US Stamps

Questions and answers about creating and collecting first-day covers

May 3, 2021, 6 PM
Collectors can find a number of different albums specifically made to store, protect and display first-day covers, but other storage options exist as well.

By Lloyd de Vries

Every so often, it is good to step back and review some basic elements of our philatelic specialty of first-day cover collecting.

Longtime collectors might enjoy a review of certain topics, while newer collectors might appreciate some words of advice.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked recently.

Q. I was given a bunch of cacheted first-day covers. Are they worth anything?

A. Monetarily, the answer could be anything from “nope” to “yes,” all depending on the stamp, the condition of the cover, and all its components — especially the cachet.

Actual market value can be investigated by consulting FDC dealers, attending stamp shows and looking at similar items that are being offered for sale, checking auction results for FDCs, and regularly reading the “for sale” ads in the stamp press and online.

Apart from monetary value, the answer to “Are they worth anything?” probably is yes. The original maker or purchaser and subsequent owners most likely got a fair amount, maybe even a great deal, of enjoyment out of them.

Q. How do I store first-day covers?

A. There are various types of binders and albums specifically intended for covers available in the stamp accessories marketplace.

A less expensive storage method is to buy two-pocket stock pages and put them in an ordinary three-ring binder.

Another method of storage is to use boxes. Recycled envelope boxes or ordinary shoeboxes are OK, but it is best to use containers manufactured with acid-free material that will help to provide safer long-term storage for your covers.

Special boxes designed for covers are also available from stamp-hobby supply dealers.

Some collectors simply toss the covers into a drawer. This practice is not recommended, although most FDC collectors have at least a few items stored that way.

Q. Can cachets for upcoming issues be purchased as older ones are, or do I have to make them myself?

A. Either or both — your choice. Practically every first- day cover collector has at some point tried a hand at cachetmaking.

The American First Day Cover Society has a fascinating guide called Handcrafted Cachets: The Make-Your-Own Cachet and Envelope Handbook. It is available for $15 postpaid from AFDCS, Box 16277, Tucson AZ 85732.

The guide was written in the early days of personal computers, when dot-matrix printers were state-of-the-art, so it doesn’t talk much about computer-designed and printed cachets, which is how most amateur or semi-pro cachetmakers do it these days.

However, the book discusses general procedures and even mentions some offbeat methods, including using stickers, calendar pages and even potato prints!

You can subscribe to commercial FDC services and automatically receive cacheted covers for new issues as they become available, or buy completed FDCs from dealers or directly from cachetmakers.

Buying cacheted envelopes is another option. You then affix your own stamps and submit the covers for cancellation. The AFDCS also sells general-purpose cachets, using generic designs. Most of these are patriotic types.

Some collectors buy the United States Postal Service’s uncacheted serviced FDCs and add their own cachets.

Or, of course, you can create your own cachets on your own envelopes, affix the stamps and then submit the covers for servicing.

Q. If I want to service my own FDCs, where do I send them?

A. After affixing the new stamp or stamps, send the covers to the official first-day city for that stamp issue.

Linn’s publishes that address information as part of the news article about each upcoming U.S. issue.

In most cases, collectors have 60 days after the issue date to submit their FDCs. Each FDC should be addressed — a removable address label can be used — and it will be returned from the USPS in a protective, clear plastic wrap.

If you prefer, you can include a larger self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage for return to you, along with a polite note requesting that your FDCs be returned in that envelope.