what is a stamp

Defining a postage stamp

It is obvious that a stamp collector is one who collects stamps, but it is not so clear to the beginner what the word stamp means.

A stamp is a printed device used to denote that some tax or fee has been fully paid. There are two main classes of stamps; adhesive stamps are those which are printed in the form of labels to be stuck onto something else and impressed stamps are those which are printed directly on the documented concerned. The familiar penny postage stamp of Great Britain is an example of the first class, while stamps printed on postcards belong to second-class.

In each class, there are stamps which have to do with the payment of postage and others generally called fiscal or revenue stamps, which serve to stamp receipts, legal documents, bills, etc.

Types of self-adhesive postage stamps

Postage stamps are those which pay the simple fee for the carriage of correspondence from one place to another.

Postage Due stamps represent a fine paid on under-stamped or insufficiently stamped correspondence.

Too Late stampsAcknowledgement of Receipt stampsRegistration stamps and Special Delivery stamps or Express Letter stamps represent the payment of special fees for catching a mail at the last minute, for securing the advice of the safe receipt of correspondence, for insurance of letters or parcels or more speedy delivery, respectively.

Newspaper stampsParcel Post stamps and Air Stamps are used to indicate where special methods of conveyance are to be used, or where special rates of postage apply.

Official or Service stamps are used for franking the correspondence of Government Departments or Municipalities.

Charity stamps are stamps, part of whose price pays a postal fee, while the remainder goes to some charitable fund or object.

Commemorative stamps are postage stamps which celebrate some important historical anniversary or current event or commemorate a famous person.

Postal fiscal stamps are stamps originally issued for stamping receipts or legal documents, etc. i.e. for fiscal use, but whose use as ordinary postage stamps have been officially permitted. 

How to start collecting stamps

Seek a reliable dealer. From the dealer's list, the biggest packet you can afford should be chosen. Some dealers offer a sectional series of packets which can be bought at intervals without any duplicates being obtained and these are very helpful. When packet-buying ceases to bring you many new stamps you can strengthen weak countries by buying sets, those which offer so many different stamps of a single country being particularly helpful, and finally, single stamps will have to be bought from sheets or books.

Read our full guide to stamp collecting

Each stamp has a message

In setting out to form a stamp collection, the reader must make up his mind that he is going to treat stamps as though they had a message for him and not simply as so many scraps of paper, each of which adds one more to the number in his collection but does not increase his living interest in it. Stamps are pictures, messengers, historians and heralds. The hobby will bring to you, and your stamp collection will not be a passing whim of childhood years, but a lifelong instructor and friend.