Guide to Commemorative Stamps


May 01, 2014 Europe/London
Seasoned stamp collectors and hobbyist know the value and importance of commemorative postage stamps. But what are they, and what are the different types of commemorative stamps that are worthy of collection and further studies? In philately, a commemorative stamp is a special edition stamp that is released to commemorate an important event, anniversary or can be used to honor a person, event or place. These stamps will feature the name of the person (or the event or place) that is honored, which is different from definitive stamps where only the subject, country and denomination are printed on the stamp. Another difference is that the commemorative stamps are normally printed in limited numbers and sold for a limited time, or until the printing runs out.

What was the First Commemorative Stamp Issued?

Enthusiasts and stamp collectors are still debating as to what was the first commemorative stamp released in the market. One leading candidate is the 17-cent stamp issued by New Brunswick in 1860, featuring the Prince of Wales. Some collectors, however, argue that the first commemorative stamps are the sixteen (16) stamps of the US Columbian Issue, stamps that were designed and printed to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas or New World.
Another candidate is the Abraham Lincoln stamp released in 1866, a 15-cent stamp that was released a year after his assassination. A 5-cent stamp released in 1882, commemorating another US president - former President James A. Garfield, is also argued to be a candidate. The US government also decided to release the stamped envelopes in time for the Centennial Exposition of 1876, but some argue that these are not stamps but postal stationery.
United Kingdom also had its own share of commemorative stamps that include the Jubilee Issue of 1887 honoring the five decade reign of Queen Victoria. The United Kingdom was known for their efforts to come up with top-notch designs for postage stamps, but they were late in the game when it comes to the printing and release of commemorative stamps. The first British commemorative stamp was released in 1924 - the British Empire Exhibition issue.
There are other commemorative stamps issued around the world, including the ones issued in 1888 by New South Wales to celebrate its 100th anniversary. There were six types of stamps printed, and all these feature the words ‘One Hundred Years’. Hong Kong and Romania also printed and released their versions of commemorative stamps (1891). And in line with the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, a number of countries in America have released their own stamp commemoratives.

Issues with Commemorative Stamps

Not all stamp collectors were happy with the release of commemorative stamps. Some collectors were frustrated by the fact that they need to pay a large amount of cash just to collect these stamps, and so in response, they decided to organize the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps (1895), to identify those stamps that were overpriced. The society soon disbanded, and right now collectors see commemorative stamps as prized items fit for collections.