By Michael Baadke
The first United States postage stamps issued in booklet form appeared in 1900, five years after postal authorities in Luxembourg led the way by issuing booklet stamps in 1895.
The earliest booklets consisted of panes of stamps affixed between paperboard covers that provided some protection to the adhesives within and made carrying the stamps much easier.The concept was not particularly novel, though. As early as 1870 U.S. telegraph companies were issuing telegraph stamps in booklets for the convenience of both the customers who had to carry them and the clerks who had to sell them.
The basic concept of the stamp booklet remained fairly constant in the United States for about 80 years.
Booklets eventually became quite popular as a vending-machine item. Customers found it was possible to purchase stamps at any time of the day or night through machines located in post office lobbies or shopping centers.
Figure 1 shows a representative booklet of stamps from 1963. The components of the book have been separated to show them more clearly. The result is what is known as an "exploded" booklet.
In this instance, the booklet consists of four five-stamp panes, four panes of paper interleaving and the front and back covers.
Although it's not visible in the photograph, each pane of stamps from this booklet contains five stamps and one nonstamp label bearing a slogan about ZIP code use or proper mailing procedures.
In a great number of instances, U.S. stamps issued in booklets from 1900 until the mid-1980s used the same design as regular-issue stamps that were sold in panes of 50 or 100.
The two types of stamps generally could be distinguished from one another by the presence of one or two straight edges on the booklet stamp.
As an example, the two stamps illustrated in Figure 2 are both 25¢ issues depicting novelist Jack London.
The stamp at left was issued in 1986 in panes of 100. It has perforations around all four outer edges.
The stamp at right was issued in 1988. Two of its outer edges are perforated, and two are straight. The straight edges on the stamp ran along the outer edge of the booklet pane.
A booklet stamp may have only one edge that is straight and three edges that are perforated.
U.S. coil stamps also show straight edges, but they are easy to distinguish from booklet stamps.
The coil stamps have two opposing sides that are straight, either top and bottom, or left and right.
When booklet stamps have two straight edges, the edges are adjoining and meet at a corner.
The straight edges are caused by the way the booklet pane is trimmed during manufacturing.
Booklet panes are printed as part of much larger sheets containing 180 or more stamps.
These sheets of stamps were perforated (now die cut) and then were sliced into individual panes for booklets, often six stamps per pane but sometimes more or fewer.
Collectors examining the individual booklet panes realized that in many instances the attached margin paper (also known as a "tab" or "binding stub") at one end of the pane contained markings that were different from pane to pane.
These included dashes and bars that act as trimming and perforating guides for the finishing part of the production of the stamps and other marks related to printing.
The number of different markings for each issue were often identified and collected by specialists.
Collectors vary considerably in the different ways that they collect booklet stamps.
Some collectors try to obtain complete booklets, covers and all.
Complete booklets have to be stored with particular care. One hazard is pressure, either from storing on a stock page with overly small compartments, or from a quantity of booklets packed together tightly in a small space.
The covers of many recent U.S. booklets are folded and scored at the top. Pressure or frequent opening of the booklet can weaken the joint of folded booklet covers, causing the covers to separate.
Handling folded stamp panes can also cause them to separate at the fold along the perforations.
Pressure and humidity can combine to activate the stamp adhesive and cause the stamps within the booklet to affix themselves to the inside cover or a pane of stamps beneath, damaging the stamps.
Some collectors choose to carefully remove a single pane of stamps from the booklet, and save it intact with the tab.
Figure 3 shows a pane of 10 29¢ Wood Duck stamps from 1991. The full booklet included two panes and sold for $5.80.
The tab at the left edge of the pane shows an electric eye marking (a black bar) and small plate numbers.
The tab is considered an essential part of the booklet pane and should not be removed.
These full panes can be mounted in stamp albums, such as the Scott National U.S. Booklet Pane album.
Some collectors prefer to save only a single example of the booklet stamp as part of their general U.S. collection.
Of course, booklet stamps can be saved either mint (unused) or postally used. Some older booklet stamps have substantial value. If found on cover, the collector should learn more about the stamp before soaking it off the envelope.
Often a stamp on cover has greater value than one that has been soaked off.
Even the collector of single stamps will find some interesting varieties among the booklet issues.
There are two major varieties of the 25¢ Jack London booklet stamp, for example: one measuring perforation 10 and one measuring 11.
This type of measurement is known as the gauge of the perforations, and it represents the number of perforations that fall within the space of two millimeters.
The perforation holes are closer together on the perforate 11 stamp than they are on the perforate 10 variety.
The popularity of self-adhesive stamps has dramatically changed the appearance of U.S. booklets. All booklets now being sold by the Postal Service contain self-adhesive stamps.
Figure 4 shows a self-adhesive booklet containing four 33¢ Tropical Flowers stamps, issued May 1.
The flat pane shown at left in the illustration contains 20 stamps: eight on one side of the liner and 12 on the other.
When the peel-off strip is removed, the pane can be folded into a booklet shape, as shown at right in Figure 4.
The peel-off strips on these self-adhesive issues often contain plate numbers, and many booklet issues are known with a variety of number combinations.
Specialist collectors of mint panes may try to locate and collect each different number combination.
The Postal Service continues to make folded booklets with exterior covers, but these too contain self-adhesives.
In 1996, folded booklets of 15 and 30 self-adhesive 32¢ Yellow Rose stamps were issued that include plate numbers on a single stamp in the lower-left corner. This innovation has continued on selected issues. Shown in Figure 5 is the stamp bearing the plate number from the 33¢ Flag Over City folded booklet of 15 stamps issued Feb. 25.
The creation of self-adhesive booklets has brought about other changes in the way we collect booklets.
The flat pane convertible booklets often contain stamps that have serpentine die-cut simulated perforations around all four sides, making them virtually indistinguishable from similar stamps issued in other formats.
The field of booklet collecting can go into remarkable detail, with specialists studying everything from printing plate layouts to varieties in booklet covers.
The collector can learn a great deal from reading the booklet section of the Scott U.S. specialized catalog and by studying the stamps and booklets in his own collection.