US Stamps

Slight increase noted for the 2020 cost to collect U.S. stamps

Nov 28, 2020, 11 AM
To obtain the 10 American Gardens forever stamps issued May 13 by the U.S. Postal Service, collectors had to buy a pane of 20. The pane does not have roulette die cuts on the reverse to facilitate the removal of individual stamps.

By Jay Bigalke

The cost to collect one each of every United States stamp and postal stationery item issued in the past year increased slightly in 2020, while the total number of stamps and stationery issued remained the same.

The total single-stamp cost for collectors was $105.04 in 2020, compared to $101.35 in 2019 and $95.75 in 2018.

Some of the 2020 increase can be attributed to the increased cost of the two high-denomination stamps.

The 2020 $7.75 Big Bend National Park stamp for Priority Mail flat-rate envelopes (Scott 5429) and the $26.35 Grand Island Ice Caves stamp for Priority Express Mail flat-rate envelopes (5430) together cost $34.10, almost one-third of the $105.04 stamp cost for the year.

The $26.35 Grand Island Ice Caves stamp remains the highest priced regular postage stamp ever issued by the United States. Because a new Priority Mail Express stamp is not anticipated for 2021, it may continue to hold that title.

The total cost to collect has remained surprisingly stable for the last five years, never varying more than $6 between any two consecutive years and just over $9 between the highest of those years ($105.04 in 2020) and the lowest ($95.75 in 2018).

Over the past 30 years, the annual cost has ranged from a low of $36.21 in 1993 to a high of $172.42 in 2007.

The per-year average since Linn’s Stamp News began tabulating the annual cost to collect U.S. stamps in 1991 is $88.15.

Two postal stationery items, the $7.75 Big Bend National Park stamped Priority Mail envelope and the Flag forever stamped envelope, were issued in 2020.

Collectors recognize that U.S. post offices and the Postal Service’s Stamp Fulfillment Services retail division often cannot or will not sell single stamps of certain new issues, so the cost to obtain those single stamps can be multiplied by the various formats in which those stamps are issued.

For example, it is possible to purchase one nondenominated (55¢) Love: Made of Hearts stamp at the post office, but to obtain the 10 Winter Scenes nondenominated (55¢) forever stamps, the Postal Service required the purchase of a full double-sided pane of 20 stamps, at a cost to the collector of $11.

In many instances, collectors are required to purchase as many as 25 coil stamps from Stamp Fulfillment Services to obtain a single stamp.

The net cost to obtain one each of every stamp in the smallest format offered by the Postal Service in 2020 was $242.19. That’s a big drop of $185.26 from the 2019 total of $427.45 to buy the smallest post office format of each stamp. In 2018, the cost to collect for the smallest format was $331.92.

Collectors often try to mitigate the inflated cost of buying stamps in the full format by trading with other collectors who also need single stamps or certain configurations of multiples. Remainder stamps from larger formats can be used for postage as well.

The slight increase in the annual cost to obtain single stamps paralleled a similar slight increase in the number of individual stamps and postal stationery items issued.

Interestingly for 2020, the number of stamps and stationery stayed the same as the previous year, but the number of each type varied.

In 2020, the Postal Service issued 117 different stamps, including 55 commemoratives. The 2019 output was 117 different stamps, including 73 commemoratives.

The drop in the commemorative count was balanced by the increase in definitives: 47 this year even without any new Flag stamps compared to 35 definitives in 2019.

The 30-year average for the number of stamps issued annually is approximately 161.

The largest commemorative stamp sets issued in 2020 were three issues of 10 stamps designs each: American Gardens (Scott 5461-5470), Bugs Bunny (5494-5503) and Ruth Asawa (5504-5503).

The largest commemorative stamp sets issued in 2019 were the 16 Sesame Street commemorative forever stamps (Scott 5394) and the 12 Wild and Scenic Rivers commemoratives (5381).

Details of the collecting cost for uncut press sheets are also tabulated by Linn’s.

In 2020, the Postal Service issued 15 press sheets in various sizes, including 13 commemorative issues, one definitive (Thank You) and one special stamp (Love: Made of Hearts).

The cost totaled $1,111 for the collector who chooses to add one of each press sheet to his or her collection. That cost for the sheets represents a reduction from the cost of $1,428.90 for the 18 press sheets issued in 2019.

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