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Once upon a time I had a true love! My true love was not a person though, or even a living thing. My true love was- a postage stamp, and not just one, but all stamps.

Now don’t blame me too much for this amorous dislocation, since I was only 7 years old and didn’t have too many other choices available quite yet. So each day I would wake up early, before the sun was even up, slip into my closet, and carefully remove my precious stamp book from the shelf. And then I would play with it, until my mother would come and take it away, making me get dressed for school.

Some of my stamps were from the US, and other countries I’d heard of like Canada or China, but others were from much more exotic, faraway places, such as Hyderabad and Nowanuggar, Dahomey, a French colony in Africa, Mayotte, a Comoro Island in the Mozambique Channel, as well as Fiurme, Heligoland, Memel, Ostre Giurba, Upper Volta and more . And each stamp had its own personality in other ways too, some for their awesome color, others for their odd shapes and sizes, some for the exotic landscapes and buildings portrayed, and others for their foreign and unintelligible design and script. Before too long, I was gifted with my Grandma’s stamp collection from Poland that I didn’t even know she had, and soon afterward both my mother and father dug their stamps out from some long-forgotten shelf, and gave me those as well. Three generations of stamp collectors, who knew?

But girls will be girls, and before too long I discovered something more interesting than stamps- that being boys. And pretty soon my entire collection was relegated to the back of my own closet, first ignored and then forgotten, never to be played with again.

Skip forward a few decades or so, and I’m standing in my local post office in Nashville, TN with the usual long, slow moving line of irritating people and screaming kids getting on my nerves. I looked around for something to do to distract me from the situation, when I noticed a magazine on the counter. On the cover was these words “USA Philatelic, The Official Source For Stamp Enthusiasts, 2012/Volume 17/ Quarter 1”. I felt a familiar but long-forgotten stirring in my mind, and suddenly a most vivid recollection of my childhood stamp collecting days came crashing back. I remembered how much fun I used to have.
Cherry Blossom Centennial Stamp
I picked up the magazine, opened it, and instantly fell for the beautiful double-wide stamp featured on the cover- a brilliantly rendered image of a park with a bright blue sky and a brilliant pink floral display. The stamp was created to commemorate Tokyo, Japan’s gifting of 3,081 Cherry Trees to Washington, D.C. 100 years ago, resulting in the famous, vibrant cherry blossom display that happens there each Spring, attracting millions of tourists to D.C. to see them.

And then, quite suddenly, I found myself instantly, hopelessly rehooked- on stamps!

But being a little older than 7 this time, I decided to research the history of stamps and the lore of stamp collecting. And what I discovered was the most unexpected and dramatic tale than anything you or Hollywood could think up!

Here are a few highlights:

The first American Post Office was set up in Boston in 1639.

When you think about it, who else but the ubiquitous Benjamin Franklin could have been the first Postmaster General of the United States? No one, it was Benjamin Franklin, appointed in 1775.

In 1799, the U.S. Congress passed a law authorizing the death penalty for mail robbery.

When the postal service first began, the recipient of a letter had to pay the postage. Because so many people refused, early post offices were chock-a-block full of undeliverable mail that they could not destroy or return! Postage stamps revolutionized this process, leading to the concept of prepayment, followed quickly by standardized rates for delivery throughout the country.Ben Franklin 5 cent, George Washington 10 cent and Penny Black 1 cent

The very first U.S. Postal Service stamp cost 5¢), and was issued on July 1, 1847. Guess whose face was on it? You guessed it, Good old Ben! Who came next? A feller known as George Washington (10¢). (By the way, 3,700,000 of the 5¢ and about 865,000 of the 10¢ were sold, and enough of those have survived to ensure a ready supply for collectors. Still, a very fine but used 5¢ sells for around $500, and the 10¢ for around $1,400. Unused stamps are much scarcer, fetching around $6,000 and $28,000 respectively, if in very fine condition. In fact, some stamps are worth much more than that! For example, if you should acquire a rare “Penny Black 1¢)” in fine condition, it could be worth as much as $1 million!)Send a smile stamps featuring cartoon characters.

How do you get on a stamp? Until very recently, stamp content rules required that "events of historical significance shall be considered for commemoration only on anniversaries in multiples of 50 years." And for people, "no postal item will be issued sooner than five years after the individual's death," except for U.S. Presidents. In September 2011, however, the postal service wised up to the 21st century celebrity- craze and decided stamps would soon offer images of celebrated living persons, chosen by a Committee in response to suggestions submitted by the public, by mail of course, and also by social networks. So now, "The Postal Service will honor living men and women who have made extraordinary contributions to American society and culture."

Lunar New Year stamp.In case you didn’t know this, collectible stamps sold by the Postal Service today are not very expensive, and come in many forms and prices. For example, suppose you are interested in “Celebrating Lunar New Year: Year of the Dragon” (The first new stamp issued in 2012, the series shows the head of a colorful dragon against a brilliant blue sky, and celebrates the lunar year beginning January 23, and ending on February 9, 2013). You may purchase a Souvenir Sheet of 12 ($5.40), an Uncut Press Sheet ($48.60), a First Day Cover (89c), or a Deluxe Notecard Set w/ envelopes & Stamps (set of 12) for $15.95. But in the future, who knows what they might be worth?

Remember this! If you are interested in collecting a certain stamp, acquire it immediately, because every postal edition is limited to some extent. Obviously, smaller editions will be more likely to accrue in value than a print run of a million. Still, no matter how many they print, when they run out, that’s it. So now to get that stamp you have your heart set on, you’ll have to go to the aftermarket- collectors and dealers who make their living (potentially a very good living) selling rare and collectible stamps.
Latin Music Legends stamps.
Other stamps in the USA Philatelic 2012/ Volume 17 that caught my eye included the new “Cherry Blossom Centennial”, release date March 24, 2012 that I mentioned earlier; the commemorative “Latin Music Legends” 5-stamp set released in 2011, including Tito Puente, Carmen Miranda, Selena, Carlos Gartel, and Celia Cruz; the commemorative The “Civil War: 1861”; a “Send A Hello First Day of Issue Commemorative”set of 5 released in 2011; and “Earthscapes”, featuring 15 different photographs of earth as seen from space.

No matter what your taste or interest, the USPS has learned over the last 175 years how to design stamps that please. U.S. Postage Stamps can and have offered amazing insights into United States history and are avidly sought after by historians and collectors alike. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find a fun, interesting and potentially profitable hobby that can, as in my case, last a lifetime.

To subscribe to the USA Philatelic Magazine (It’s free!), see all the stamps I’ve mentioned,  learn what to look for when collecting stamps and what makes them very valuable or not so much, and so much more, check out the collectors Postal Service website at / Issue 133 - September 2018
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