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From America's leading experts, your ultimate Guide to Stamp Collecting
Whether you've always wanted to start a stamp collection or already have the beginnings of one, this is the definitive guide to becoming a smart and savvy stamp collector, with information on everything from the history of stamps to surprising celebrity philatelists to ...
From America's leading experts, your ultimate Guide to Stamp Collecting
Whether you've always wanted to start a stamp collection or already have the beginnings of one, this is the definitive guide to becoming a smart and savvy stamp collector, with information on everything from the history of stamps to surprising celebrity philatelists to the best way to remove stamps from envelopes. You'll receive priceless expert advice on:
And much more!
The Story of Stamps
From Queen Victoria to the King of Rock 'n' Roll
Postage stamps are everywhere. You use them to send letters and packages. You can buy them at the local post office or from a convenient vending machine. You receive them on your incoming mail. Maybe you glance at them occasionally before tossing them in the wastebasket. But where did these postage stamps come from? Why are they used? What do they do? How were they printed? The answers to those questions are traced back to the earliest days of written communication.
The Earliest Postal Communications
The minute human beings began chiseling symbols into clay tablets they began to see the possibilities of written communication. Written messages could be saved and recorded. Couriers entrusted with messages did not have to try to remember them, and additional security could be applied depending upon the abilities of those seeing the message to read or decode it.
Biblical references to letter writing appear in the Old Testament, but the earliest postal services were established 3,500 years before that in China's Third Dynasty. A thousand years later, around 3000 B.C., organized posts were established in the Middle East.
In the fifth century B.C., Greek historian Herodotus traced a system of courier relay stations, or post houses, that were established along the Royal Road during the reign of Darius of Persia. A messenger on horseback would stop at a station and pass the message on to another with a fresh horse. This ancient model spanned many centuries and was used by thousands ofpostal systems both large and small, including the famous Pony Express of the American Wild West.
Herodotus was the first postal historian. Among his writings was the now famous "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" that graces the New York City Post Office building (now known as the Farley Post Office).
A more complex courier system known as Cursus Publicus developed in the Roman Empire during the time of Emperor Augustus. Its use was limited to official documents. Messengers used horses, chariots, and ships, relying on the technology of the day to speed the mail. Both Greeks and Romans occasionally used homing pigeons to transport quickly small lightweight messages, making this the earliest form of aerial mail.
Although the postal network collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire, monasteries and seminaries set up messaging systems throughout Europe during the Middle Ages—primarily because clergy constituted the largest literate population. As universities were established they became part of this communication network. Over time literacy became more commonplace, and courier services using horse-drawn carriages were utilized for government, commerce, and military purposes.
The Italian family of de Tour et Tassis (later Germanized to Thurn and Taxis) established Europe's most widespread postal system beginning in the late 1400s. Eventually this network of post offices extended from Italy to Germany, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Spain. Thurn and Taxis contracted with European royalty to carry official mail. Eventually ordinary citizens also could use the extensive Thurn and Taxis post, although sending or receiving letters was expensive. Remarkably, this private postal system lasted three and a half centuries, until 1867 when Prussia nationalized the last remaining Thurn and Taxis network.
The mid-eighteenth century ushered in the Industrial Revolution. By the late 1700s growing commerce created demand for better communication between suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, consumers, investors, and banks. Letters were written on sheets of vellum, parchment, or handmade rag paper and sealed with wax wafers or sealing wax. In many countries postage fees were calculated by the number of letter sheets and the distance the letter had to be carried.
In those days it was common practice for the recipient to pay the postal fees. This had the unfortunate consequence of adding significant expense to the delivery of mail. Frequently the recipient could not or would not pay the postage, which meant the postal service incurred all the cost of transporting a letter from one place to another without having been reimbursed for any of the costs of service.
In 1826 Rowland Hill, a former schoolteacher in Great Britain, became interested in methods to make the postal service more efficient. In his 1837 pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance arid Practicability, Hill recommended prepayment of postal fees with proof that the fees had been paid verified by use of prepaid letter sheets or a stamp, which he described as "a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamps showing that tax had been paid, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash which the bringer of the letter might, by applying a little moisture, attach to the back." Hill further proposed that postal rates be set at 1 penny on every letter irrespective of the distance traveled within Britain, postulating that lower rates would increase volume, revenue, and efficiency.
Hill's plan did not receive unanimous acceptance, but it was eventually adopted by the British government in the British Postal Reform Act of 1839. Rowland Hill was appointed Advisor to the Treasury to implement the plan.
The British Treasury Department conducted a competition open to the general public to solicit designs for letter sheets and adhesive stamps. The competition generated more than 2,600 entries vying for the £200 prize for the most deserving, and £100 for runners-up—a very significant amount of money in those days. Most of the entries were for letter sheets and not adhesive stamps. Competition winners were selected and prize money paid, but none of the designs were adopted.
Rowland Hill believed prepaid letter sheets would be used to a far greater extent than adhesive stamps, the reason being that envelopes were not in general use at the time. Most letters were written on letter sheets, folded, and sealed with wax wafers. Stamp collectors call these stampless letters or stampless entires.
One of the period's most respected artists, William Mulready, was chosen to design the prepaid letter sheets. The adopted design shows a central figure of Britannia surrounded on both sides and down the left and right borders by a cast of characters that were intended to represent the entire vast British Empire.Guide to Stamp Collecting. Copyright © by Janet Klug. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.