What are Commemorative Stamps?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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 Typically, after a year of circulation, the stamps are withdrawn, creating a limited available supply.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.

Some post offices have regional commemorative stamps on display.
Some post offices have regional commemorative stamps on display.

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.

Commemorative stamps are popular among some collectors.
Commemorative stamps are popular among some collectors.

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.

Several countries around the world, including North Korea, have printed commemorative stamps.
Several countries around the world, including North Korea, have printed commemorative stamps.

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.

Commemorative stamps may include people of national historical significance, such as Lt. Charles Wilkes, the discoverer of Antarctica.
Commemorative stamps may include people of national historical significance, such as Lt. Charles Wilkes, the discoverer of Antarctica.

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.

The U.S. Postal Service offers a new set of Christmas stamps every year.
The U.S. Postal Service offers a new set of Christmas stamps every year.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@strawCake - Obviously every hobby isn't for everyone! I don't collect stamps either, but I can understand it. It must be satisfying for stamp collectors when they find a stamp they've been looking for! And I'm sure some people also enjoy showing off their stamp collection.

I actually do enjoy seeing commemorative stamps though, just for the purposes of sending mail. I usually buy my stamps online, and I recently got some commemorative stamp items online just for the fun of it. I didn't use them to start a stamp collection though. I just used them to send my mail.


I have to admit that I just don't see the appeal in a commemorative stamp book. For me, stamps are just something I use to send my mail. Whenever I buy stamps (which isn't often, because I do most things online now) I just get the standard stamps and call it a day.

I really feel like a stamp collection doesn't serve any purpose at all. It just takes up space and gets in the way! And some commemorative stamps aren't even worth much money.

I suppose some people might enjoy this hobby, but I just don't get it.


I learned in history class today that when commemorative stamps first became popular, collectors used to shell out huge amounts of money to collect the most stamps. There was even a commemorative stamp club created to prevent stamp collecting from becoming a kind of black market.

How does that work today? Do collectors still spend a lot to get new commemorative stamps?

I always though of commemorative stamp collecting as a hobby so it's surprising to hear that there were or are people who take this very seriously and even do it as a business.


@burcinc-- No those count too! You should collect them!

That's how I collect most of my American commemorative stamps. Some time ago, I had a package arrive from India and it had a stamp on it commemorating Gandhi. It's one of my most prized stamps now.

In fact, some of the oldest commemorative stamps that exist have dates marked on them from the postal office. So it doesn't make it any less collectible. However, if you decide to sell them at one point, it might be more profitable to sell never used ones.


@whiteplane-- I don't really have the answer to your question but I think the older the commemorative stamp is, and the shorter it was circulated in public, the more valuable it would be. I think the less number of people who have access to a stamp, the more valuable it becomes.

I have a question as well. I'm an amateur when it comes to this but I'm interested in collecting commemorative stamps items. I've been receiving quite a few of them lately in my mail and I don't want to throw them away. I even have several commemorative stamps of other countries from friends who live there.

But as far as I know, commemorative stamps can only be collected if they've never been used right? Do they count if they have been stamped by a postal office with date? Can someone clarify this for me?


As a child, I would save any interesting stamps on letters I received in the mail. I had a couple of pen pals, and it seemed that their parents were more into buying commemorative stamps than mine.

I would carefully cut out the square piece of envelope that the stamp was attached to and tape it to a scrapbook. I also would go through my parents’ mail after they had read it and clip any commemorative stamps to add to my collection.

The novelty of it has kind of worn of for me now, since I seem to be so busy all the time. However, I still enjoy thumbing back through my childhood commemorative stamp collection and seeing what used to fascinate me.


I have an uncle who is really into stamp collecting. I don't think he has ever sold any of his stamps, he just enjoys collecting them.

I am sure he has many of the postal commemorative stamps that have been issued through the years. He gets really excited about collecting stamps. I never really understood the fascination of it, and have about as much interest in it as collecting coins.

I know there are very valuable coins and stamps, but I just don't have any idea what is worth something and what isn't.

I am curious to know if the breast cancer research stamp is considered a commemorative stamp?


I love to watch the summer Olympics, and know there is a British stamp coming out for the upcoming 2012 summer Olympics.

I am not much of a stamp collector, but this is one commemorative stamp I would like to have. I spent a summer in London when I was in college, and was able to visit many historic places while I was there.

On this commemorative stamp they have an image of the Tower of London and the London Eye. This is a giant Ferris wheel that is on the bank of the Thames.

I was able to see both of these when I was in London. Maybe if I keep some of these stamps long enough they might be worth something someday.


@Ivan83 - I do know that for 2012 there is going to be a Year of the Dragon commemorative stamp released. I am not sure of the date, so maybe it is already available.

This is part of a series of Lunar New Year stamps they are issuing for commemorative stamps. One of the USPS commemorative stamps for 2009 was the Year of the Ox stamp.

I was interested in this one because I think I have traits that are represented in the ox. Some of the positive traits are being practical and industrious. One of the negative traits is being stubborn, and my family would certainly agree with that.

This commemorative series is supposed to go through 2019 where they will feature other animals in the Lunar New Year such as the snake, horse and monkey.


I don't think I would recognize a valuable stamp if I saw one. My sister had a stamp collection when we were growing up. This was given to her by a great aunt who had collected most of the stamps.

My sister lost interest and gave it to my daughter who had a passing interest in collecting stamps. She collected a few stamps of her own, and showed her collection to her 4-H group.

Once we took the collection to a stamp store to see if there was anything of value there. Other than a couple commemorative postal stamps, there was nothing else of much value.

My daughter soon lost interest and the stamp collection is packed away somewhere in one of her boxes.


Does anyone know what commemorative stamps are set to be released in the near future? I think the postal service announces a schedule at least a few months in advance.


Are there any stamp collectors out there that can tell me what the most valuable commemorative postage stamps are? I go to flea markets and garage sales and auctions all the time and I come across old stamp collection pretty often. A lot of them are just junk. Trust me, I have been burned trying to resell stamps in the past.

But I know that there are some that are really valuable, especially some of the commemorative ones that came out in limited runs. So can anyone give me an idea of what to look for if I am trying to make some money off of collectors.


I am a huge Elvis fan and when I heard that they were releasing a commemorative stamp for him about a decade ago I knew that I had to go out and get some.

I now have a whole book that I have stored away in one of my Elvis scrapbooks. It is just one of many many pieces of Elvis memorabilia I have. And I would never use one of the stamps even if I had some to spare.

Post your comments
Forgot password?