What are Vintage Stamps?

S. Mithra

Many stamp collectors, known as philatelists, specialize in vintage stamps, also called classic stamps. By some accounts, a vintage stamp is simply any postage that is not in current circulation so it couldn't be used to send a piece of mail. Other experts define vintage stamps as older than some arbitrary year, such as 1960 or 1900, depending on the postal service history of each country. These classic stamps are solely defined by their age, so they include misprints, canceled or uncancelled, national or international, commemorative, and air post selections.

Vintage stamps can be considered those older than a  particular year.
Vintage stamps can be considered those older than a particular year.

Some philatelists restrict their vintage stamp collections to one particular year or one country, determined by the cancellation mark. This lends a historical dimension to their hobby that leads collectors to discover engraving and printing techniques, advertising trends, tourist patterns, and international relations such as colonial connections. Other unusual attributes of vintage stamps might catch their attention because of high face value, airmail only, misprinted with strange colors or typos, postage due, or special delivery.

Some people collect stamps that commemorate historical events, like Space Shuttle launches.
Some people collect stamps that commemorate historical events, like Space Shuttle launches.

Those philatelists particularly interested in vintage stamps can further relegate themselves to one theme or era since there are so many from which to choose. One might collect stamps that commemorate American historical events, such as the Bicentennial, World's Fair, Olympics, Independence Day, Space Shuttle launches, Anniversaries of Statehood, or World Wars. Others might enjoy decorative stamps organized by topic. For instance, special holiday stamps focus on intricate artwork featuring reindeer, Santa Claus, holly, snowscapes, wooden shoes, or doves.

Another usage of the term vintage stamps refers to the period of time before philately became a well-known, international hobby. Its popularity changed the design and purpose of philately such that postal services began releasing special booklets or limited edition sets with a mind toward collection. Unusual compositions with rare colors or shapes were less common, yet both foreign and domestic stamps exhibited topics such as endangered animals, fine art, and civil rights activists.

People prefer vintage stamps because they are easy to find and fascinating to examine. One can frequently buy entire sets, or random groupings, of vintage stamps for a low, bulk price. You can then sort through them and discover what you find most captivating without knowing anything about their official values, dates, or issuing nation.

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Discussion Comments


Some stamp collectors will tell you that the term "vintage" is not a philatelic term. Rather, when talking about old stamps, specifically prewar stamps, philatists use the term "classic stamps" or "classics stamps". Still, some people continue to use the term vintage, including the United States Postal Service, so it's still useful to understand, and maybe important to keep both terms in mind when searching for old stamps!

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