stamps may be left feeling a little blue over the decline in value.

22. Nigeria’s 1961 Original Artwork Stamps

*Thank you to Roger West from Avion Stamps who supplied us with this fact.

Sometimes original artwork stamps appear at auction, there is one very interesting piece that caught our attention.

The stamp size artwork is an essay for the proposed Nigeria 1961 definitive series produced by Waterlows. This particular piece was for the 4d value and while this may not sound like much there are two things that truly make this piece remarkable:

  • The artwork was created probably using a one-haired paintbrush on a 18mm x 22mm scale.
  • The artist remains unknown.

Sometimes these fascinating pieces show up and this 1961 original artwork is definitely one of those that catches people’s eyes and attention.

23. Biggest Stamp Collection in the World

Without a doubt one of the biggest collections by an individual was held by Alan Roy who spent 70 years collecting over 2 million stamps. Alan Roy worked as a postman and was passionate about collecting stamps, dedicating his life to building his substantial collection.

The largest collection of first day covers stamps was awarded to George Vavvas by the Guinness World Records in 2013. Mr Vavvas’ collection is 7,215 strong with stamps from 119 different countries.

24. The “Forever Stamp”

In 2007 the United States launched a forever stamp, this stamp pictured the Liberty Bell and are always valid for the postage rate of a first-class (1 ounce) letter no matter how the stamp prices change.

This means no matter when it was bought or how much you paid for the forever stamp it can be used to send a first class letter.

The forever stamps will always have the value of the current first-class mail rate, this means when they were introduced they had the value of 41 cents and in 2009 it increased to 44 cents.

25. Smallest Stamp Ever

Stamps are already very small in size but there are some that were created even smaller!

The smallest stamp ever produced for actual postage was issued in 1863 in Bolivar in Colombia. The stamp was 8 x 9.5mm and featured the Coat of Arms of Bolivar.

These stamps are very rare and come in two versions, one features five stars and the other features six. These tiny stamps were a fraction of the standard American stamp which is 22.10mm x 24.89mm in size.

26. The Rarest Stamp

The World’s Rarest Stamp is hailed as the British Guiana 1856 1c. It is believed to be the only one of its kind to still exist. Did you know there are also two rare half-stamps that exist?

The first is also from British Guiana and dates back to 1866, it is half of an imperforated 4ct stamp. The stamp served as a 2ct postage stamp on local mail and it considerably rarer than the perforated version. . It is believed to be the only one of its kind to still exist. Did you know there are also two rare half-stamps that exist?

The first is also from British Guiana and dates back to 1866, it is half of an imperforated 4ct stamp. The stamp served as a 2ct postage stamp on local mail and it considerably rarer than the perforated version.

Another is the zemstvo stamp from the Russian district Kotelnich that dates back to 1869. The zemstvo stamp was also two halves as one half would be used for the letter and the other half would act as a sales receipt for the post office. There are only three Kotelnich stamps known and they are only the sales receipt half of the stamp.

27. 10 Year Waiting Period for Commemorative Stamps

There is a customary 10 year waiting period between when a person dies and when they are allowed to appear on a commemorative stamp.

The only exception to this rule is dead presidents, stamps commemorating dead presidents can be released on the presidents first birthday following their death.

Problems in production meant that President Nixon’s commemorative stamp was issued about five months later and around 160 Nixon stamps were misprinted with an off-center portrait and his name printed upside-down.

28. First Stamp to Picture an Animal

The first animals to appear on stamps were beavers and bears.

In 1845 St Louis Post Office issued a set of provincial stamps featuring two bears holding a heraldic disc. The stamps were known as the ‘St. Louis Bears’ and cost 5 and 10 cent.

The first stamp that featured an animal in a natural way was the Canada three pence stamp that featured a beaver on the bank of a flowing river. The threepenny beaver was issued in 1851 and was designed by Sir Sandford Flemming. This beaver stamp was also the Province of Canada’s first issued postage stamp.

29. Most Self Adhesive Stamps are Vegetarian

Here’s a fun fact that probably hasn’t even crossed your mind before but now you know, you’ll never forget… The glue on the back of stamps in vegetarian! According to the UK Royal Mail envelope and stamp adhesive is almost always vegan as no animal products are involved.

Oh, and if you lick a stamp it is about 1/10th of a calorie.

30. 60 Million Stamp Collectors

We’ll wrap up these facts with one that pays homage to the popularity of stamp collecting across the globe. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal estimated that the number of stamp collectors in the world was around 60 million.

It was also stated that at least a third of these collectors are in China, where the hobby is rapidly growing. An estimate for the number of stamp collectors in the United States sits at 20 million people.

Stamp collecting is fun, affordable and promotes connection not only to each other but also to history. Stamps have sentimental value and can be a financial investment too. Collections can be passed down through generations and bring people together. They are a small piece of history that people around the world enjoy collecting.

Conclusion  

Stamps aren’t just the fee people used to pay in exchange for a letter delivery service. Stamps tell stories. 

Every person, place, symbol, or even surreal design, has an interesting reason for how it reached the face of the stamp. 

Stamps have release dates but their journeys never end. People often gift their stamp collections to children, grandchildren, and friends. 

The stamp keeps on changing hands, and maybe someone would ask: who’s that face featured on this stamp? And why is he there? 

They’ll probably learn a fun fact as they search for the answer, and the story goes on.