By Janet Klug
Questions regularly come up about using old United States postage stamps on current mail.
Many collectors have sheets or smaller quantities of unused stamps issued years ago, and if they have no premium value, the collector might use them for postage on letters and parcels.
Is that usage legitimate?
The answer is, “It depends.”
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U.S. Postal Service regulations regarding stamps that are valid and those that are not are defined in the Domestic Mail Manual (DMM for short). Finding the DMM and using it is easy; here are the instructions for doing so if you have a computer.
After the pdf file loads onto your screen (and if you like, you can save a copy to use in your own documents file), scroll down to page three: “Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service DMM.” Click on the fourth line, “600 Basic Standards For All Mailing Services.”
A new page (735) will pop up, with the “Basic Standards” heading. Opposite the heading is a list of six subjects. Click on “604 Postage Payment Methods and Refunds,” which takes you to a page (785) containing a list of 12 numbered subjects.
Scroll down to the next page (786) where there is a spreadsheet titled “Postage Payment Methods: Stamps,” and listing types and formats of stamps.
Scroll down a little farther on the same page (786) and stop at section “1.2. Postage Stamps Valid for Use.”
This single paragraph explains that all postage stamps issued by the United States since 1860 are valid for postage, with exceptions that are covered in the next section, 1.3.
The invalid group is a much longer list than the one of those that are valid. Among them are postage due stamps, special delivery stamps, special handling stamps, and certified mail stamps.
All of these issues were intended for payment of specific services other than regular mail.
By now you probably have guessed, if you didn’t already know, that you also can’t use U.S. Official stamps, revenue stamps, savings stamps or migratory bird hunting and conservation issues (duck stamps) as postage.
In addition, you cannot use stamps from other countries on your U.S. mailings.
You cannot use United Nations Postal Administration stamps unless you deposit the mail at U.N. headquarters in New York City.
Stamps that are mutilated, defaced, cut from stamped envelopes, aerograms or stamped cards, “covered or coated in such a manner that canceling or defacing marks cannot be printed onto the stamps,” or overprinted with an unauthorized design, message, or other marking also are invalid for postal use.
This DMM section goes on to address imitations of stamps, imitations of markings, reproductions of stamps, the position of the stamp on the mailpiece, reuse of stamps (which is punishable by fine and imprisonment), and so on.
Reading the entire chapter 604 of the DMM is both useful and interesting. Undoubtedly you will learn something new about U.S. postage stamps.
Keep scrolling down and you will come across sections about postal stationery and instructions on how to go about getting personalized stamped envelopes, postage meters, and much more.
Two types of postage stamps — nonprofit and presort — are not listed in the valid/invalid paragraphs, but the USPS considers these stamps to be precancels and are therefore treated differently.
Nonprofit and presort stamps do not have denominations. They also do not get postmarked because they are considered to be precanceled (also known to collectors as service-inscribed stamps).
Chapter 700 of the DMM, titled “Special Standards,” includes information about standard mail, commonly known as bulk mail. Standard mail generally consists of flyers, circulars, advertising, newsletters, and catalogs.
Section 200 in the DMM covers commercial mail, letters, cards, flats, and parcels. This is one section where you will find detailed information about presort standard mail. The complexity is mind-blowing, and makes fascinating reading in general, but it was interesting to see that there was no statement that precanceled stamps generally may not be used on personal first-class letter mail, a prohibition that I know to be true.
That information is found once again in Chapter 600, under section 604.3.0, “Precanceled stamps.”
A section numbered 604.3.5 specifically addresses the mail use of precanceled stamps by stamp collectors, which is only allowed with certain restrictions.
The manual explains that precanceled postage may be bought for philatelic purposes as well as postage payment.
“A stamp collector may mail matter bearing precanceled postage if the collector has a permit to use precanceled postage at the Post Office where the mail is presented.”
The required permit, PS Form 3615, Mailing Permit Application and Customer Profile, can be obtained and filed at no charge (DMM 604.3.2.1). The form is even available online.
Precanceled stamps can be used to pay single-piece postage if the envelope is correctly marked “First-Class Mail” immediately under the postage (DMM 604.3.3d).
The mail franked with precanceled stamps must be presented by hand to a clerk at the post office where the permit is on file, and cannot be deposited in a collection box (DMM 604.3.1.6)
And of course, the value of the postage applied must fully pay the fee for the first-class letter being mailed (DMM 604.1.2). The nominal value of the precanceled stamp is less than that of a forever stamp for letter mail, so additional postage must be applied.
The USPS Quick Service Guide also addresses the subject of using precanceled stamps.
The answer to the valid-versus-invalid question for precanceled stamps, therefore, depends on whether or not you have a permit to use them on file at your post office.
In general, with certain exceptions, you can enjoy using your older postage stamps to decorate mail to your stamp-collecting buddies, and even on your bill payments to be opened by strangers.
You might show someone that stamps are interesting and collecting them is fun!