Great Britain was the first country to introduce a postal system using postage stamps for pre-paid mailing. Following their lead, other countries followed suit and developed their own similar systems until the postage stamp was used worldwide. Stamps are something that have never been further standardised across nations and are still unique to different parts of the world. We decided to take a look at some of the differences in stamps from around the world in history and today.
Stamps in the United Kingdom
The standard UK postage stamp has always depicted the ruling monarch. Initially the stamps were only for national use and the name of the country was not included. Once used at foreign post offices an agreement was made that the countries name was not required as long as the sovereign’s effigy appeared on the stamp.
United Kingdom – The Penny Red
The first stamps were black but this made cancellation marks hard to see, so they were soon printed in red, a colour still used today. The penny red was the first perforated stamp to be produced.
Stamps in the United States
US stamps usually illustrated either an American president or other important statesman. During the 1890s however, the Post Office improved revenue by releasing collectible stamps around current and historical events.
In 2011 the US postal service changed its ruling that stamps would only honour dead individuals. However, despite quite some speculation about which living people may be depicted, the area is still grey. Some commemorative stamps have featured living people in character such as actors and actresses from the Harry Potter films, but although they do show real living people, these people are not portraying themselves.
Stamps in Tonga
The first self-adhesive stamps in the world were issued in Tonga. Many of these were very unusual shapes, the most unique perhaps being shaped like a banana!
Stamps in China
As postage stamps are created to indicate a pre-paid level of postage, the one aspect they usually have in common is a value or level of postage it pays for. However, during currency fluctuations in China, the denomination was omitted in order to allow stamp prices to change regularly.
Stamps in the Netherlands
Instead of a portrait bust or emblem, some stamp designs emphasise the value of the stamp with a numerical design. These types of stamp tend to be less common, perhaps because they are not so aesthetically pleasing or collectable, but here’s an example from the Netherlands:
Stamps are a vehicle for nations to display their identity, honour important people and important events. Many are beautifully designed and warrant collection, and rare stamps can fetch a healthy price.
An expensive stamp in its time, the US Abraham Lincoln stamp cost fifteen cents which was five times the value of most other stamps. As a historically significant and now extremely rare stamp, it is currently valued at around £129,000 ($200,000).