Stamp Stories - Rare and Unusual with Pictures and History

Stamp Stories – Rare, Valuable and Unusual examples that are so much more than posting a letter

Since stamps were first used in Britain in the middle of the 19th Century, they’ve appeared in a boggling range of shapes and formats. When Rowland Hill described his 1840 Penny Black – the world’s first ever stamp - as "a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash", I doubt he was thinking much beyond a simple way of paying to post a letter.

The One Penny Black was first postage stamp and is a beautiful work of art and piece of history.

But ever since, stamps have held a fascination for enthusiasts and collectors of all ages and social classes. George V was famous for his stamp collection, which ran to 328 albums, and was even appointed Executive President of the Royal Philatelic Society before he became king.

There is something about stamp stories that makes them irresistible. Sometimes it’s the picture, sometimes it’s the rarity and sometimes it’s just the sheer oddness that makes a stamp stand out. But whatever the pull, philately has continued to thrive for generations.

So we’ve pulled together a few examples of the most fascinating stamps with some intriguing stories.

Most Famous Mistake – the USPS Famous Air Mail Error Stamp The “Inverted Jenny” - 1918

The Inverted Jenny Error Airmail (C3a) is one of the most rare and valuable of all stamps with only a single sheet of 100 unintentionally sold by the USPS.

Whoops! Issued on May 10th 1918, the aircraft was printed upside down by mistake. It’s thought that around 700 sheets were printed but only 1 sheet of 100 stamps was actually sold (at face value), whilst the rest were recalled by postal inspectors.

A single one was sold in 2007 for $977,500.  Currently, 99 of the 100 stamps from that sheet are in known locations.  But, that means that the one accounted for inverted Jenny error could still be out there.  Finding that would catapult to the top of the stamp stories top ten list!

World’s Rarest Stamp Stories No. 1
The Mauritius “Post Office” Stamp - 1847

With only 500 ever printed, and only one unused 1d and 3 unused 2d stamps known to be in existence, their rarity value saw them sold at auction in 1993 for $1,072,260 for the orange 1d stamp, and $1,148,850 for the blue 2d stamp.

Hard to believe but this one penny Mauritius Post Office Stamp sold for over $1 Million in 1993!
Hard to believe but this two pence Mauritius Post Office Stamp sold for over $1 Million in 1993!

Issued on 21st September 1847, not only was this the first British Empire stamp to be produced outside of Britain, but according to myth, the text “Post Office” should actually have been “Post Paid”. Years later it was proved that Post Office really was the legal term for the post at that time.

World’s Rarest Stamp Stories No. 2
1c Magenta Stamp – British Guiana

Another contender for the World’s Rarest Stamp award is the 1c magenta stamp from British Guiana. The stamps were originally printed in British Guiana in 1856 as a stopgap when the colony’s supply from Britain ran out.

Provisional 1c and 4c stamps were printed, but their quality was deemed so poor, the postmaster ETE Dalton insisted that every stamp had to be initialled by a post office clerk to guard against forgery. This particular stamp bears the initials ‘EDW’, for the clerk E D Wight. With only one known to be in existence - and that in a bank vault in the US, experts estimate that if it were sold today it could reach prices of over $20m.

In fact, it is up for auction in June 2014 by Sotheby's and it's current estimate is a wide range - $10 to $20 Million dollars.

This only known example of the 1856 British Guiana 1 cent magenta is estimated to be worth $20 Million!

To add even more colour to the king of all stamp stories, the 1 cent magenta was owned by industrialist John du Pont who died in prison in 2010, having been convicted of murdering a wrestler in 1997. The stamp remains in a vault in Philadelphia as part of du Pont’s estate. A number of fakes and forgeries have surfaced over the years but so far the 1 cent magenta currently up for auction, found by a Scottish boy and stamp collector living in British Guiana in 1873, is the only known example of this renowned stamp.

First African American on a US Stamp
Booker T. Washington

This beautiful Booker T. Washington stamp, issued in 1947, was the long overdue first African American to be pictured on a US stamp.

Some stamp stories are long overdue and even more to be admired like this one.

Booker T Washington was the first African American to appear on a stamp in the United States in 1947. Born a slave he founded the Tuskegee Normal Industrial School in 1881 in Alabama.

He was a renowned author, orator, and a key figure in the early Civil Rights movement.  He was a consensus builder, believing in equal rights for all and making a lasting impact with his goal of promoting education and entrepreneurship to the African American community.  

This gorgeous stamp is one of the many examples of stamp stories that don't have huge price tags.  A nice example of this stamp originally issued over 65 years ago can be bought for a few dollars.

And Finally, Some More Quirky Stamps

To finish, here are a few more recent stamps demonstrating the constant appetite for new and innovative ideas in the world of stamp issues.

Wooden Postage Stamps – Switzerland, 2004

Switzerland had one of the more innovative sales techniques with these wooden stamps intended to promote the Swiss wood industry.

On 7 September 2004 Switzerland issued a limited edition of stamps made from high-quality fir cut 0.7mm thick to promote Swiss wood and demonstrate its variety of uses.

Stamps around the world have also appeared on other alternative materials, including cork (Portugal, 2007), embroidery (Austria, 2005), CD-ROMS (Bhutan, 2008) and even meteorite dust (Australia, 2004).

© Photo Swiss Post Ltd.  

“Smelly” Postage Stamps


Coffee Scented – Brazil, 2001

In 2001, Brazil produced coffee scented stamps to promote their coffee, using coffee essence and special technology to ensure the aroma lasted.

This China 'Sweet and Sour' stamp smells like the famous dish and even the gum is flavored!
This Brazilian stamp smells like coffee...really neat but yet to be determined if it is as good as the real thing!

Sweet and Sour Pork – China, 2007

Going one step further, to celebrate the Year of the Pig in 2007, China issued a Sweet and Sour Pork stamp. Not only did you get the aroma of this famous dish, but if you licked the back you also got the taste!

Chocolate – Belgium, 2013

Continuing the trend for delicious smelling and tasting stamps, Belgium produced a range of stamps that also looked great to promote their famous chocolate.

photos © bpost    

Belgium stamps that look, smell and taste like chocolate!

This article written by and photos provided by Pitney Bowes suppliers of postal materials including franking machines, envelopes and letter folding machines.

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