What Were the First Postage Stamps Used in the United States?

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  • Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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The history of the American postal service is a long one, riddled with many ups and downs caused by wars, economical fallouts, and government changes. The first postage stamps were created in 1840 in Great Britain, and became an instant success. Despite this, it wasn't until 1845 that some local postmasters in the United States started using postage stamps, with the first official stamp issued in 1847.

This meant that each local postmaster had to design its own stamp as they saw fit, resulting in a variety of paid systems, from prepaid envelopes to crude drawings bearing the local postmaster's signature. The Government did, however, established the general price of five cents per stamp for any letter traveling less than 310 miles (499 km).

The first postage stamps issued were confined to the East Coast. Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut started the trend, with a few other states following close behind. Those first postage stamps had a fixed price, as there was little chance anybody would send a letter beyond the Eastern Coast settlements. Overseas stamps were not available at the time, and would not be for several decades. All mail traveling in ships to other countries did not need an official stamp to be delivered.


The first postage stamps officially issued didn't come until 1847, when the Federal Government signed a contract with the printing firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson to produce an official design. While the five-cent stamp remained in existence, the government also introduced a 10-cent design. The five-cent became a standardized design, with a picture of Benjamin Franklin on a red background, while the 10-cent stamp showed George Washington.

By 1851, the Government had decided to drop postage prices, which lead to the creation of the first postage stamps of a 1-cent denomination. These first postage stamps retained the photo of Benjamin Franklin, but switched the design to an all-blue color. Three-cent and twelve-cent stamps were also introduced at the time. Those first postage stamps, especially the one-cent, have become extremely popular among philatelists, with some variations of the stamp reaching as much as $200,000 US Dollars in auctions.


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