History of United States
Commemorative Postage Stamps
The history of United States postage stamps begins before there was a United States or postage stamps! During the early colonial days, letters were sent through a variety of independent postal organizations. As the population of the colonies grew, the need for a more organized system of mail delivery became apparent. In 1691 a colonial postal service was implemented by the British government and a number of Postmaster-Generals were appointed in the years leading up to the American Revolution, including one of the most important, Benjamin Franklin (as a joint Postmaster-General with William Hunter) in 1753. Franklin, a pragmatic and inventive man, implemented many innovations that made the colonial postal system much more effective and after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, became the United State’s first Postmaster-General.
Prior to the founding of the United States, letters were generally not pre-paid. The person receiving the letters paid the mailman when the letter was delivered. Although the United States now had full control over the postal system as outlined in the Constitution, this method continued. This system was not efficient though as it required the mailman to find the recipient and collect the money, or if the recipient refused the letter, it had to be sent back to the originating post office unpaid. It was not until the early 1940s that stamps were first introduced to the US Postal system.
Britain began using prepaid postage stamps in 1840 and the first US postage stamps were introduced two years later. These were not official stamps, but were “provisional issue stamps” that were produced by private companies. In 1847 the first United States postage stamps were issued by the government, the famous five cent Franklin and ten cent Washington stamps. Although the previous payment upon receipt method was still used, these stamps were extremely popular with the American public.
Additional stamps were soon issued, and by the time the first commemorative set was issued in 1893, over 200 definitive stamps had been issued (many more if stamp variations are included). These stamps are considered definitive because they were issued for an extended period of time and didn’t commemorate a particular person or event. It can be argued that the Abraham Lincoln memorial stamp of 1866 is the first commemorative postage stamp, but collectors usually consider the 1893 Columbian issue to be the first.
A set of 16 stamps were issued in 1893 to commemorate the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These stamps were very popular with collectors; although some complained about the cost of completing the entire set (this set included the first $1.00, $2.00 and $5.00 stamps in US history). Although the set was highly successful (and profitable for the Post Office), the second commemorative set of stamps was not issued until 1898. Early commemoratives were issued only for expositions until 1909, and it was not until 1924 that the United States began issuing commemorative stamps for every year.