Refresher Course

Stamp types provide collectors with choices

By Michael Baadke

There isn't much that you can't do in stamp collecting, but I do hold the theory that you can't collect them all.

Figure 1. Commemorative stamps are usually larger, more colorful stamps, like these two examples from the United States (top) and Colombia (bottom).
 
Figure 2. Famous individuals are often featured on smaller-sized definitive stamps, like Abraham Lincoln (left) on a United States stamp, and Queen Elizabeth II (center) on a Canadian stamp. Some definitives are issued in series with a theme, like U.S. Transportation coil stamps (right).
 
Figure 3. Many back-of-the-book issues are valid for postage, but are created for a special reason.

There are just too darn many of them.

Even with all the money in the world, there are probably a few of the world's greatest stamp rarities that I wouldn't be able to get my hands on. Chances are the present owners wouldn't want to part with them.

Fortunately, I figured that out during my early years of stamp collecting, and I decided that instead of collecting all of them, I would choose to collect just the ones I liked (and that I could afford).

And I wasn't going to worry about the rest.

I started out at age 10 collecting whatever stamps came my way, and a lot of them were from other countries.

I soon decided that I liked commemorative stamps the best, and began concentrating on these larger stamps with colorful designs. At the time (during the mid-1960s), the commemorative stamps of the world were beginning to change from primarily single-color engraved issues to multicolor offset and gravure-printed issues.

In Figure 1 are a couple of examples of commemorative stamps. At the top is a United States stamp from 1982, promoting the International Peace Garden, a 2,300-acre area spread over North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada.

Like many commemorative stamps, this one celebrates an anniversary: 50 years from the establishment of the International Peace Garden in 1932.

Not all commemorative stamps are issued for anniversaries. The 32¢ U.S. Bugs Bunny stamp issued May 22, for instance, is a commemorative, but it wasn't issued on Bugs' birthday or on any other notable corresponding date.

At the bottom of Figure 1 is another commemorative that doesn't really commemorate any special occasion. It's part of a 1985 set from Colombia that simply features indigenous fauna. The 20-peso stamp shown in the illustration pictures the tapir.

The guidelines for commemorative stamps vary considerably from country to country but, basically, the stamps are placed on sale for a limited time, usually less than a year, and in limited quantities.

In most cases, commemorative stamps are printed during a single press run, and then it's on to the next issue.

Sometimes commemorative stamps will show famous individuals, like the recent 32¢ Humphrey Bogart stamp issued July 31 by the United States.

Famous people also are often shown on definitive stamps, which are usually left on sale for a much longer time than commemorative stamps.

Definitive stamps usually return to press several times, which means that instead of being printed at one time like the commemoratives, they are printed time after time, whenever more copies of the stamp are needed.

As a result, there are normally many more copies of a single definitive stamp printed than of a single commemorative.

A few definitive stamps are shown in Figure 2. At left is a 3¢ Lincoln stamp issued by the United States in 1927. A Canadian 6¢ definitive from 1970 is shown in the center of Figure 2.

The stamp at right is a 1995 32¢ stamp depicting a ferryboat from the U.S. Transportation coil series.

Definitive stamps are often small in size, like the examples shown in the illustration, and frequently they are printed only in one color.

The United States has printed many multicolor definitives in recent years, including its most common current design, the 32¢ Flag Over Porch definitive.

After following my interest in commemorative stamps for many years, I became more interested in definitive stamps.

Many definitive issues are created as part of a larger set, like the Transportation coil series mentioned previously. Along with the 32¢ Ferryboat coil stamp, that series contained more than 50 other designs and numerous printing varieties.

I collect some of the definitive issues that interest me, and others I just admire when I come across them from time to time.

There are a number of other types of stamps found around the world, including Christmas and holiday stamps that are created and sold by many postal services. These issues are often referred to as "special stamps," because they are printed in much larger quantities than the commemoratives, yet they usually are on sale for only a limited time.

Love stamps also fall into the category of "special stamps," though many Love stamps are placed on sale for long periods.

Four stamps shown in Figure 3 are representative of the many different stamps that are called "back-of-the-book" issues. They get that name because they are usually listed after the definitives and commemoratives in many specialized stamp catalogs; therefore, they are in the back of the book, or catalog.

The four stamps shown in Figure 3 are all stamps that could be used for postage, but they were designed with a special intent.

At top left is a 1997 semipostal stamp from New Zealand. The stamp sells for 45¢ in New Zealand, but only 40¢ is applied for postage. The remaining 5¢ is provided to a children's health charity fund.

At top right in Figure 3 is a 32¢ Official mail stamp from the United States. While this stamp can be used for postage, it can only be used by specially designated offices and departments of the United States government, and not by individuals.

Many other countries also use Official mail stamps for government mail.

An airmail stamp from East Germany is shown at lower left in Figure 3. Airmail stamps are provided specifically to pay for postage on mail that is being sent by air, usually to another country.

At bottom right in Figure 3 is a 60¢ U.S. special delivery stamp issued in 1971, the last stamp issued by the United States specifically created for special delivery service.

The service provided delivery of the mailed item prior to the next day's scheduled mail delivery.

There are many other back-of-the-book stamps, including issues for registered mail, certified mail, parcel post, special handling, and military use.

With all these different kinds of stamps to choose from, many collectors decide to build their collections with one specific type of stamp, like commemoratives or definitives, or some back-of-the-book area.

Other collectors select whatever stamps interest them the most, and don't worry about all the other stamps that are out there.

Choosing a specific collecting area helps to focus the stamp collection and limit the costs of building a collection.

My collecting choices help me to restrain myself when I visit the stamp dealer and want to buy everything I see. I stick with my collecting choices and just admire the rest of the stamps that are put on display.