Commemorative stamps are issued for limited durations to celebrate or remember a particular activity or event, like the Olympics or the bicentennial. While they can be used for regular postage service, their limited variation of denominations and relative rarity mark
New South Wales Centeniall Stamp, 1888
them as primarily aimed at the collecting market. There is a great deal of controversy among collectors regarding the first explicitly commemorative stamp. Some of the earliest examples were intended as special issues of regular stamps, not specifically aimed at collecting. New Brunswick issued a stamp to celebrate the expected visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860, while the United States released a black stamp after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1866. Another early contender for the first commemorative stamp was the Centennial Exposition’s stamped envelopes in 1876, though technically this isn’t a postage stamp, it’s postal stationary. The most widely accepted first commemorative stamp is the Centennial Stamp issued by New South Wales in 1888, which receives this honor due more to its status as a collector’s stamp than being a chronological first. Other early unarguably commemorative, stamps included Hong Kong
Columbus commemorative stamp
and Romanian stamps and then a whole varied set from various American countries celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. The rush of commemorative stamps that emerged around this time sparked a pronounced backlash from a large portion of the collecting community as prices soared. In fact, 1894 saw the birth of the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps (SSSS), an organization that had little to no effect on the proliferation of commemorative stamps. The most popular collectible stamp ever released in the United States was, perhaps fittingly, the Elvis Presley stamp issued in 1993, with over a hundred million stamps secured in collections around the country. While other stamps can’t quite compete with the Elvis in volume, there are far more individually valuable commemorative stamps available.
One of the most expensive new stamps available is also the most technologically advanced: the Austrian Andi Herzog lenticular stamp actually has a moving image of the goal allowing Austria into the 98 World Cup. As a new stamp, this is only around ten dollars American. For truly expensive commemorative stamps, one has to look a little further back in history. The Columbus commemorative stamps issued in 1892 are some of the most expensive in the US, with a price around $1400 for a mint example. Similar stamps, like the Trans-Mississippi collection sell for anywhere from $400 to $4000 depending on the version.
Where to buy Commemorative StampsCollectors looking for price and sales information on-line often check ebay.com first, as it has evolved a dedicated stamp collecting section. Price information, updated twice yearly, can be found at thesweedishtiger.com, as well as on numerous blogs. Stamp2go.com also provides a meta-auction service that connects stamp collectors and allows them to engage in trading or selling.
For general information on where to buy stamps online please visit my stamp collecting home page.