By Janet Klug
The Linn's glossary of philatelic terms found online at www.linns.com defines a souvenir sheet as: "A small sheet of stamps, including one value or a set of stamps. A souvenir sheet usually has a wide margin and an inscription describing an event being commemorated. Stamps on a souvenir sheet may be perforated or imperforate."
The 1943 Brazilian souvenir sheet (Scott 612) shown in Figure 1 commemorates the 100th anniversary of Brazil's first postage stamps. Although valid for postage, the souvenir sheet was issued without gum, making it hard to use it for that purpose.
The designs recreate Brazil's first issue, right down to the numerals 30, 60 and 90, only the souvenir sheet denomination is in centavos, whereas the original stamps were denominated in reis.
The item shown in Figure 2 is something else entirely. Inscribed "Souvenir of the London International Stamp Exhibition," it depicts postage stamp designs. The souvenir was created by British stamp printer Harrison and Sons for the London 1960 international stamp show. The stamp designs replicated on the souvenir were not valid for postage.
Nevertheless, this souvenir is still of interest to some stamp collectors. Who wouldn't find the brown Penny Black and the various inverted center errors depicted on this item to be a fun acquisition?
Which leads us to ask, where did the idea for souvenir sheets originate?
Postal needs surely did not drive the proliferation of souvenir sheets, which have been issued in increasing numbers in recent years. Instead, postal administrations recognized that a market for souvenir sheets existed in the form of enthusiastic stamp collectors eager to add new items to their collections.
From a postal administration's standpoint, the economics are exceedingly attractive. For the minimal cost of printing a stamp with a larger-than-normal selvage, the postal administration makes a profit exceeding 90 percent.
That is because the postal administration rarely has to provide postal services beyond the initial sale of the souvenir sheet, as most are never used for postage.
Luxembourg was the first country to issue a souvenir sheet: the 10-franc View of Luxembourg souvenir sheet (Scott 151) shown in Figure 3, issued in 1923 to commemorate the birth of Princess Elisabeth.
The United States issued its first souvenir sheet in 1926 (Scott 630), a sheet of 25 2¢ Battle of White Plains stamps. The top selvage of the sheet is inscribed "International Philatelic Exhibition Oct. 16th to 23rd 1926." The bottom selvage is inscribed, "New York N.Y. U.S.A."
More recently, the U.S. Postal Service marked the international exhibition held in Washington, D.C., in 2006 by issuing three souvenir sheets.
Scott 4075 reproduces the high denomination stamps from the 1922-25 regular issue series that stamp collectors frequently call the Fourth Bureau Issue.
Another souvenir sheet (Scott 4076) pays homage to U.S. diplomats.
The third souvenir sheet is a joint issue with Canada that commemorates the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's voyages (Scott 4074). This souvenir sheet contains both U.S. and Canadian stamps.
Advances in stamp production techniques have resulted in many cut-to-shape souvenir sheets being issued. These sheets often depict popular subjects that appeal to topical collectors.
Two sides of the Vanuatu Dugong souvenir sheet (Scott 815a) shown in Figure 4 are cut to shape. The die cutting makes the dugong in the selvage appear to be almost three-dimensional.
The stamps in souvenir sheets are also frequently issued in regular panes, and do not necessarily serve as a souvenir for a key event. Some collectors bristle at this, believing that postal administrations are gouging stamp collectors.
Collecting souvenir sheets can be a challenge. Postally used souvenir sheets can be difficult to find. Mounting miniature sheets, many of which are large or oddly shaped, requires an extensive assortment of expensive stamp mounts in varying sizes.
The most economical way to collect and display souvenir sheets is by using stock books with clear strips that safely hold material in place without using additional adhesives.
Love them or loathe them, souvenir sheets have great eye-appeal. They will be around as long as there are postal administrations that produce postage stamps and collectors who want them.