The Birth of a Postage Stamp

                This year the United States Post Office will release over eighty new stamp designs! As with most collectible items, it’s not uncommon for fans of postage stamps to eagerly await the release of the newest designs.

                There’s more to the release of a postage stamp than just stopping by your local post office, though. Each US postage stamp has a “First Day of Issue” ceremony and dedication! Think of it as a birthday party for each stamp. The earliest First Day Ceremony that I could find record of was held in 1940 to celebrate the issue of the 10₵ Mark Twain stamp, part of the Famous Americans series. A First Day Ceremony usually introduces the stamps by explaining the significance or history of the stamp subject, and naming the artists involved in the stamp’s design.

                Last week I visited the AmeriStamp Expo in Atlanta, and was able to see a First Day Ceremony firsthand. As a big fan of flowers and floral imagery, I was very excited to watch the new Botanical Art stamp booklet be issued.

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Stamp designs on display at the First Day of Issue ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia

                The event featured a performance of the national anthem, and speakers from the US Postal Service, the American Philatelic Society, and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

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Botanical Art stamps First Day of Issue Ceremony program – front and back

                Everyone present seemed to really enjoy the ceremony. One of my favorite parts of the event were the programs. Aside from the standard cardstock programs, which will later be available online for collectors who could not make the event, a limited number of special programs were given to guests that were made with plantable paper. These programs contained wildflower seeds that could be used to start a garden. What a fabulous way to celebrate the new stamp designs!

                Of course, if you can’t get to a First Day Ceremony, you can still buy your postage stamps on their day of issue at your local post office. Unlike other collectible items on release day, philatelists probably won’t have to worry about long lines or sold out stock when purchasing modern stamps on their first day of issue. That doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting to get stamps as early as possible. In fact, there’s a whole subcategory of stamp collecting dedicated to just that! This type of collecting is called First Day Cover collecting.

                First Day Cover collecting challenges collectors to buy and place new stamps on an envelope (cover), and to have the stamp marked (cancelled) to prove its first day “use”. Whether or not these envelopes are actually used through the mail is irrelevant. As soon as the post office cancels a stamp, it is no longer valid for postage and is considered “used”. While letters sent through the mail are typically cancelled by machine with simple lines, first day cancellations can either announce they first day use or are often decorative.

                In addition to the first day cancels, some collectors decorate their envelopes with custom designs to complement the stamps. These designs are called “cachets” and provide an artistic way to display your stamps.

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First day cancelled botanical art stamps with Flower Girl cachet art

                For this stamp issue, I created my first First Day Cover and designed my own cachet. I drew a picture of a cartoon girl surrounded by flowers to compliment the floral stamps. After sketching my design, I scanned it and copied it onto three other envelopes to give as gifts to friends. The United States Post Office was set up at the stamp show to allow visitors to cancel their own covers with either a traditional “First Day of Issue” handstamp, or a decorative hummingbird cancel.

                First Day cover collecting is an excellent way to experience modern postal history. I spoke with several other collectors, whose booths at the AmeriStamp Expo featured a wide variety of different cachets. Each designer brought a new style and theme to their covers, and it was fun to look through and find interesting pieces to add to my collection. Whether by including beautiful art and design work or by including additional historical information, these envelopes and cards make wonderful displays for postage stamps that don’t require special stamp collecting supplies such as album pages or mounts.

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First day programs, envelopes, covers, and cachets.  Cachets designed by myself (flower girl) and by Dragon Cards (Haupt Conservatory postcard)

                If you are interested in learning more about First Day Cover collecting, check out the American First Day Cover Society.

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