The unassuming stamp has been around for a long time, with it's first official documentation in May of 1840 in the United Kingdom and Ireland as a part of postal reforms. While it may seem like a little thing, the postage stamp packs a punch as far as influence, entertainment and power.
The semi-postal stamp, for example, is a first-class mail stamp sold by the postal service at a higher price than a regular stamp in order to raise money for Congress-approved causes. Causes like breast cancer research, family violence awareness and vanishing species are a few of the efforts funded since the semi-postal stamps began in 1998. For breast cancer research alone, the semi-postal stamp has raised over $83.7 million. Not bad for a little slip of paper right? The stamp also gets around: the Postal Service received a record holder certificate from Guinness World Records in 2016 stating "the farthest distanced traveled by a postage stamp is 5,250,843,896 km (3, 262,723,132 ml)." This was achieved when the New Horizons Spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, FL and arrived on Pluto carrying a postage stamp.
There is even a branch of the Smithsonian dedicated to the postal system so the next time you're in DC be sure to check out the Postal Museum. Focusing on the preservation, study and presentation of postal history and philately (the collection and study of postage stamps), the Smithsonian National Postal Museum has been open since 1993 and has fantastic exhibits such as Systems at Work, My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I, and Binding the Nation.
Alright, so let's get into the different types of stamps and their uses. Stamps come in booklets, coils or mini-sheets and now you can even print labels from home. PSA: this is in no way a comprehensive list of all the stamps out there ever; I'm covering the stamps we average folks need to get those birthday cards sent!
1. Forever stamps are first-class stamps issued by the post office that can be used no matter the fluctuation in postage rates. In other words, if you purchase a roll of forever stamps at the current price of $.49/stamp you can use one $.49 stamp even if stamps inflate to $3.00/stamp. Not bad right? Hopefully that doesn't ever happen.
2. Registered mail is prepaid first class mail recorded by the post office before it is sent. At each transfer point along its route it is tracked to safeguard against loss, theft, or damage. You have to purchase this service at your local post office, but registered mail allows you to receive a mailing and delivery receipt. Great for tracking important mail!
3. Commemorative stamps are typically issued on an anniversary to honor an event, person, place or object. These stamps are limited edition definitive stamps (i.e. stamps used for every day mailing purposes) that are sold for a short period of time. Current commemorative stamps include Celebrating African American History and Culture, Total Eclipse of the Sun and Andrew Wyeth. An amazing sheet of commemorative stamps that I bought were Harry Potter themed and I kick myself all the time for not having purchased 900. You better believe only a select few get my coveted HP stamps.
4. A specimen stamp is a stamp that postmasters and postal administration use to detect forgeries. And no you can't buy these, I included it because we should all be aware that the mailman knows what's up.
5. Semi-postal stamps, like I mentioned above, are first-class mail stamp sold by the postal service at a higher price than regular stamps to raise money for Congress-approved causes. Here are the current semi-postal stamps available: Alzheimer's, Breast Cancer Research, and Save Vanishing Species.
6. Postage due stamps are not ones you really want to see. You'll get this on your mail because it was sent with insufficient postage and it was not able to be returned to the sender. Usually that happens if something is dropped in a mail collection box. The addressee (you) are liable to pay the rest of the postage if you want to receive the mail. This typically doesn't happen as most improperly priced envelopes are just returned to sender with "insufficient funds" stamped on it via the post office.
7. Make up stamps, or additional postage, are created to make up the difference when postal rates change or if you have a slightly heavier envelope than one ounce and don't want to use two full-rate stamps. These are also great for those pesky square envelopes that cost $.70 to mail, a fun fact not a lot of people know until their mail is returned to them! So use a forever stamp and one of these beauties and rest assured your card will get to it's intended target.
8. International stamps can be used for one ounce letters to any country that has First-class Mail International service. If you're mailing cards internationally often, I would recommend getting a sheet of these. However, if you only have the occasional international card, head here and calculate the cost then use forever stamps (and make up stamps) to cover the postage.
9. Postcard stamps are pretty self explanatory and come in handy if you're traveling and know you'll be sending quite a few postcards back home. You can simply use a forever stamp if you don't have a postcard stamp, but the difference in price (currently $.15) does add up if you're sending a lot of postcards. Besides, they're pretty cute!
As far as what you should keep on hand, that depends entirely on your mailing lifestyle, but what I would suggest for the average house is a roll of forever stamps, a sheet of postcard stamps and a sheet of make up stamps. You should be completely covered for standard mailing purposes with these stocked in your house.
Since the average number of mailpieces processed and delivered each day in the US is 506.4 million, it's important you do your part to make sure your snail mail is properly covered as far as postage. Leave any questions you have in the comments and head on back here next week where we'll begin the planning process on how to never miss a card-worthy event!