By Rick Miller
One of the ways that stamp collectors organize their stamps is by breaking them down into smaller categories or types of stamps.
We can make some broad generalizations about types of stamps, but bear in mind that there are always exceptions.
One type of classification divides stamps into three basic types: definitives, commemoratives and special stamps.
For many years after the introduction of adhesive stamps for prepayment of postage, definitives were the only type of stamp produced. Definitives are stamps issued in a large, indefinite quantity and for an indefinite period, usually several years or more. Definitive stamp designs usually do not honor a specific time-dated event. Definitive stamps are often smaller and less colorful than the other types of stamps.
Of late, the United States Postal Service has begun calling its definitive stamps "mail-use stamps."
The Egyptian 1914 2-millieme Cleopatra stamp (Scott 51) shown in Figure 1 is a fairly typical definitive stamp. It is a small, vertical format, single-color stamp. Although the design features a sculpted likeness of Cleopatra VII Philopater, the last pharaoh of Egypt, it does not commemorate a specific anniversary, event or date in her life and reign.
Although this stamp is just shy of 100 years old, the fact that it has a ScottStandard Postage Stamp Catalogue value of just $1.10 in unused, hinged condition and 20¢ (the catalog minimum) in used condition attests to the fact that it was issued in great quantity.
A commemorative is a stamp printed in a relatively limited quantity and available for a relatively limited time. The design may note an anniversary, a historic event or achievements in the life of a specific person, a national landmark, an institution or other specific item or individual.
The U.S. Postal Service now calls its commemorative stamps "collectible issues."
There has been some argument about what was the world's first commemorative stamp, but it is safe to say that by 1900 many of the world's postal authorities were producing commemorative issues.
The French 1.75-franc Costume of the Champagne Region stamp (Scott 350) shown in Figure 2 is a commemorative stamp. A large, vertical format stamp, it was issued June 13, 1938, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Dom Pierre Perignon, the discoverer of the process of making the world's premier sparkling wine, champagne.
The newest of the three basic stamp types is special stamps. Like definitives, special stamps do not commemorate a specific event or anniversary and are usually issued in very large quantities. But like commemoratives, they are usually larger and more colorful and are sometimes on sale for a limited time.
Most holiday stamps are special stamps. These include stamps for Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, New Year, Chinese or Lunar New Year, Eid and Kwanzaa. Other types of special stamps include Love stamps (usually issued in time for Valentine's Day) and greetings stamps, such as Canada's Celebrations series (Scott 2146, 2203, 2259 and 2314).
A Soviet 4-kopek New Year stamp (Russia Scott 5104) is shown in Figure 3.
Another way to categorize stamps is to differentiate between regular and provisional issues.
The Newfoundland 75¢ Labrador, the Land of Gold airmail stamp (Scott C17), shown in Figure 4 is a regular airmail stamp. It was specifically designed and produced to prepay 75¢ in airmail postage.
The Newfoundland $4.50-on-75¢ General Balbo Flight airmail stamp (Scott C18) shown in Figure 5 is a provisional stamp. It was issued for temporary use to meet a postal demand for which no regular stamp had been produced. It was created by overprinting and surcharging the original 75¢ stamp with a new value and purpose.
Provisional stamps are usually produced by overprinting existing stamps to change what they can be used for or to change their value.
When a new country emerges from the chaos of war, its first stamps are often provisional issues surcharged on the stamps of another country, often the one from which it won its independence.
The Polish 10-heller provisional stamp (Scott 27) shown in Figure 6 was produced in 1918 by overprinting an Austrian Emperor Karl military semipostal stamp.
A few provisionals have been produced by bisecting stamps and using each of the halves for half of the original stamp's postage value. Unless they were also surcharged with a new value, bisected stamps are normally only collected tied to a cover showing how they were used.
A Dominica ½-penny-on-half-of-a-1d Queen Victoria provisional stamp (Scott 12) that was produced by both bisecting and surcharging is shown in Figure 7.
The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue classifies and segregates stamps by the services that they pay for. All postage stamps are listed first, followed by airmails, postage due, special delivery, and so on, in the what collectors often call the back-of-the-book.
Back-of-the-book stamps are assigned catalog numbers with an alphabetical prefix that indicates the purpose for which they were issued.
To the best of my knowledge, the Chilean 15-peso President J.J. Prieto parcel post postal tax stamp (Scott QRA1) shown in Figure 8 is the only stamp of this type ever issued.
blogWhen this cover was listed on eBay in mid-September, it didn't take long for some knowledgeable collectors to recognize this piece of postal history for the gem that it is: an early trans-oceanic survey cover for a Pacific route that included Midway Island, which would become famous as the location of a pivotal 1942 naval battle during World War II. Read More ›
blogThis month marks my fifth anniversary writing the monthly auction report for Linn’s Stamp News. That’s 60 columns, totaling more than 100,000 words (enough for a decent-sized novel), all about our favorite hobby. Read More ›
blogIn mid-September I traveled to London, England, to attend Autumn Stampex, one of two British national stamp shows sponsored by the Philatelic Traders’ Society, Great Britain’s national stamp dealers association. The show took place Sept. 16-19 at the Business Design Centre in Islington (central north London), a comfortable and attractive venue for a stamp show. Read More ›
September 28, 2015 03:30 AMAfter the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, postal workers not only saved the mail, they saved the new post office building. Read More ›
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News senior editor Denise McCarty discusses current events that relate to the stamp hobby, including the relocation of a stamp show in Sweden due to the Syrian refugee crises, and new stamps honoring Pope Francis and the British monarchy.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke talks about a record fifth win for wildlife artist Joseph Hautman in the federal duck stamp art contest, and see the painting that will appear on next year’s federal duck stamp
Watch as Scott catalog senior editor Marty Frankevicz questions Bolivia’s choice for the design of a 2013 stamp honoring the country’s efforts to protect its migrants in foreign lands.
Watch as Linn’s Stamp News managing editor Chad Snee discusses the discovery of the upright Jenny Invert pane received in an order from Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City, Mo., and also reports on the Confederate Stamp Alliance.
It is always a treat to get to see stamp dealers’ own collections.
In the recently concluded Linn’s United States Stamp Popularity Poll, the Circus Posters set of eight stamps was chosen as the overall favorite issue of 2014.
Dispersal of the splendid Daniel B. Curtis collection continued March 25, with Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gaveling items from United States back-of-the-book and possessions.
The 175th anniversary of the first postage stamp, Great Britain's Penny Black, is May 6, but the stamp was placed on sale May 1, 1840, for mailers to use beginning on May 6, the designated issue date.