How Postage Stamps are Made

The process of how postage stamps are made has come along way since the mid 1800’s.  Today, over 50 million stamps can be printed and readied for distribution in a single day.  Technological advances have made the production of postage stamps faster, cheaper, and safer from potential forgery.

Some designs and elements of a given stamp issue still call for engraving work.  But skilled artists complete the bulk of design work with computer software.  Scanners transfer the original stamp artwork to the software.  Artists finely tune the digital reproductions to adhere to dimensional and procedural requirements specific to postage stamps.

From here, the digital design is transferred to 4 printing plates, one per CYMK (Cyan,Yellow, Magenta, and Black) color to be used for a given stamp issue.  The plates contain rows of the same design so entire sheets can be printed at once.  Inspectors closely monitor each stage to ensure quality and accuracy.

The plates are loaded into the stamping, or printing press.  The press blends and layers the 4 main CYMK colors into as many final colors as needed.  A special ink is also applied during printing as an additional step to prevent forgery.  The ink also helps inspectors more accurately discover defects.

Prior to 2005, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing handled the bulk of the stamp printing work.  Since then, all U.S. postage stamps have been printed by carefully selected private printing facilities.  Today, only a handful of printing companies are authorized by the U.S. Government to produce postage stamps.

Many a stamp collector loves error stamps.  While the government is not against stamp collecting in any way, every effort is made to prevent errors from being released to the public.  But machines require moving parts.  And moving parts, well…move. Therefore adjustments are constantly being made to nudge centering, color saturation, and finally cutting.

Up to 40 billion stamps are produced by the U.S. per year

The huge, now printed, rolls are cut down to size depending on the type of stamp being produced.  Perforations and cut lines are also added at this time.  Any sheets not up to standards are destroyed.  Those that pass are finally cut into their final sizes and packaged for distribution.  Up to 40 billion stamps are produced by the U.S. per year using this highly advanced stamp producing process.

Learn even more about how the stamps in your collection came to be by viewing these short videos:

Stamp Production – The National Postal Museum
The Modern Postage Stamp – The Universal Postal Union
Printing Postage Stamps – The National Postal Museum

The Bridges Between Stamps and History

Recently, we’ve posted a few blog topics focusing on the connections between stamp art and politics, stamps and diverse cultures, as well as great people and their service to the World.  One of the most fascinating elements of stamp collecting is the connection between postage stamps and the people, places, and events they depict.  If you’re looking for a new topical stamp collecting theme, try historic bridges on U.S. stamps.

a stamp collecting topic all about building connections

November is Historic Bridge Awareness Month.  And if there is a stamp collecting topic that is all about building connections, it has to be bridges.  Research the 1983 U.S. 20 cent stamp commemorating the 100th year anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge.  You’ll find that this historic bridge laid the foundation for many bridges that came after it.  Any bridge is an engineering marvel to behold.  But each bridge had its own purpose in being built and its own set of complications.

Connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan, the near 1600 foot long Brooklyn Bridge began construction in 1869.  Completed in 1883, it remains one of the oldest and most impressive bridges in the United States.  Sadly, the bridge’s original designer, John Augustus Roebling, died before the bridge was constructed.  He died from complications following a foot injury while planning the massive structure’s design.

 The Mackinac Bridge replaced up to nine ferries worth of traffic

The Brooklyn Bridge served as the inspiration behind the 1957 Mackinac Bridge which, today, connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.  This historic bridge replaced as many as nine ferries worth of daily commercial and private traffic.  Similarly, the construction of the World renown Golden Gate Bridge alleviated huge ferry delays across the San Francisco Bay.  There is amazing depth behind the topic of bridges.  Far too much to cover here. Try a quick search for a couple of the bridges depicted on the postage stamps above to see for yourself.

See historicbridges.org for a wealth of intriguing information and history on many of the most historical bridges in the United States.  Keep your eye out for more historic bridges on U.S. stamps.

Happy Stamp Collecting!

Speak up for Service Day

October 30 is National Speak up for Service Day.  This the day we recognize the importance of good deeds and kind acts that otherwise go unnoticed.  With the constant flow of daily information and the onslaught of what the media calls “news”, it is quite difficult to stay informed about all the little things that matter in big ways.  It is near impossible to stay informed with matters taking place abroad.  And it always has been.  One can always find many of history’s great people on Worldwide stamps.

If you look at any United States stamp collection, you will likely recognize many of the people and places depicted upon them.  You’ll find great leaders, political activists, artists, and more.  But what about a Worldwide stamp Collection?

Who is Alfred Wegener and why is he on a stamp?

Say you were to get our Packet of 50 Austria Commemorative Stamps and were to find Dr. Karl Landsteiner.  Who is that?  Why, he discovered that there were 4 different blood types!  Or how about the 1980 Alfred Wegener postage stamp?  He came up with the theory of Continental Drift.  You may also find the 2002 Bhutan United We Stand stamp and realize there were those that stood beside us we didn’t even know about.  Placing stamps in an album is only part of Stamp Collecting.  Look a little deeper into the stories and great people on worldwide stamps.  The World will become a much larger and more fascinating place.

Semi-Postals and Breast Cancer Awareness Postage Stamps

Since 1897 stamp issuing nations around the World have been issuing semi-postal stamps. What are Semi-Postal stamps?  Sometimes referred to as Charity Stamps, semi-postals are valid postage that actually cost more than their face value.  The additional surcharge these stamps carry is used to fund a recognized charity or cause.  For example, St. Vincent and the Grenadines issued semi-postal stamps in 1980 to fund hurricane relief.  Some of the coolest examples to date are the U.S. Semi-Postal Breast Cancer Awareness Stamps.

The United States issued its first ever semi-postal stamp in 1998. The stamp was released to help fund breast cancer research. Many claimed this attempt to use postage to help find a cure would result in little to no gain. However, the Breast Cancer semi-postal stamp has been a huge success. It has been re-priced 4 different times since its initial release at 40 cents (8 cent surcharge). Our first semi-postal stamp has been re-issued, currently priced at 60 cents, and has had its validity of sale extended through 2019 by act of Congress.

According to the United States Postal Service, the Breast Cancer semi-postal stamp has been sold over 1 Billion times (yes, Billion with a B). And it “has raised over $82.9 Million for breast cancer research”! In other words, the cumulative surcharges alone have totaled almost 83 million dollars. Who knew a few extra pennies could make such a difference. Apparently breast cancer awareness advocate Senator Dianne Feinstein knew. This is truly one of the most amazing postage stamps in U.S. History.

World Post Day

On October 9, 1874, the Universal Postal Union was formed in Bern, Switzerland where it is headquartered today.  The UPU is the governing body responsible for regulations and standards regarding the passage of mail among member nations and states.  The UPU currently has 192 members.

Before the Universal Postal Union, specific agreements between nations were necessary to allow the passage of mail from one country into another.  After standardizing flat rate international postage, mail no longer needed to carry postage stamps from each country through which it passed.  The Universal Postal Union makes it possible that the postage of one member nations is universally accepted by all other member nations.  The UPU also standardized the usage of numbers for postage denominations and colors for postage types.

October is National Stamp Collecting Month

“The collecting of stamps brings untold millions of people of all nations into greater understandings of their world neighbours.”
– Francis Cardinal Spellman

National Stamp Collecting Month was started by the Council of Philatelic Organizations and the USPS. Beginning in 1981, October has been designated as the month to promote and enjoy one of America’s favorite pastimes.  From the World’s Most Famous Stamp to the latest issue available at your local Post Office, every postage stamp has a story.

#StampCollectingMonth

A truly fascinating hobby, stamp collecting both teaches and entertains.  What other hobby teaches so much about the people and cultures of the World?  Help Spread the Word!  Everyone should try one of the oldest and most revered hobbies known to man.

“The fact that stamp collecting has long been the most popular hobby in the world, with over 16 million enthusiasts in the United States alone, is a good indication of how much fascination and appeal these colorful little pieces of gummed paper exert.”
– Robert Obojski

It is no wonder that Stamp Collecting is considered to be one of the most popular hobbies in the World.  With so many topics, important people, and locations commemorated on stamps, there is no end to questions and thoughts one’s mind encounters when studying postage stamps.  The greatest causes and events are almost always memorialized with stamp art.

“The great collectors of stamps were all men of passion. If they did not have passion when they started collecting, they soon developed it, for there is no mistress so demanding as stamps.”
– Claude Stanush

Great minds require great feeding.  Stamp Collecting doesn’t just “pass time”, it studies the recording of history and the topics of most importance to a nation.  Why have so many famous artists and World Leaders collected postage stamps?  It is a hobby in which the mind is fully engaged rather than laying idle.  Here is a brief list of famous stamp collectors:

King George V

Queen Elizabeth II

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Jacques Cousteau

Amelia Earhart

Warren Buffet

Charlie Chaplin

Freddie Mercury

Ayn Rand

John Lennon

If you haven’t tried one of the World’s oldest and most popular hobbies yourself, why not start today. Your brain will thank you!

Politics of Postage Stamp Designs

Discernment of the politics on Worldwide stamps depends a great deal upon when and where you see them…

“The postage stamp […] has an ideological density per square centimetre that is probably more concentrated than any other medium of cultural expression.”
– David Scott
(expert in Textual and Visual Studies)

Looking at the collectible postage stamp designs of the past, we glimpse history.  We see singular moments before our time, remember profound tragedies, and celebrate great leaps in technology and cultural change.  But how would we perceive those images and words during their actual time of issue?

For example, the images of the World Trade Center towers in stamp designs around the World brought forth emotional tears and anger, feelings of unity and resolve.  These are natural responses for Americans and others alike.  But what about a nation with a long held position of neutrality?

our politics doesn’t always generate the same fanfare

Mongolia was among the first countries to contribute troops to the War in Iraq.  That was a pretty bold move for a country nestled between Russia and China.  While American fashion and entertainment are quite popular in the East, our politics doesn’t always generate the same fanfare.  It’s not surprising to see the likes of Bob Marley and Mickey Mouse adorn the postage stamps of nations around the globe.  But in late 2001, Mongolia issued two postage stamps depicting the Statue of Liberty, the Twin Towers, and the words “Let’s Unite Against the Terror”.

stamps have been used to sway public opinion

Most postal administrations the World over are branches of national governments.  As such, the designs which are chosen are at least in part what the governments would like to portray to their public and foreigners alike.  Take any historical success in a nation’s history and you’ll likely see it portrayed in visual form upon a postage stamp soon thereafter.  Likewise, stamp designs have been used to sway public opinion.  In fact, the U.S. Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee was formed to limit the level of political propaganda in U.S. postage stamp design.

Postage stamps truly are works of art.  They are fully capable of capturing a nation’s pride and memorializing a people’s sorrow.  Stamps can even sway the opinion of the masses for better or worse.  For an interesting research project, look up “Operation Cornflakes”.  You’ll see how an American and British fake postage stamp was used as propaganda for German citizens.

Stamps are Little Pieces of Art

Every year postal authorities around the World accept and approve of artwork to be used as postage stamp designs.  In the United States, the first 50 years of stamp artwork was mostly the portraits of great American leaders.  Since these early days many a topic, landmark, and public awareness theme have adorned U.S. stamps.  Talented artists have created lasting images commemorating the beauty of national flora and fauna, the exploration of space and sea, and historic events that shape our nation.

As a young nation it should come as no surprise that one stamp art theme that persists alongside and within all others is Patriotism.  Stamp art honoring great actors and actresses may appeal to you while those depicting tropical fish may appeal to me.  But Patriotic graphics seem to appeal to us all.  The words of the Constitution, the colors of our flag, and the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty unite us as Americans.

William Butler Yeats said, “Designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors on national taste.” I believe that stamp art proclaims to the World that while we are diverse in culture and beliefs, we are indeed United as Americans.

Related:  See our United We Stand U.S. Stamp Collection.

That Back to School Feeling

One of my favorite times of the year, back when I was young and later as a parent, was Back to School time.  Sometimes I still get a hint of that feeling when perusing office supplies.  For me, it was the planning and organization of it all that I found exciting.  I’m guessing many a stamp collector shares this feeling.

stamp supplies are like school supplies …

For school there were pens, pencils, erasers, and rulers for the paper; paper and notebooks for the folders; folders for the binders; and binders for the backpack.  For stamp collections there are mounts, tongs, and magnifiers for the stamps;  stamps for the pages;  and stock pages and supplements for the binders or albums.  All this to organize your work by subject.

… and stamp collecting topics are like school subjects

And what do you do about 3 weeks into the new school year?  Re-Organize based on what you learned along the way, of course.  I believe my first stamp collection was comprised of somewhat random foreign stamps that merely appealed to me visually.  A short time later, I organized these into rough topical categories like animals and shapes like triangle stamps.  From there, I re-organized my stamps into Worldwide countries, eventually focusing on Mongolia and Mexico.  All the while, I kept expanding outside these first rough categories.

Do you get that back to school feeling when planning and organizing your stamp collection?  If so, do you stay within the bounds of an existing album?  Or do you let your collection and imagination build itself as you go?  Either way, the experts at Jamestown Stamp Company know how to help.  We’re here to spark your interest in new countries and topics as well as aid your focus on specific time periods or countries. Let us know what you like.  We’ll help you build the perfect stamp collection!