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What Is A Stamp?

THE FIRST QUESTION TO BE asked when stamps come into consideration is the very fundamental, "What is a Stamp?" That's a very simple question, but the answer is complex.

A postage stamp is a tiny piece of paper, representing an obligation by a government to perform a certain postal duty. It bears an imprinted design and, except with Great Britain, bears the name of the country of origin. Great Britain, as has been noted before, has never felt it necessary to include the name of the country, but prints the words "Postage" and "Revenue" on the stamp to denote the use, and generally has the likeness of the King in the design. That is a simple description but it does not explain any of the very important "technical" aspects of the matter. A postage stamp is produced by any of a number of printing processes, the two most common methods being engraving and gravure. Most governments prefer engraved designs, because they look more impressive, and resemble banknotes, but the costs are generally higher, and there are certain limitations to engravings not met with in gravure or other processes.

Skipping the problems of production for the moment, we see that a postage stamp should first bear the name of the country of origin, and a value, and then should have an appropriate design and a distinction as to the intended manner of usage.There is, first of all, the straight postage stamp, which is sufficient to carry a letter, parcel or printed matter from a point of origin to the ultimate destination. There must be certain values, to meet the postal rates for first, second, third and fourth class mails, and these stamps should be in accordance with the colors as established by the Universal Postal Union, in Berne, Switzerland. (The U.P.U., set up in 1875, is an international organization which regulates the handling of mail.)

The so-called straight postage stamp, in addition to its use for regular mail, will carry a letter as well via airmail, or by special delivery, or parcel post, even though special stamps may have been produced for these purposes. In this country, for example, stamps are produced for straight postage, airmail and special delivery, and there are or have been stamps for postage due, registry and parcel post. There are also revenues in one form or another, but the collecting, or skipping, of these items is a matter for each collector to decide.

Regular postage stamps whose only intended purpose is to carry the mails through, are supplemented by commemoratives or special stamps, each having a generally limited period of sale.

Measurements of postage stamps are usually 1 inch by 3/4 inches, or 1 1/2 inch by 3/4 inches, with the exceptions either much smaller or much larger. For the most part present day stamps are perforated on all sides, to facilitate separation, but this has not always been so and, in fact, is sometimes not true even today.

A check through the standard catalogue reveals the following forms of postage:

Postage, including commemorative or special purpose adhesives; airmail; special delivery and special delivery airmail; registration; postage due; savings stamps; revenue stamps; post office seals; postal savings mail adhesives; newspaper stamps; parcel post adhesives; locals; carriers; stamped envelopes and wrappers; semi-postals; souvenir sheets or blocks; officials; war tax stamps; postal fiscal items; postal tax stamps.

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