Collecting stamps used on the very first day of release is what first day covers are all about.
There is something special about a newly issued stamp to this day, even before it makes its way through the mails. Imagine the excitement generations ago when each new commemorative design represented the vitality and mindset of a country when the ability to send mail over great distances was a relatively new experience.
What a wonder it must have been to marvel at the beautifully engraved US stamps of the 1890s when most couldn't afford a $5.00 Columbian or even a $2.00 Trans-Mississippi stamp – a huge sum of money for the average citizen during the heights of the gilded age inequities and the lows of the financial panic of 1893 and ensuing depression.
Well, over time collectors began recognizing the beauty of collecting stamps in their natural habitat - on cover (‘cover’ is just another way to say ‘envelope’…but now you sound like an expertJ). Over time a group of collectors looking for a challenge began trying to find stamps on envelopes postmarked on the very first day the stamp was released by the post office.
These became known as First Day Covers, or FDCs, and all kinds of sub-groups of FDC niches have been developed by intrepid collectors.
As FDC Collecting increased in popularity the US Postal Service began catering to the large number of collectors. The USPS publishes a schedule of upcoming stamp releases and dates months in advance. Collectors can submit by mail prepared envelopes, either blank or with cachets (designs on the envelope of all manner), for first day cancellation.
Or, you can go straight to the source and receive a first day postmark at the post office but you should still check the USPS website to verify your local post office is participating.
One big sub-group of collectors are more interested in the postal history associated with older mailing of stamps on cover many of which are scarce to extremely rare.
For the truly serious stamp investor, first day covers can go for huge sums such as the United States 1851-1857 issue Scott #5A unique first day of issue cover that last sold at auction in 1996 for $120,000.
There are as many collecting sub-specialties as you want there to be. I know a collector that makes original cachets for new Black History issues and know another that wouldn't think of collecting any FDC issued after World War II.
Regardless of how you collect, there are some important pieces of information that can prove valuable, especially if you're newer to the hobby.
Modern cover collectors value unaddressed FDCs much higher than those with addresses on them. Unaddressed FDCs become the norm starting in the late 1930s as stamp collecting, in general, really took off in popularity.
Most collectors just think they look nicer without a random address added. So for anyone making your own, leave the address blank.
The flip-side is that you can buy addressed first day covers at much lower prices so this can be a great place to start a collection on a budget. Modern covers with cachets are valued higher than those without a cachet.
Blank envelopes just aren't as exciting to most collectors and they are willing to pay more for artistic, collectible, or otherwise interesting designs. Some artists and specific cachets can go for hefty premiums yet most have been produced in such quantities that they're only worth a few cents each.
Blocks of Four on first day covers are usually worth more than a single example of the same stamp. For common, modern FDCs there really isn't much of a difference in stamp collecting values, but for older or more scarce covers this can make a significant difference in price. Modern FDCs issued at the official city as designated by the USPS are worth more.
Again, this can be virtually no difference for common covers but it can make a substantial difference in value with older or more scarce issues.Much fun is to be had with FDCs no matter you're collecting style.
I love the thought of finding a stamp mailed a hundred years ago on the first day the stamp was released and also appreciate the great artwork on modern FDCs. I especially can appreciate the thrill of the collecting hunt at an affordable price!