2014 stamp yearbook and associated content

Stamp Collecting

Stamp collecting can be a lifetime hobby. It's fun and educational for all ages and it's easy to start without a big investment. The study of stamps and postal materials is called philately and collectors are sometimes called philatelists.

For Education

Learn more about how to collect stamps, philatelic terms, and stamp issues* from the United States Postal Service®.

*Future release dates and locations are subject to change.


Questions About Stamp Collecting

How do I start collecting stamps?
What kinds of stamps are there?
How do I remove stamps from an envelope?
How can I store my stamps?
Is there anything else I need?
How can I tell what a stamp is worth?
How should I judge the condition of a stamp?
What other stamp materials can I collect?
Are there stamp groups I may join?
Are there more stamp resources online?

Answers About Stamp Collecting

How do I start collecting stamps?
You can start by saving stamps from letters, packages, and postcards. Many beginning collectors choose a favorite subject like art, history, sports, transportation, or animals as the theme of their collection. You can have a great time on a limited budget with just a few inexpensive accessories such as an album and stamp hinges.

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What kinds of stamps are there?
There are many types of stamps–for example, commemorative, definitive, and special–and formats such as sheets, booklets, or coils. Stamps may be conventional adhesive ("lick-and-stick") or self–adhesive ("no-lick, peel-and-stick").

Definitive stamps are the most common. Generally less than an inch square, they are printed in large quantities, and often more than once. Commemorative stamps, larger and more colorful than definitives, are printed in smaller quantities and typically only once. They honor people, events, or subjects of importance to American life and culture. Special stamps–Christmas and Love, Holiday Celebration, international rate, Priority Mail, and Express Mail–usually are on sale for a limited time.

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How do I remove stamps from an envelope?
Soaking is the best way to remove stamps from envelopes. Tear the envelope around the stamp, leaving a small margin. With the stamp facing down, place into a pan of warm, but not hot, water. After a few minutes (self-adhesive gum may take longer), the stamp should sink to the bottom. When all adhesive is dislodged, remove the stamp preferably using stamp tongs. Place the stamp between two paper towels and put a heavy object, such as a book, on top to keep the stamp from curling as it dries. Leave overnight.

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How can I store my stamps?
The best way to store stamps is in a stamp album or on loose leaf paper in a binder. Affix your stamps by using stamp hinges, glassine strips with gum on one side, or stamp mounts, clear plastic sleeves that offer better protection for unused stamps.

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Is there anything else I need?
Collectors use a variety of other materials and accessories. Transparent glassine envelopes protect stamps from grease and air. A stamp catalog is a reference book with illustrations and stamp values. A magnifying glass is useful when examining stamps; tongs are used to pick up and move stamps. A perforation gauge measures perforations along the edges of stamps. Watermark fluid will enhance a watermark, a design or pattern that is pressed into some stamp paper during manufacturing.

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How can I tell what a stamp is worth?
When figuring the value of a stamp, ask yourself two questions: "How rare is it?" and "What condition is it in?" Stamp catalog prices will give you an idea of the stamp’s rarity. However, the stamp may sell at more or less than the catalog price, depending on its condition. Stamp dealers categorize stamps according to their condition. A stamp in mint condition is the same as when purchased from the Post Office. Hinge marks on mint stamps can reduce value, which is why stamp mounts are recommended for mint stamps.

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How should I judge the condition of a stamp?
To evaluate the condition of a stamp, first look at the front. Are the colors bright or faded? Is the stamp clean, dirty, or stained? Is it torn or creased? Torn stamps are not considered "collectible," but they can be used as space fillers until you get better ones. Are the perforations intact? Has the stamp been canceled? A stamp with a light cancellation is in better condition than one with heavy marks across it. Is the stamp design centered, crooked, or off to one side? Centering can range from "superb" (perfectly centered on the stamp) to "good" (the design on at least one side is marred somewhat by the perfs). Anything less would be graded "fair" or "poor" and, like torn copies, should be saved only as space fillers. Centering varies widely on older stamps. An examination of the back of the stamp will reveal whether it has been carelessly treated and thus is less valuable.

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What other stamp materials can I collect?
Many philatelists collect postal stationery–products with a printed or embossed stamp design–such as Stamped Envelopes, Stamped Cards (or postal cards), and Aerogrammes. Other philatelic collectibles include: Plate numbers (including plate blocks) appear on or adjacent to stamps. Found most often on sheet stamps, plate blocks are the stamps–usually a group of 4–that have the printing plate numbers in the adjoining selvage, or margin. Booklet panes are panes of stamps affixed in, or as part of, a thin folder to form a booklet. Collectors of booklet panes usually save the entire pane or booklet. Marginal blocks (including copyright blocks) feature marginal inscriptions other than plate numbers. The most common is the copyright block, which features the copyright symbol ©, copyright date, and U.S. Postal Service. All U.S. stamp designs since 1978 are copyrighted. First Day Covers (FDCs) are envelopes bearing new stamps postmarked on the first day of sale. For each new issuance, the U.S. Postal Service generally selects one location, usually related to the stamp subject, as the place for the first day dedication ceremony and the first day postmark. First Day Ceremony Programs are given to those who attend first day ceremonies. They contain a list of participants, information on the stamp subject, and the actual stamp attached and postmarked.

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Are there any stamp groups I can join?
Yes! Stamp clubs can be a great source for new stamps and stamp collecting advice. Ask your local postmaster or librarian for the locations of stamp clubs in your area, or view the list of organizations on our "Resources" page (under "For Education").

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Are there more stamp resources online?
Absolutely. In addition to the "Resources" page (under "For Education") at the Postal Store, the Postal Service also has an extensive section on Postal History on USPS.com.

Recent stories on stamp design, postal culture, and the people and topics featured on U.S. stamps can be found at USPSstamps.com. The site also features a regularly updated stamp schedule, calendar of philatelic events, and stamp archive.

The Postal Service has also recently partnered with the History Channel to create "Stamps: An American Journey." This 13 1/2 minute video tells the surprising story of the journey of stamps from an idea, to art, to the issued stamp. You can view the entire video online at the National Postal Museum website or the American Philatelic Society website (requires Windows Media Player).

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