First Day Covers are fairly unique in the world of stamp collecting. They come in various shapes and sizes, and some are very old while new ones appear every year. This makes many philatelists wonder if First Day Covers are worth collecting.
First Day Covers are worth collecting if you have one in good condition with a cachet that was part of the mailing process, and ideally designed by hand. Whether or not a First Day Cover is worth collecting also depends on how it was stored, along with the type of stamp it is and its age.
As with many aspects of stamp collecting, there are gray areas that apply to First Day Covers. The good news is that First Day Covers are not as murky as other types of stamps. Read on to learn more about First Day Covers and find out if you should add some to your collection.
All About First Day Covers
First Day Covers are about commemoration. Each First Day cover is a way for a government to commemorate the release of a stamp that celebrates, honors or memorializes some place, person or event in history.
In and of itself, a First Day Cover is just a stamp. When one considers the information above, though, the stamp and its presentation can take on new meaning. In some cases, it can also take on new and higher value than a standalone stamp.
Generally, stamp collectors are on the up and up and straightforward. With most, you can trust what they say about a stamp, including its value. There are two exceptions when that is not necessarily true.
A seller of a stamp or First Day Cover will be trying to either recoup what they paid for the article or trying to make money. There is always a temptation to use the ignorance of a buyer against them or to pitch a higher value than the article is worth.
The inverse is true of someone that is trying to buy a stamp or First Day Cover. They will want to pay the lowest amount of money they can. That means the temptation is there to low-ball the value of a stamp and take advantage of a collector that is selling but does not have a firm grasp of stamp valuation.
Always Go Through A Dealer If Possible
The reality of temptation to high or low ball a price is largely avoided by always doing business with a reputable dealer. That is not to say a dealer is not trying to get the best price they can. The likelihood of a dealer trying to take advantage of you, though, is low.
In addition, if you have a First Day Cover or are looking to buy one, whether through a dealer or in a private sale, getting a dealer’s opinion is always a good idea. Most dealers will be happy to discuss the issue with you if you contact them at an appropriate time.
An added benefit to collaborating with a dealer is that they will likely have some idea of the direction of the market as it applies to the First Day Cover or stamp you are interested in and whether that will increase or decrease in value over time.
A dealer will also know if the stamp you are trying to buy or sell, First Day Cover or not, possesses worth beyond the face value of the stamp.
What Is A First Day Cover?
A First Day Cover is a postage stamp on a cover, postal card or stamped envelope deliberately canceled for collection reasons on the first day of the stamp’s issue. The stamp can be applied within the country or in a territory of a “stamp-issuing authority.”
Often, a First Day Cover is issued from an overseas office or at sea. Postmarked First Day Covers issued while at sea or at a Port of Call will have a “Paquebot postmark.”
Additionally, there is almost always a first day of issue postmark and frequently a pictorial cancellation that indicates the city and state or territory the stamp was first issued from. First Day of Issue often refers to the postmark.
First day postmarks can be applied based on the origin country’s policies. Often, first day postmarks are applied weeks or even months after the first day of issue. One driver of this is the anticipated popularity of the stamp in question.
First Day Ceremonies
First Day Covers may be commemorated by an official ceremony on the day of the official issuance. This is often used to generate interest among the public and stamp collectors regarding the stamp, postmark or cover.
At this ceremony, postal officials publicly reveal the stamp and issue a press release and statement regarding the stamp, the history of the subject of the stamp and its significance. Often, when the subject of a stamp is a person, the descendants of that person attend the ceremony.
First Day Cover ceremonies can also be held at locations of interest. If the First Day Cover stamp is honoring space flight in the USA, for instance, a ceremony may be held at NASA headquarters in Florida or Texas. A stamp commemorating a historic battle or battlefield might have a ceremony in that place of interest.
Additionally, the location of the ceremony might be decided by connections that location has with the stamp subject. This is particularly the case with stamps that commemorate historic movements.
Stamps commemorating the American Revolution, for instance, have had ceremonies at Independence Hall, Valley Forge and the point where General Washington crossed the Delaware.
Not Always Location Specific
Sometimes a First Day Cover ceremony has no connection with the place or event the stamp commemorates. Two stamps celebrating the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, for example, had ceremonies held at Notre Dame University in Indiana.
Finally, some stamp ceremonies are held at stamp shows. This will generally be in coordination with organizations associated with the stamp issued. A stamp commemorating suffrage, for example, could be held in coordination with women’s rights organizations at a high-profile stamp show.
The point of the ceremony is to generate publicity for the stamp and hopefully drive interest and sales.
First Day Cover History
The world’s initial First Day Cover stamp was the Penny Black, issued on May 6, 1840, in England. The date of the issuance is commemorated by a date-stamp on the backflap of the cover.
Why It Was Significant
The Penny Black was important because it was a first step in making postage affordable for the “common man.” Postage prior to that issuance was extremely expensive, often as much as a laborer’s full day’s wages. Additionally, the postage was paid on delivery, meaning it could be refused and the deliverer would be uncompensated.
The amount due was measured by how many sheets of paper were included in the letter or package and how far the package had to travel. This could become pricey very quickly if the letter sender wasn’t careful.
The Price Of Postage
Postage costs led people to come up with interesting ways of getting around the cost of the sheet of paper. One method was to write normally on one sheet and then flip the sheet upside down and write between the lines of the words already written. This essentially meant you got two sheets for the price of one.
The cost of postage led Sir Rowland Hill to propose that postage be paid by the sender and that postage be based on weight rather than number of sheets. Hill was a proponent of making postage affordable for everyone. This led to the issuance of the penny postage rate on January 10, 1840, and subsequently, the issuance of the Penny Black Stamp.
The Penny Black was prepaid and covered up to one half-ounce of postage. It was officially issued to post offices on May 6, but several post offices released the stamp earlier.
In Bath, England, for example, Penny Blacks were issued on May 2 and the postmark showed that. This means the Penny Black has one official First Day Cover and several unofficial covers from post offices across England.
Types Of First Day Covers
First Day covers come in many forms. A First Day Cover stamp can commemorate a historical event, place, movement or person. The most common First Day Covers are described below.
This type of cover commemorates a historical event. Often, it is accompanied by a “cachet,” which is a design on the left side of the envelope. The cachet explains the events and/or anniversary being celebrated. Postage cancellation marks for this type of First Day cover are often on location.
An event First Day Cover can be of an actual event, like a famous battle, start of a movement (such as one commemorating suffrage) or an association with the event. Examples of the latter include stamps commemorating The Flying Tigers in World War II or several stamps commemorating the first flight by the Wright brothers.
A historical figure First Day Cover highlights the life and accomplishments of a specific individual. Most often, these just celebrate the life of a societal contributor, like Florence Nightingale, Norman Rockwell, Elvis, and several Presidents.
Sometimes, however, historic figures have been used for propaganda by governments. Stamps have often celebrated dictators, frequently while they are alive, to promote their status as an absolute authority. Examples of this include, but are not limited to Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Hitler, and Fidel Castro.
These are covers that create a collectible item. A Philatelic cover is issued with a stamp and address and sent through the mail. It is postmarked and the postage is cancelled. Stamp collectors have used these to create articles for a collection from the late 19th century onward. The postmark will indicate the first day of issuance of the stamp.
Philatelic covers can be from the first airmail flight of a first day of issue stamp. In addition, several Philatelic covers have had special postmarks created at specific post offices. These often commemorate a historic event, such as the creation of the first automobile assembly line.
Several other types of governmental and non-governmental First Day Cover stamps and postmarks have been issued over the years. These include, but are not limited to:
- The first computer vended postage
- Personalized postage stamps
- Stamps from private local posts
- Artistamps (these are created by private individuals and can be included on an envelope, but are not official postage)
What Makes Up A First Day Cover?
First Day Covers have several “must have” components, but must have in this context is nuanced. The only true “must have” on a First Day Cover is the stamp and the postmark. From a dealer’s or collector’s perspective, however, there are a few “must haves” that help formulate the value of a stamp.
This is how stamps are cancelled and how the mail date is documented. Circular Date Stamps are referred to as the “bread-and-butter” of postmarks and are included on everyday mail worldwide. Circular Date Stamps have the following data:
- Town name of the post office of origin of the letter or package
If you want a postmark from the town that has significance to the First Day Cover, you must go to that town, or the post office assigned to that town.
The positioning of a postmark is also significant. The postmark should touch the stamp and envelope clearly and the ink must not be smudged. The more compliant with those two requirements a stamp is the more valuable it is to a collector.
In the US, the USPS chooses the city or cities where “official” first day issues are made public. The location usually has a connection with the topic of the stamp. Those official post offices of First Day Cover issue will have the wording “First Day of Issue” on their postmarks.
As First Day Covers gained popularity, people began to add their own artwork to the envelope that was connected in some way to the stamp in question. Several printers capitalized on this trend and began to add printed cachets to envelopes as a way to attract buyers and charge a little bit more.
Freelance illustrators were often contracted to design cachets for specific stamp themes. Cachets can be applied to any package as long as it meets USPS requirements or the requirements of the post office where the package is mailed. A cachet is usually a design on a rubber stamp and is separate from a postmark.
Cachets became popular because they told a story about the cover. In some cases, where a postal service no longer cancels certain types of stamps, a cachet can be designed to authenticate the date of the cancellation date. To use this strategy, official postage is also included on the cover.
Some postal services allow the use of specialized handstamps in addition to the official postmark. There is a process to follow, and it must be approved, but governments that allow special handstamps will generally approve a handstamp – if for no other reason – because it is more business for the postal service in question.
Why Does Any Of This Matter?
Each of these components factor into the overall value of a First Day Cover. Understanding the significance can help the collector, purchaser or seller figure out if the asking price is fair, high or low.
While stamp value is still subjective, and that is covered below, a big part of a stamp’s value hinges on its type, style, additions, and official markings. For certain stamps, possessing those characteristics can mean a stamp is worth a lot of money, while not having them can mean the stamp or cover is worth very little.
Are First Day Covers Worth Collecting?
What Do You Have?
A valuable First Cover Stamp will possess certain qualities that are tangible (postmark, stamp, etc.) and intangible (smudge free, historical connection, etc.). Because these criteria are rigid, most First Cover Stamp editions are not worth a lot. A few are though, but you will never know that if you don’t familiarize yourself with the criteria for value.
The type of stamp it is factors in as well. A world-famous historical event or person will usually have more value than an obscure poet, event or organization nobody has ever heard of.
The Condition Of The First Day Cover
As with just about every collectible, the condition of the cover is vital. Beaten up covers, smudged postmarks, and damaged stamps don’t command much money. There are a few exceptions, but covers that are damaged are not worth anything of note.
That applies to the postmark. If a postmark is smudged or faded, the value of the stamp will diminish.
Does It Have A Cachet?
A cachet that was obviously mailed and not added on after the fact is worth more than a cover with no cachet. Further, a hand designed cachet adds value to the cover, provided it can be proven that the cachet was part of the mailing process and not added to the cover later.
How Was It Stored?
This factors in with condition. First Day Covers stored in official stamp albums will preserve the stamp, postmark, and cover. Covers stored unorganized and unprotected in a box or drawer will be worth less, usually due to damage as a result of their poor storage.
Some General Rules
The following are some general rules that usually apply to First Day Covers and factor into the overall value of your First Day Covers:
- Most First Day Covers without cachets are not worth much. There are exceptions, but generally, this rule is universal.
- Most First Day Covers from the 1960s onward are not worth very much, although there are a few, rare exceptions.
- Most common First Day Covers from the 1950s are not worth much.
- Some events, historical figure, or organization First Day Covers are worth more even if there is no cachet (a First Day Cover Washington one cent stamp is an example – that cover in just about every type of condition is worth a lot).
- Value trumps postage class when First Day Covers are being evaluated.
- Some First Day Covers are valuable and sell well regardless of the information on the cover, postmark, or postage, such as the 1987 Public Accountants stamp and cover.
- Good art on a cachet increases the value of a stamp.
First Day Covers are worth collecting in some cases, usually only if they’re in good condition and have a cachet. Ideally, this cachet will have been designed by hand. The type of stamp and how old it is will also determine whether or not a First Day Cover is worth collecting.