First day of issue stamps are popular with many collectors, but their worth is always a question. While some are clearly worth a lot, many are not. This leaves many beginner philatelists wondering if first day of issue stamps are worth anything, or if they should be left alone.
First day of issue stamps are rarely worth more than their face value. There have been some instances where first day of issue stamps have been worth a lot of money, but this is usually a result of their rarity or collectability, along with a mix of other factors like stamp errors.
There are a lot of variables to consider with first day of issue stamps. Some are obvious and tangible, but some are intangible and subjective. Understanding these variables can help you decide if you own any stamps of worth or if starting a collection is something you are interested in doing.
How First Day Of Issue Stamps Are Issued
There can be a few components to any first day of issue stamp, depending on how you purchased them. You can purchase the stamp outright or your first day of issue stamp can come with the following:
First Day Of Issue Cover
A cover is an envelope, postcard or some other type of mailable object on which the stamp is affixed. Often, a cachet is located on the bottom left front face of the cover.
These are less common today than they once were, but handwritten or stamped cachets were once very popular. Frequently, an artist would be commissioned to do a cachet.
A cachet can be commissioned by the stamp issuer, collector or dealer. It can also be hand drawn artwork. Provided the cachet adheres to post office rules, the cover is mailable and the cachet is fine.
Cachet artwork usually highlights some aspect of the commemorative or first day of issue stamp. Popular cachet topics include information about an event, location, person or hobby.
Some first day of issue stamps, particularly if they have historical significance, are presented to the collector in the form of a commemorative display page. The display page resides in a binder with other commemorative and first day of issue stamps and stamp covers.
Traditional components on a display page are typically:
- The stamp, cancelled, on a cover, with a postmark
- The cover
- A cachet commemorating the event, person, hobby or topic covered by the commemorative and/or first day of issue stamp
- A brief description of the stamp, what it commemorates, and why the commemoration is significant
A Complete Booklet Of Stamps
Some collectors buy the stamps outright in different quantities. Often, a collector will buy an entire booklet of stamps, or a specific dollar amount worth of stamps. The reasoning behind this is:
- If the stamp becomes valuable, the collector has many of them
- If the stamp becomes popular, the collector can use them as currency
- To use in everyday mailing
- To mail one back to themselves so that they have a cover with a cancelled first day of issue stamp from a local post office or the post office the stamp was issued from
In cases where the collector anticipates using the stamps, one will usually be mailed by the collector to themselves, and the rest will be offered to other collectors or sold privately.
The Issuance Process
When first day of Issue stamps are put in circulation, there is usually a press event that is attached to the release. This often happens in the post office that is tied by location to whatever the stamp’s image is. Releasing stamps commemorating human flight, for instance, frequently happened in and around Kittyhawk, NC.
Additionally, pre-printed covers are also usually included with first day of issue stamps. These can be purchased by collectors. They often have a cachet that describes the stamp, event, object or person it is commemorating and why that event, object or person has significance.
Some collectors also purchase sheets or rolls of first day of Issue stamps and affix them to envelopes from that post office the stamp was released. They then mail the envelope back to themselves. This gives them a first day of Issue stamp and a postmark from the historical and commemorated location.
Are First Day Of Issue Stamps Worth Anything?
Unfortunately, not all first day of issue stamps are worth thousands of dollars. In fact, many are not worth near that and never approach anything close to that. With all stamps, there are some variables that can help determine value. These are the foundation above and beyond any first day value that is affixed to the stamp in question.
More than any other facet of stamp value, a stamp’s condition is the primary driver of value. With rare exceptions, a stamp in great condition will be worth more than the same stamp in bad condition.
It does not matter how rare a stamp is or whether it commemorates something that is highly collectible if it’s in bad condition. There are multiple ways the condition of a stamp can be damaged.
Smudged Cancellation Mark
When a cancellation mark obscures a stamp image, it affects the value negatively. This can happen when a cancellation or postmark is misapplied or the ink on them gets smudged.
This happens at the printers during the perforating process. In some cases, a perforation that is irregular can enhance the value of a stamp, particularly if rarity is also a factor. In most cases, however, irregular perforation marks degrade the value of a stamp.
Rips, Gouges, And Creases
Stamps can be damaged by any of these three while in transit or even when being separated from a roll or sheet of stamps. Stamps that are left in an uncontrolled environment like a desk drawer can also be damaged. When this type of damage occurs, the value of a stamp is reduced.
The glue on the back of a stamp is called its “gum.” Over time, if a stamp is neglected, the gum can dry up or if the stamp is in a collection and moved a lot, it can be rubbed off. The gum and the stamp can become damaged if someone tries to remove it from a cover or envelope as well.
When a stamp has been in circulation, like money, it is exposed to all sorts of potential contaminants. One is liquid. Water can erode and degrade a stamp, rendering it uncollectible.
This list of ways a stamp can become damaged and thus reduced in overall value to a collector or dealer is not exclusive. If you think of the stamp as a piece of paper and the ways a piece of paper can become degraded, the list of possibilities is virtually endless.
The Condition Of The Cover
A “cover” in stamp lingo is something a stamp is affixed to that may or may not be a mailable object. Covers can be postcards, envelopes, sheets of paper commemorating the stamp, etc. The condition of that cover can determine the value of the stamp.
For example, a pristine post and cancellation mark on a stamp in great condition that is affixed to a full envelope is worth more than a stamp that is torn off an envelope, with or without the post and cancellation mark. A mangled cover, even if the stamp is in good condition, or a cover with a smeared postmark, will be worth less than one that is not.
That makes the cover of the stamp a factor to consider when determining its value. If the stamp is rare enough, or highly collectible, it might not matter. But if all things are equal, a stamp on a cover in poor condition will be worth a lot less than one that is in good condition.
How Rare Are First Day Of Issue Stamps?
First day of issue stamps can be rare or they can be common. As every stamp was once a first day of issue, every type of stamp has a version of it from its issue date. However, the older and rarer a type of stamp, the rarer its first day of issue version will be.
Sometimes a stamp has an error in its coloring, perforations, or placement and is pulled from circulation. Ideally, none get into general circulation, but that is not always the case. A good example of a this is the Inverted Jenny stamp, which was minted in 1918 and featured an image of a biplane that was upside down.
Only 100 Inverted Jenny stamps were ever found, which makes it exceptionally rare and valuable. At auction, in 2016, a rare Inverted Jenny stamp sold at a hammer price of $1.1 million.
Another example is the Baden 9 Kreuzer Error from Germany. Minted in 1851, it was printed on the wrong paper (bluish green versus rose). There are only an estimated 5 in existence, which makes it one of the rarest stamps. One sold at auction for over $1 million.
Other types of errors that affect value include, but are not limited to:
- Perforation irregularities
- Misprints (when something happens in the printing process and the image is damaged)
- Artwork misplacement
Some stamps are more collectible than others. When that happens, a stamp’s value increases. As more stamps are pulled off the market and into stamp collections, their frequency diminishes. That also means the rarity of a stamp becomes acute and the value of that stamp increases.
Some stamps, however, are just unpopular. Stamps that have been unpopular, but because of that are also rare, include:
- Susan B. Anthony (some thought there was a cigarette hanging from her mouth)
- Union US Civil War Leaders (the American South strongly objected to General William Tecumseh Sherman being included)
- Confederate US Civil War Leaders (the American South strongly objected to the picture of General Lee with only two stars on his collar. Also, some in the North objected to glorifying anything from the Confederacy)
- A Pony Express image where the rider carried no mail bags
Each of these stamps had comparatively short runs because they were unpopular. That also, however, has driven their rareness and collectability. Collectability is impossible to predict and sometimes a stamp becomes collectible for the oddest reasons, including being disliked.
This history of a stamp also factors into its overall value. Where the stamp was minted and its story regarding its production can add a lot of value to some stamps. For example, a stamp with a rare perforation can be worth a lot of money.
Errors are also usually very valuable, provided the error is not mass produced. The German stamp mentioned above is an error and because only five examples are known to exist (only one has been unused), it is immensely historical and valuable.
Another historical factor that influences a stamp’s worth is its longevity. The English Penny Black, for example, was only produced for a few months before it was replaced by the Penny Red. The reason for the switch was that the black background made it easy to obscure cancellation markings by adding black ink over the cancellation mark.
Some popular stamps also feature people. George Washington stamps have always been popular. Several prominent sports figures have also proven popular and collectible (although not always valuable). Other people, like Edison, Einstein and Franklin Delano Roosevelt have been featured. In each case, they are tied to a historical event, period or fact.
There are many types of stamps that are affected by their historical significance, including those commemorating professional sports events, world leaders, architecture, art, and modern industry. In each case, on their own the stamp would not be worth much. When combined with historical significance, however, it becomes collectible.
Why This Matters
The worth of a first day of issue stamp will depend on whether it was in circulation, how many were printed and in circulation and its condition. A common stamp in bad condition, even as a first day of issue stamp, once cancelled, is not worth the cost of the stamp.
Conversely, a stamp in mint condition or near-mint that was part of a limited run and that commemorated an object, event or person can be worth a lot more than the price of the stamp. Keep in mind that “a lot more” usually means an increase of more than a third of its face value.
That is also significant. First day of issue stamps are generally not worth much out of the gate. They become worth more over time if they are rare and/or commemorate something that is collectible.
The Topic Of The Stamp
As we mentioned, some first day of issue stamps have a value that is affected by how they are received by the public. Postal officials in 1936, for example, never imagined that the image of Susan B. Anthony selected for her stamp would be controversial.
Likewise in 1937 no one really anticipated the upheaval caused by including General Sherman on a stamp. The American South, however, reviled him because of his adoption of “total war,” which devastated much of the South and hastened the conclusion of the Civil War.
While most stamps are non-controversial (and often that renders them not popular with collectors), there is really no way of predicting dealer, collector or public reaction. For example, every time the US government has issued a commemorative Christmas stamp, it has angered Christians, atheists, libertarians and separation of Church and State watchdogs.
Other stamps that have proven collectible despite their unpopularity include:
- Elvis: Controversial because of his use of illegal narcotics
- Dinosaurs: Paleontologists had an issue with several animal classifications
- Richard Nixon: He was loathed in some areas
- The Atomic Bomb: This was deemed highly insensitive as it was commemorating the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
What Is Valuable And What Is Not
Value Has Many Definitions
With stamps, there are at least two types of value. The first is the monetary type that is subjective but governed by condition, rareness and history. That type of value is most easily determined by presenting a stamp to a few dealers and forming a consensus based on their input. The value the dealers cite will not likely change unless one of the other variables change.
The second type of value is personal or sentimental and is almost exclusively subjective. For example, if you are a huge fan of American history, collecting commemorative presidential stamps might be up your alley. These can be valuable, but most are not.
In this case, the value is in the enjoyment you get from collecting them. That probably means your collection is only valuable to you, but unless you are only collecting as an investment, that should not matter.
Condition, Rarity And History
If we are talking about the first type of value, condition, rarity and history of the stamp all determine its worth. A stamp that falls short in any of those categories will not be as valuable, whether it is a first day of issue stamp or not.
The Value Of First Day Of Issue Stamps
The Baseline Value
At the least, a first day of issue stamp is worth the cost of the stamp. After that, it depends on the stamp, its condition, whether it is rare and if there is any history attached to it that makes it more collectible. Based on this criteria, the answer to the question can be both yes and no.
When First Day Of Issue Stamps Are Valuable
As an investment, first day of issue stamps are worth collecting because:
- They do not cost much
- They might build value as time goes on
You simply do not know if a first day of issue stamp will increase in value over time. With some, you can make an educated guess. For example, stamps that commemorate specific events, like a city hosting the Olympics, will likely be collectible to someone, which will increase its value.
It is a gamble but using common sense will be your best guide in this instance. A stamp everyone wants or a historic moment everyone remembers will likely become more valuable over time. A stamp that covers a topic not many people care about probably won’t, unless it becomes rare.
When First Day Of Issue Stamps Are Not Worth Anything
The flip side to the value argument is that first day of issue stamps are rarely worth more than their face value when they are first issued. That makes investing in them risky at worst, although they are usually fairly inexpensive.
If, however, you are looking for a quick turnaround and a huge payday, first day of issue stamps are not the way to go. At the least, you will have to wait years to see any increase in the value of a first day of issue stamp, unless it has an error that is discovered post-print.
The One Exception
That leads to a discussion of the one example of a first day of issue stamp that should be snatched up at all costs. That is if the stamp has an error that is discovered after it has been put out into circulation. If that is the case, the value of the stamp will begin rising almost immediately.
While the total value is based on how many stamps are put into circulation, it is worth spending a little money to secure what might become incredibly valuable over time. Errors are almost instantly popular with collectors, so if you find a first day of issue stamp that has an error, buy it just in case!
First day of issue stamps are usually not worth more than their face value, but there have been rare occasions where they have been very valuable. However, valuable first day of issue stamps are usually valuable as a result of their rarity or collectability, not because they are first day covers.