US Stamps

Cover terms: What are combos, duals and joint issues?

Jun 10, 2014, 2 AM

This month’s First-Day Covers column continues where the June 2 column left off, explaining terminology used in cover collecting.

Combination (or combo) first-day covers have stamps affixed other than the new issues. These additional stamps are tied to the cover by the first-day postmarks of the new issues.

The stamps are usually related to the new issues by theme, such as birds, trains, planes and so on.

The United States Postal Service is the only major country postal agency that will service such FDCs, and it will even allow the inclusion of stamps from other countries. If the foreign stamp is to be struck with a U.S. postmark, however, the postmark must also touch a U.S. stamp.

FDCs that are struck with two or more different first-day postmarks, or with both a first-day postmark with non-first-day postmark, are described as dual-canceled.

Shown in Figure 1 is a Queensbury Cachet by artist Jack Davis. The 1981 18¢ stamp honoring White House architect James Hoban (Scott 1935) was canceled with the circular date stamp for the first-day city, Washington, D.C., while the 20¢ James Hoban stamp (1936) was postmarked on the issue date in Whitehouse, N.J., about 200 miles away. The latter postmark on the Figure 1 cover is also an example of an unofficial FDC, as described in the previous First-Day Covers column.

A joint issue consists of stamps with the same subject and (usually) similar designs issued by two or more cooperating countries.

Figure 2 shows a 1991 joint issue FDC by Panda Cachets. The U.S. stamp (Scott 2532) and Swiss stamp (888) mark the 700th anniversary of the founding of Switzerland. The U.S. stamp also sports a UO (unofficial) cancel from Geneva, Ill. The official first-day city was Washington.

In the early days, FDCs had to be serviced by a collector or dealer in the first-day city on the first day of issue. The U.S. Post Office Department later changed the rules to accept mail-in requests, with sufficient payment for the stamps to be affixed.

Starting in 1977, the U.S. Postal Service established a 15-day grace period, during which collectors could buy the stamps at their local post office, affix them to covers and submit them for servicing.

Today, the grace period is usually 60 days for collectors, and twice that for dealers.

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