US Stamps History

The history of stamps in America is very interesting. It began in the nineteenth century. The first stamp official stamp was the one issued by the U.S. Government’s Post Office Department on the 1st of July in 1847.

Before this stamp was issued, Americans simply took their letters to the post office and an official would write the postage on the letter. The amount of money paid would depend on how far it was supposed to go and the number of pages the letter was written on.

In this article, you will learn all the important historical facts about U.S. postage stamps.

Let’s begin.

The First Stamps

Postage stamps were invented in Great Britain.

The idea of using stamps to mail letters was proposed by Rowland Hill and by 1840, stamps were already common in post offices around the British Isles. The stamps soon found their way to America.

The First U.S. Stamps

While the first official stamp was issued in the July of 1847, many private entities in the United States started issuing stamps long before the government did. For example, several New York private carriers were known to issue adhesive postage stamps as early as 1842.

The money for posting a letter could be paid either by the person doing the posting or by both the person doing the posting and the individual the letter is addressed to.

The Post Office Department started by buying private carrier businesses. They adopted most of the practices that were already common in such businesses e.g. issuing postage stamps. After a while, they standardized postage stamps to indicate payment for postage has already been done. The standardized stamps were called Postmasters’ Provisionals.

However, it was not until the 3RD of March in 1847 that postage stamps were made legal through a U.S. Congress authorization. After postage stamps were made legal in early March, it took several months to July 1ST for the first official stamps to go on sale. There were two styles of general issue stamps offered on the date: one depicted George Washington and the other depicted Benjamin Franklin. The George Washington postage stamps cost 10 cents each, while the latter ones were priced at 5 cents each.

Only Washington and Franklin appeared on general issue postage stamps for about ten years. It was in 1856 that stamps depicting other personalities including Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson were issued. In the same year, the government made government stamps mandatory.

Special Stamps

Since postage stamps were authorized, the Post Office Department has issued special stamps to commemorate special events. The first set of commemorative stamps was issued in the year 1893 to commemorate Columbus’s journey to the new world. These stamps were bigger than previous ones to better depict the man’s voyages.

In 1902, the U.S. Post Office Department issued stamps with Martha Washington on them. These were the first stamps to honor women. A year later, the Department issued stamps with Admiral Farragut on them.

These were the first stamps to honor a Hispanic American. Not long after in 1907, stamps with Pocahontas on them were issued. These were the first ones to honor a Native American. In 1940, Booker T. Washington appeared on stamps. He was the first African American honored in this way.

Apart from honoring famous personalities, commemorative stamps have also been issued to honor musicians, regions, countries and so on.

It is also important to note that triangular and round shape U.S. postage stamps have been issued in the past. The first triangular stamps were issued in 1997, while the first U.S. round stamps were issued in the year 2000.

Stamp Booklets

The very first stamp booklets were sold in the year 1900. The smallest booklet contained 12 stamps, while the biggest contained 48 stamps. The postage stamps cost 2 cents each.

To keep the stamps in the booklets from sticking to each other, the booklets contained parafinned paper to separate them.

When stamp booklets were introduced, they became very popular because it was very easy to find them and to use them. They are still popular to date although they have been upgraded with time.

Semipostal Stamps

Semipostal stamps are fundraising stamps. They are essentially stamps that cost more than the actual postage cost. They are made to fundraise for various causes.

The very first semipostal stamp was one that was issued in 1998 to fundraise for breast cancer research. By 2012, the Congress-approved stamp had raised nearly 100 million dollars.

Semipostal stamps have also been issued to fundraise for programs to stop family violence and to save disappearing species.

Modern Postage Stamps

According to the USPS, there are three types of first class stamps. They are letter stamps, postcard stamps and international stamps.

The postage stamps price for letter stamps starts from $0.55 for standard envelopes and $0.70 for non-standard envelopes.

The postage stamps price for postcard stamps for standard postcards starts from $0.35, while the cost of international stamps for standard envelopes starts from $1.20. So, on average, the average price for US stamp is less than one dollar.

Please note that you can easily buy stamps online.

The Most Valuable US Postage Stamps

Probably the most valuable US postage stamp was an Inverted Jenny stamp printed after the First World War.

The stamp shows a Jenny biplane upside down and it was made this way by mistake. Only a few similar stamps exist and the most famous one was auctioned for nearly $1.5 million dollars in 2016. This is obviously worth many times more than the price for US stamp.

Another extremely valuable US postage stamp was the Alexandria’s postmaster provisional stamps of 1847.

One stamp which remains bright blue as it was back then is known to exist in the US. It was written by a lover and was supposed to be burned but it was not burned. For this reason, it is called the blue boy stamp and it is thought to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The CIA stamps are also extremely valuable. They are stamps that were part of the Americana series depicting lamps.

They are known as CIA stamps because a group of CIA agents noticed they were inverted and bought an entire sheet with 95 of them and sold them to a collector for $25,000 in 1986. They are probably worth much more in today’s market rates.


You now know the rich history of postage stamps in the US. Buy yours online now to post your letters or postcards. Or buy just to keep them. You never know, yours could be the next most valuable stamp in a few years’ time.