When I started saving plate number blocks of United States stamps in 1984, the first class letter rate had just increased from 18 to 20 cents. It has since more than doubled.
The cost of every United States Postal Service product has also increased. The mail doesn’t get delivered twice as fast. Has the overall quality of service increased? Ask the on-line seller whose customer recently wrote to let him know that her vinyl record album arrived in two pieces.
Service may have been sacrificed for revenue enhancement, but the customer need not pay face value for stamps. However, buying stamps has never been easier, and with freedom stamps, the value is excellent.
Stamps In World War II
In the years following World War II, when United States commemoratives were issued more often, casual collectors saved them in sheets, believing that they would be valuable someday. Something to pay for the grandkids’ college education.
Later, reprints of classic stamps; triangles, imperforates, special-event mini-sheets — gimmicky things — were printed not for general use on mail, but for collectors. Stamps sold but never used become 100 percent profit. In the 1980s, the number of new stamps in all formats and values increased each calendar year at a rate that drew the wrath the stamp collecting community.
Every new stamp had a print run in the millions. Remarkably, very few became valuable. I finally stopped saving unused plate blocks. I couldn’t keep up with the output of “wallpaper;” the collectors’ term for excessive new issues printed in large quantities.
A lot of wallpaper ended up in the stock of stamp dealers, purchased at a fraction of its face value. All of it can still be used for postage. Any unused United States stamp issued after 1861 is always worth its face value on mail.
A search using the terms “discount postage” or “postage below face” will bring back names of dealers who sell old mint sheets for less than face value, legally. Stamps, once purchased from the post office, can be resold at any price.
Dealers can sell a sheet of 100 five cent stamps, for example, with a face value of five dollars for four dollars and still make a profit, although a small one. They make it up in quantity.
A sheet or roll of any stamp issued to pay a United States first-class rate can eventually be found for sale at below its face value. Shipping and handling charges for one item will increase the buyer’s total to over face, but those costs are the same for ten items as for one. The more purchased, the higher the buyer’s below-face savings.
Stamps Through Time
Line-engraved stamps from the 1940s and 50s look nice. They serve as links to a time when thought and care went into the making of things. In the 1960s, stamp designs became more stylish and less formal, reflecting changes in popular culture. Still, not just any subject could end up on a stamp. (Also encouraging me to stop serious collecting was the appearance of Bugs Bunny, the Muppets, Disney characters, and Yoda — commercial products all — on stamps.)
Some arguably ugly stamps were printed, but so were many beautiful stamps that compare favorably to all but a handful of recent issues.
On every package I send, next to the return address with my ham call sign, appears the five-cent amateur radio commemorative of 1964, from a sheet purchased at below face. It, along with the other old stamps I always use, serve as a kind of logo for my mail-order business. People tend to remember things that come in the mail bearing, in place of a meter strip, an assortment of colorful stamps they’ve never seen. A home-based, mail-order business might benefit from sending out memorable mail. The customer who wrote re the broken record also took the time to mention the cool stamps that were on the package.
The gum on old stamps hardens with age. Some refuse to stick on their own and need a drop of white glue. A small inconvenience for using stamps I like on things the receiver is more likely to remember.
I still save sheets of my favorite old stamps for use as postage. In the back of my mind runs this question: will only one stamp be issued to honor the Rat Pack, or will Frank, Sammy, Dean, and Shirley MacLaine each have their own? A regular sheet or particular collector item? All of them on a $4 souvenir sheet sounds good. By then, it’ll cost a dollar to send a letter.