Valentine’s Day & the Social Stamp

02142016_1                One of the benefits of working for a stamp collector is that when I want to send mail, I have a wide variety of leftover stamps to choose from. This gives me the opportunity to pick the perfect stamp(s) for any type of mail or occasion. This Valentine’s Day, I sent out postal cards from the Art of Disney: Romance set, supplemented with the 25₵ 1990 LOVE stamps.

                Specific stamps for special occasions seem only natural. When your special someone (friend, family, or significant other) sees that floral or heart patterned stamp, they know they’re in for a Valentine’s treat! It also adds sentimental value and beauty to the envelope if they keep it as a memento.

                Stamps that are designed for a special occasions or holidays can sometimes be called “social stamps”. As obvious as it may be to have these social stamps, they’re actually fairly modern as a product of the United States Postal Service. The first US Post Office stamps, issued in 1847, featured portraits of presidents or founding fathers. For the next almost one hundred years, choices for stamp subjects were limited to portraits of historical figures, patriotic imagery, or commemorative of historical events. If you wanted to send a Valentine, the first thing the receiver was likely to see would be a picture of a dead president – not exactly romantic.

                The first LOVE stamp was issued in 1973. That’s right! It wasn’t until 1973 that

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The 1973 LOVE stamp (Scott #1475) features the famous pop art by Robert Indiana.

Valentines could be sent through the USPS with a LOVE stamp. Before that year, you’d have to make do with whatever designs were on the definitive or commemorative issues on hand. But the 1973 LOVE stamp wasn’t the first social stamp issued in the United States. Neither was first Christmas stamp, issued in 1962. No, the first social stamp issued in the United States, designed specifically for Valentines and wedding invitations, was most likely the 1848 Boyd’s City Express gold and cream stamp.

                Boyd’s City Express was a private local post. In the early days of the United States, customers were irritated at the expense and inconvenience of the government’s postal service. Individuals set up competing posts, offering faster deliveries and door to door services. Some of these local posts operated only within specific cities, while others traded mail with other posts to expand their service area. Many of these posts offered stamps with company designs for sale to customers and collectors.

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Photograph of Boyd’s gold and cream social stamp (Scott #20L5) from the Patrick Farrell Collection.

                Boyd’s City Express was a New York City local post that operated from 1844 until around 1885. It was one of the earliest US posts, and one of the most successful. The company issued over fifty different stamps during its operation. The first of these stamps were oval in shape, and featured the image of an eagle. They were printed in black on green paper. Then in 1848, Boyd’s released its first social stamp. These stamps used the same design, but were printed in a gold ink on cream paper for a more elegant look. While not specifically love themed, these stamps would have been a beautiful addition to any Valentine.

                Searching through the Siegel Auction Galleries to look for these stamps on cover, I found two examples of these first gold and cream stamps (Scott’s # 20L5), one on an embossed and one on a lady’s envelope. Boyd’s second issue of the stamps (Scott’s # 20L9) could also be found on embossed envelopes and on covers marked with Valentine’s Day datestamps.

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Boyd’s on cover from Siegel sales 860 (lot 835) and 965 (lot 1110).

                The most stunning find, however, was an example of the stamp on this beautiful Valentine, from the Edgar Kuphal Collection of U.S. Carriers and Locals.

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Valentine sent with Boyd’s social stamp (Scotts #20L9) from Siegel sale 925 (lot 1396).

                Boyd’s City Express, like most US local posts, was forced by the government to shut down. New laws in 1861 made it illegal for anyone other than the United States Post Office to carry letter mail in the United States. While the Boyd’s company was able to circumvent the laws and maintain deliveries for several more years, it was eventually suppressed. Once again, the only choices for stamp designs were those issued by the government.

                Luckily, we now have more choice than ever when selecting our postage designs. Since the first LOVE stamp in 1973, the USPS has released over sixty different love stamps, including this year’s Quilled Paper Heart stamp. New Love stamps have been released almost every year since 1982 (only six years between 1982 and 2016 did not release new love stamps). In 2007, the USPS issued its first wedding themed stamps designed specifically for wedding invitations. Between the Love stamps, wedding stamps, and the multitude of floral stamps issued now, you can choose the perfect stamp for any love letter you might wish to send.

  • If you are interested in learning more about US local posts, check out the Carriers and Locals Society.
  • If you are interested in learning more about the different USPS love stamps, I recommend this article.

Siegel sales referenced in this post:  Valentine datestamp – Sale 773, lot 191; Lady’s envelope – Sale 860, lot 835; Valentine cover – Sale 925, lot 1396; Embossed envelope – Sale 965, lot 1110.

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