Eleven Major Types of U.S. Stamps

Ever wonder what the difference is between definitives, commemoratives, and other types of U.S. stamps? Let’s find out!

1895 $1 Bureau Issue

Definitives There have been numerous stamp types issued in the U.S. since the first stamp was sold in 1847. But the one type that has lasted throughout postal history is the “workhorse” of stamps – the Definitive, or regular-issue stamp. Performing the duties of franking everyday mail, it’s issued in a wide variety of denominations and is used for long periods of time. Definitives are very interesting to collect. Since their extended use means they are reprinted from time to time, there can be many differences among the stamps. You may find differences in design, due to the use of several printing plates and worn plates, color variations, varieties of watermarks, perforation and gum differences, or even printing method or paper differences.

1986 Folk Art Commemorative

Commemoratives In 1893, a new type of stamp was issued – the Commemorative stamp. This is a special stamp issued to honor an important person, event, or anniversary. It’s printed in smaller quantities than definitives, and is sold for a limited time only, usually a few months. Unsold remainders are usually destroyed. The first U.S. Commemorative stamps were issued in 1893 to commemorate the World’s Columbian Exposition. The 16-stamp series depicted the various stages of Columbus’ voyages to the New World.



Save Vanishing Species Semi-postal


Semi-Postals Semi-postals are postage stamps with an additional surcharge intended to raise money for a specific cause. In 1997, the Postal Service issued the first U.S. Semi-Postal stamp. Its purpose was to help fund breast cancer research. The Breast Cancer Semi-Postal was followed in 2002 by the Heroes of 9/11 Semi-Postal which raised funds for emergency personnel killed or disabled on September 11, 2001.


2008 72¢ 13-Mile Woods Airmail


Airmail In 1918, Airmail Service was started in the U.S. and the need was there for an Airmail Stamp to prepay airmail postal rates. The first airmail stamp was the 24¢ Curtiss Jenny. (This is also one of the most famous invert errors in postal history.) Although mail is routinely carried by air now, airmail stamps are still issued for use on international mail. All airmail stamps are listed with a Scott Number beginning with “C”. For a short time, from 1934-36, the Postal Service issued Airmail Special Delivery Stamps. These were to provide air postage and a fee for the special delivery. There were only two stamps issued, and these were given Scott Numbers CE1 & CE2.

1879 1¢ Postage Due

Postage Due & Special Delivery The Postage Due Stamp was first issued in 1879. Its use indicates an amount due the Postal Service, when insufficient postage is put on a piece of delivered mail. Postage Due Stamps are plain and very functional, and usually have large numerals indicating the amount of postage owed. They all have Scott Numbers beginning with “J”. In 1885, a new service was started – Special Delivery. The Special Delivery Stamps indicated that an extra fee had been charged for immediate delivery to a person’s address once the mail was delivered to the nearest Post Office. Special Delivery Stamps are always designated by a Scott Number beginning with “E”.

1913 $1 Parcel Post


Parcel Post, Official, & Revenue In 1912, stamps were introduced to pre-pay postage on parcels. There were twelve Parcel Post Stamps issued, all with different denominations, but with the same format and color. Postal workers had trouble differentiating between 1¢ and $1 stamps. By 1913, parcel post charges could be paid for with any stamp, and Parcel Post Stamps became obsolete.

1879 6¢ Treasury Official

They are listed in Scott’s as “Q” numbers. Also issued in 1912 were the Parcel Post Postage Due Stamps. They are Scott Number “JQ” and show that there is an amount to be collected from the addressee. The term “Official” refers to a stamp used only by a department of the government. In 1873, the U.S. issued Official Stamps for the Executive Branch and the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Justice, Navy, Post Office, Treasury, and War. This type of official stamp was in use for seven years. Now there is one universal official stamp to be used by all branches of government. Scott Numbers for Officials start with “O”. The final major type of U.S. stamp is the Revenue Stamp. These stamps show the collection of tax or payment of a fee. The most popular of these revenues are probably the migratory bird hunting stamps, or duck stamps, as they are commonly called. They are issued annually. Revenue Stamps are given Scott Numbers beginning with an “R”.

1862-71 50¢ Probate of Will Revenue
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