A postage stamp is a small piece of paper issued by a post office , postal administration , or other authorized vendors to customers who pay postage the cost involved in moving, insuring, or registering mail , who then affix the stamp to the face or address-side of any item of mail —an envelope or other postal cover e.
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The item is then processed by the postal system, where a postmark or cancellation mark—in modern usage indicating date and point of origin of mailing—is applied to the stamp and its left and right sides to prevent its reuse. The item is then delivered to its addressee.
Always featuring the name of the issuing nation with the exception of the United Kingdom , a denomination of its value, and often an illustration of persons, events, institutions, or natural realities that symbolize the nation's traditions and values, every stamp is printed on a piece of usually rectangular, but sometimes triangular or otherwise shaped special custom-made paper whose back is either glazed with an adhesive gum or self-adhesive.
Because governments issue stamps of different denominations in unequal numbers and routinely discontinue some lines and introduce others, and because of their illustrations and association with the social and political realities of the time of their issue, they are often prized for their beauty and historical significance by stamp collectors whose study of their history and of mailing systems is called philately.
Because collectors often buy stamps from an issuing agency with no intention to use them for postage, the revenues from such purchases and payments of postage can make them a source of net profit to that agency.
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Throughout modern history , numerous methods were used to indicate that postage had been paid on a mailed item, so several different men have received credit for inventing the postage stamp. In , William Dockwra , an English merchant in London, and his partner Robert Murray established the London Penny Post , a mail system that delivered letters and small parcels inside the city of London for the sum of one penny. Confirmation of paid postage was indicated by the use of a hand stamp to frank the mailed item.
Though this 'stamp' was applied to the letter or parcel itself, rather than to a separate piece of paper, it is considered by many historians to be the world's first postage stamp. In , a Member of British Parliament, Robert Wallace , gave Sir Rowland Hill numerous books and documents about the postal service, which Hill described as a "half hundred weight of material". Summoned to give evidence before the Commission for Post Office Enquiry on 13 February , Hill read from the letter he wrote to the Chancellor that included a statement saying that the notation of paid postage could be created " Shortly afterward, Hill's revision of the booklet, dated 22 February , containing some 28, words, incorporating the supplement given to the Chancellor and statements he made to the Commission, was published and made available to the general public.
Hansard records that on 15 December , Benjamin Hawes asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer "whether it was the intention of the Government to give effect to the recommendation of the Commissioners of the Post-office, contained in their ninth report relating to the reduction of the rates of postage, and the issuing of penny stamps? With the new policy of charging by weight, using envelopes for mailing documents became the norm. Rowland Hill and the reforms he introduced to the United Kingdom postal system appear on several of its commemorative stamps. In the book The Penny Postage Scheme of , Scotsman Patrick Chalmers claimed that his father, James Chalmers , published an essay in August describing and advocating a postage stamp, but submitted no evidence of the essay's existence.
Nevertheless, until he died in , Patrick Chalmers campaigned to have his father recognized as the inventor of the postage stamp. The first independent evidence for Chalmers' claim is an essay, dated 8 February and received by the Post Office on 17 February , in which he proposed adhesive postage stamps to the General Post Office.
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Neither article mentioned "a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp," so Chalmers could not have known that Hill had made such a proposal. This suggests that either Chalmers had previously read Hill's booklet and was merely elaborating Hill's idea, or he had independently developed the idea of the modern postage stamp. James Chalmers organized petitions "for a low and uniform rate of postage". The first such petition was presented in the House of Commons on 4 December from Montrose. At this same time, other groups organised petitions and presented them to Parliament.
All petitions for consumer-oriented, low-cost, volume-based postal rates followed publication of Hill's proposals. Other claimants include or have included . Although a number of people laid claim to the concept of the postage stamp, it is well documented that stamps were first introduced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 1 May as a part of postal reforms promoted by Sir Rowland Hill.
With its introduction, the postage fee was paid by the sender and not the recipient, though it was still possible to send mail without prepaying. From when the first postage stamps were used, postmarks were applied to prevent the stamps being used again. The first stamp, the " Penny black ", became available for purchase 1 May , to be valid as of 6 May Two days later, 8 May , the Two penny blue was introduced.
The Penny black was sufficient for a letter less than half an ounce to be sent anywhere within the UK. Both stamps included an engraving of the young Queen Victoria , without perforations, as the first stamps were separated from their sheets by cutting them with scissors. The first stamps did not need to show the issuing country, so no country name was included on them. Following the introduction of the postage stamp in the UK, prepaid postage considerably increased the number of letters mailed. Before , the number of letters sent in the UK was typically 76 million.
By this increased five-fold to million, continuing to grow rapidly  until the end of the 20th century when newer methods of indicating the payment of postage reduced the use of stamps. Other countries soon followed the UK with their own stamps. Although the Penny black could be used to send a letter less than half an ounce anywhere within the UK, the Swiss did not initially adopt that system, instead continuing to calculate mail rates based on distance to be delivered.
Using the same printer used for the Penny black, Brazil opted for an abstract design instead of the portrait of Emperor Pedro II , so his image would not be disfigured by a postmark. In some postmasters in the United States issued their own stamps , but it was not until that the first official U. A few other countries issued stamps in the late s. Many others, such as India , started their use in the s, and by the s most countries issued stamps.
Perforation of postage stamps began in January When the first postage stamps were issued in the s, they followed an almost identical standard in shape, size and general subject matter.
They were rectangular in shape. They bore the images of Queens, Presidents and other political figures. They also depicted the denomination of the postage-paid, and with the exception of the United Kingdom ,  depicted the name of the country from which issued.
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Soon after the introduction of the postage stamp, other subjects and designs began to appear. Some designs were welcome, others widely criticized. For example, in , the U. Post Office broke tradition of depicting presidents or other famous historical figures, instead using other subjects including a train, and horse. See: Pictorial Issue. The change was greeted with general disapproval, and sometimes harsh criticism from the American public. Perforations are small holes made between individual postage stamps on a sheet of stamps,  facilitating separation of a desired number of stamps.
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The resulting frame-like, rippled edge surrounding the separated stamp defines a characteristic meme for the appearance of a postage stamp. In the first decade of postage stamps' existence depending on the country , stamps were issued without perforations. Scissors or other cutting mechanisms were required to separate a desired number of stamps from a full sheet. If cutting tools were not used, individual stamps were torn off. This is evidenced by the ragged edges of surviving examples. Mechanically separating stamps from a sheet proved an inconvenience for postal clerks and businesses, both dealing with large numbers of individual stamps on a daily basis.
By , methods such as rouletting wheels were being devised in efforts of making stamp separation more convenient, and less time consuming. The United Kingdom was the first country to issue postage stamps with perforations. The first machine specifically designed to perforate sheets of postage stamps was invented in London by Henry Archer , an Irish landowner and railroad man from Dublin, Ireland.
After a period of trial and error and modifications of Archer's invention, new machines based on the principles pioneered by Archer were purchased and in the U. In the U. Thereafter, postage stamp use in the U. The first stamp issue to be officially perforated, the 3-cent George Washington, was issued by the U. Post Office on February 24, Between and all stamps originally issued between and were reissued with perforations. Initial capacity was insufficient to perforate all stamps printed, thus perforated issues used between February and July are scarce and quite valuable.
In addition to the most common rectangular shape, stamps have been issued in geometric circular, triangular and pentagonal and irregular shapes. The United States issued its first circular stamp in as a hologram of the earth. Stamps that are printed on sheets are generally separated by perforations, though, more recently, with the advent of gummed stamps that do not have to be moistened prior to affixing them, designs can incorporate smooth edges although a purely decorative perforated edge is often present.
Stamps are most commonly made from paper designed specifically for them, and are printed in sheets, rolls, or small booklets. Less commonly, postage stamps are made of materials other than paper, such as embossed foil sometimes of gold. Switzerland made a stamp that contained a bit of lace and one of wood. The United States produced one of plastic.
East Germany issued a stamp of synthetic chemicals. In the Netherlands a stamp was made of silver foil. Bhutan issued one with its national anthem on a playable record. We hope so! If it was, you might want to consider just not worrying about sending stuff anymore and try Stamps. Subscribe to our email list for a series of great guides sent to you regularly. You can unsubscribe at any time. Read More. Who are we? Find out here what it takes to write an entire site about this sort of subject. Menu Stamps.
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