Stamp Identification Guidelines

Mystic’s 3-Volume American Heirloom Album

At Mystic, we understand getting started in stamp collecting can be a little confusing, but it’s a lot of fun and we’re here to help.

Below we’ve put together a good way to sort stamps when you have a large number of U.S. issues to put in your album…

1.  First, sort the stamps into three groups:

US #C3 – America’s first airmail stamp.
  • “Special purpose” stamps – like Airmails, Postage Dues, Special Delivery, etc.
  • Large stamps – these are mostly commemoratives – honoring a person, place, or event
  • Small stamps – these are mostly definitives (also called regular issues and the “workhorses” of the postal system)

2.  Next, sort the large stamps by face value (the numeral on the stamp, also called the “denomination”).

The older the stamps, the lower the face value.

Example: 3¢ stamps paid first-class mail rate from 1932 to 1958
4¢ stamps paid the first-class rate from 1958 to 1962
5¢ stamps paid the first-class rate from 1963 to 1967 and so on

You can find all the first-class rates with their corresponding dates here.

A set of Liberty Series definitive stamps

3.  The smaller stamps (definitives) are a little trickier. (See #1030-59A in your album – page 277-79 or the Mystic catalog – page 33, where 1¢, 2¢, and 3¢ stamps, etc. are grouped together as a set.)   When you sort, put similar-looking stamps together as they probably belong to a definitive set. It won’t be long before you become familiar with various sets and spot them right away.

The look-alike Flag Over Porch Stamps

Look-alike stamps 

You’ll also find small size definitive stamps with the same design and face value, like #2897//3133 (a set consisting of #2897, 2913-2916, 2920-21, 3133). This is the 32¢ Flag Over Porch set. Most 32¢ stamps were issued from 1995 to 1998. Look for face value and you will narrow the time frame quite a bit.

These “look-alike” stamps have some important differences, even though their design is the same. One big difference is their format. Some of these stamps are sheet stamps. They will have perforations (small holes between stamps printed together on a sheet that allow for separating the stamps.) Others will have a straight edge on two opposite sides and are called coil stamps. They’re made for sale in vending machines. The third type of look-alike stamp is a booklet stamp and may also be sold in a vending machine. It will have a straight edge on one, two or three sides. Each of these stamps is illustrated in your album. The description will tell you if it’s a coil or booklet and if there are other small differences between these stamps.   

US #1205 – America’s first Christmas stamp, issued in 1962.

Small Commemoratives 

4.  There are some small stamps, like Christmas and Love stamps, which are commemoratives despite their size. Group these with the larger commemoratives and sort by face value.

Mystic’s Website, Catalog, and your Heirloom album are great tools for identifying your stamps.

Website: Type the face value and part of the stamp description into the search box in the upper right of your screen. Usually, you’ll see the stamp on the first page.

Catalog/Album:   Mystic’s catalog and your Heirloom album picture U.S. stamps in Scott number order. (The Scott Catalogue assigns numbers to stamps as they are issued and that helps all us stamp collectors identify our stamps.) The first U.S. stamp was issued in 1847 and is numbered US #1. Later stamps have sequential numbers in date order.

Special purpose stamps (mentioned above in 1a) have a letter and a number for their Scott number. For example, airmail stamp numbers start with a “C”. #C1 was issued in 1918, the first year of airmail service and airmail stamps. #C4 was issued in 1923 and so on.

Postage Due stamps start with a J; Special Delivery stamps with an E, etc.

US #E1 – America’s first Special Delivery stamp was issued in 1885.

Virtually every US stamp is illustrated and labeled in Mystic’s 3-volume Heirloom album. The Scott identification number is listed beneath each one. This makes it easy to see what you have and where to place it in your album. Once you have sorted your stamps by type and denomination, you will find them in date order in your album.

Mystic’s Guide to Stamp Collecting 

Mystic’s Guide to Stamp Collecting is also available online. Click this image to view it.

Included with Mystic’s 3-volume Heirloom album, is a wonderful little Guide to Stamp Collecting. This booklet is worth its weight in gold. It explains more about each major type of U.S. stamp and what letter (also called the prefix) each special use stamp number starts with.

We’ve put together this handy set of guidelines to make sorting stamps easy and fun. Please use our website, our catalog, your album and your stamp collecting guide to give you even more information. On our website, the best place to go for collecting information is our “Help & Learn” section. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to call and speak with one of our friendly Customer Service Representatives who will be happy to answer your questions.

Stamp collecting is the world’s greatest hobby. All of us here at Mystic know you’re going to enjoy it!

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