Commemorative stamps are postage stamps which are issued as a special edition to commemorate a cause, person, event, or location. Such stamps are issued by many postal services all over the world each year, with some postal services issuing hundreds of commemorative stamps annually. Typically, after a year of circulation, the stamps are withdrawn, creating a limited available supply. Many philatelist, or stamp collectors, enjoy collecting commemorative stamps along with rare and vintage stamps.
Several nations have laid claim to the credit for the first commemorative stamp, and the practice appears to have emerged around the 1860s. Such stamps usually feature a design which has been commissioned specifically for the stamp. The design is often executed by an artist who is a citizen of the nation where the stamp is issued, and may be done in a variety of styles. Typically, commemorative stamps are good for first class postage in the nation where they are issued, and when people buy stamps, they can choose between standard first class stamps and a variety of commemorative options.
Some examples of things which can be commemorated include: former heads of state, entries into statehood, historical events, historic sites, famous people, native flora and fauna, and causes such as awareness of rare medical conditions. According to statistics maintained by the United States Postal Service, the most popular commemorative stamp ever issued in America was a 1993 Elvis commemorative stamp, with an estimated 124 million copies of the stamp squirreled away in stamp collections.
Many postal services issue a press release at the beginning of the year with a list of the commemorative stamps planned for release that year. The stamps are issued on a staggered timeline, with stamps often being issued when they seem especially timely; for example, a stamp commemorating a centennial event would be released on the anniversary of the day the event occurred. Special unveiling ceremonies may also be held, with the stamps being shown to the public at a post office in a region which is related to the stamp.
Serious collectors of stamps can order specialized sheets of commemorative stamps through their postal service or the post office. People who are more marginally interested can buy standard issue stamps at the post office, or resort to the time honored tradition of removing stamps from their mail and keeping them in a book. Some people enjoy looking at the cancellation marks on stamps and envelopes, making used stamps an appealing collector's item.