postage stamp

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postage stamp,

government stamp affixed to mail to indicate payment of postage. The term includes stamps printed or embossed on postcards and envelopes as well as the adhesive labels. The use of adhesive postage stamps was advocated by Sir Rowland HillHill, Sir Rowland,
1795–1879, English educator, inventor, and postal reformer. He introduced the system of self-government in his school at Hazelwood in Birmingham.
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; it was adopted in Great Britain in 1839. Zürich (Switzerland) and Brazil issued stamps in 1843, and by 1850 the custom had spread throughout the world. Although the postmasters of several cities had previously issued provisional stamps, the first U.S. official issue was in 1847. Stamps are usually printed from engraved steel plates or cylinders, or by typographic or lithographic means. Besides regular stamps, which date from 1847, the U.S. government also issues commemorative stamps, which celebrate events or persons; memorial stamps in honor of officials who die in office; airmail stamps; and special stamps, e.g., special delivery, postage due, and revenue stamps. Self-adhesive, or "self-stick," stamps were introduced in the United States in 1974 but were not successful; they were reintroduced in 1994 and now comprise the vast majority of U.S. stamps issued. The computer age came to U.S. postage stamps in 1999, when, as PC Postage, they became available for purchase and downloading on the InternetInternet, the,
international computer network linking together thousands of individual networks at military and government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, industrial and financial corporations of all sizes, and commercial enterprises (called gateways
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. The popularity of philatelyphilately
, collection and study of postage stamps and of materials relating to their history and use. Collecting stamps began soon after the first postage stamp was issued in 1840; the first printed catalog was issued in 1861, the first album in 1862.
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 has led some governments to issue a great many stamps, usually commemoratives. Some small countries, like San Marino, receive much of their revenue by issuing stamps attractive to collectors.


See Scott's Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue (annual, 1868–), G. Schenk, The Romance of the Postage Stamp (1962); A. S. B. New, The Observer's Book of Postage Stamps (1967); D. J. Lehnus, A Guide to the Persons, Objects, Topics, and Themes on United States Postage Stamps, 1847–1980 (1982); R. S. Carlton, The International Encyclopædic Dictionary of Philately (1997).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Postage Stamp


a stamp issued by postal authorities to indicate that postage has been paid for a piece of mail. The designs on postage stamps are specially engraved or drawn for the stamps or are reproductions of photographs and the like. Stamps are printed by relief, intaglio or planographic methods, including offset and metal lithography. The paper on which stamps are often printed contains watermarks. Most stamps include the name of the government and postal administration, an indication of face value, and inscriptions of a commemorative, propagandistic, or explanatory nature; sometimes the names of the artists and printer are also given.

Postage stamps usually have projections and depressions along the edges, which are caused by the perforation of the sheets. Stamps are often issued in series, with individual specimens differing in face value, size, shape, subject, or simply color. They are often issued in sheets consisting of one or more usually identical stamps with pictures or inscriptions in the selvage. Sometimes they are issued in sheets having two or more different stamps, which often make up a series. When mail is handled by postal authorities, postal markings are placed on the stamps to prevent the stamps’ reuse. Stamps with postal markings are said to be cancelled.

Postage stamps are not only the most popular items collected by hobbyists but also distinctive documents recounting historical events. Historical events are reflected not only in the subjects of the stamp but also in the various overprints, which testify to changes in governmental affiliation or system. Overprints may also signify a change in face value or currency.

The first postage stamps appeared in Great Britain and its colonies in 1840 and were issued without perforations until 1854. Stamps were subsequently introduced in Brazil (1843), the Swiss cantons of Zürich and Geneva (1843), the United States (1847), France (1849), and other countries. In the classical period (1840–75), stamps depicted mainly statesmen and coats of arms —designs now usually confined to regular issues—or had designs with emblems and numbers, similar to coins and medals. Beginning in 1871, commemorative stamps were issued in honor of various events, important dates, or anniversary celebrations of eminent personalities.

Designs on postage stamps are becoming more complex and the stamps are becoming more varied in shape: in addition to the traditional rectangular shape, stamps are often issued in triangular, rhombic, and other shapes. There is an ever-increasing distinction between regular issues and special issues for collectors. Many countries issue stamps in quantities exceeding postal demand and exclusively for collectors, with the stamps’ face values differing from the face values of ordinary postal issues. The mid-20th century has witnessed an increase in the number of multicolored series devoted to sports, space exploration, works of art, and local flora and fauna.

Artists who create postage stamps are increasingly searching for original ideas to reflect the trends of contemporary graphics and transform the stamp into a distinctive graphic miniature or “poster”. National schools are emerging in Belgium (J. van Noten), Bulgaria (S. Kunchev), Hungary (S. Légrady), the German Democratic Republic (E. Gruner), Italy (C. Mancioli, C. Mezzana), Laos (Sh. Prisayan), Rumania (I. Dumitrana), Tunisia (Kh. al-Mekki), Finland (S. Hammersten-Janson), Czechoslovakia (M. Svabinský, J. Ŝvengsbir), and Yugoslavia (I. Milenković). Stamps are sometimes printed on foil or cloth and occasionally with a stereoscopic effect. In a number of cases, stamps are printed on fluorescent paper or with graphite and phosphorous strips in order to facilitate automatic mail sorting. All stamps are listed in special stamp catalogs, the best known of which are published annually: Scott’s (USA, since 1867), Stanley Gibbons (Great Britain, since 1863), Yvert (France, since 1900), Zumstein (Switzerland, since 1909), Michel (West Germany, since 1910), and Lipsia (East Germany, since 1950).

In Russia, postage stamps were introduced in 1858. The first Soviet stamp was issued in 1918. Eminent designers of Soviet postage stamps include R. Zarinŝ, I. I. Dubasov (who designed the first stamp with a portrait of V. I. Lenin in 1924), and V. V. Zav’ialov. Between 1918 and the 1970’s the USSR has issued more than 4,000 stamps on a tremendous variety of themes, including the accomplishments of the Great October Socialist Revolution; achievements of industry, agriculture, science, and culture; and various anniversary celebrations. The Catalog of Postage Stamps of the USSR, 1918–1969 was published in Moscow in 1970 and is supplemented yearly. The history and design of postage stamps are treated in the annual publication Soviet Collector (since 1963) and the monthly magazine Filateliia SSSR (Philately in the USSR; since 1966).


Williams, L., and M. Williams. Pochtovaia marka: Ee istoriia i priznanie. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)
Brodskii, V. Iskusstvo pochtovoi marki. [Leningrad, 1968.]
Karachun, D., and V. Karlinskii. Pochtovye marki SSSR, 1918–1968: Kratkii spravochnik Moscow, 1969.
International Encyclopedia of Stamps. Vols. 1–6. London, 1970.
Häger, U. Grosses Lexikon der Philatelie. Gütersloh, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

postage stamp

1. a printed paper label with a gummed back for attaching to mail as an official indication that the required postage has been paid
2. a mark directly printed or embossed on an envelope, postcard, etc., serving the same function
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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