1552 - 1974 10c Traditional Christmas: Peace on Earth
US #1552 – America’s first self-adhesive stamp, issued on this day in 1974.

On November 15, 1974, the USPS issued its first experimental self-adhesive stamp.

Throughout the 20th century, US postage evolved through a number of significant innovations such as the use of the rotary press and phosphorescent tagging.  However, while these innovations may have gone largely unnoticed by the general public, one of the greatest postal innovations of the century was the introduction of self-adhesive stamps.  Though common today, they had a rocky start.

In 1974, the USPS began working on its first self-adhesive stamp.  The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced the stamps on their Andreotti press and leased additional machinery from companies that produced self-stick labels.  The stamps were die-cut, stripped, rouletted, and cut into finished panes.  The stamps also had crossed center slits to prevent them from being removed from envelopes and reused.

305003 - First Day Cover
US #1552 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Additionally, the stamps had rounded corners and were produced on a backing paper (or liner).  Unlike today’s self-adhesive stamps, these stamps didn’t touch each other, and instead had lines of backing paper in between them.  On the edge of each sheet were 10 self-adhesive tabs with plate numbers and a variety of phrases including “Self Sticking Stamps,” “Remove from Backing,” and “Do Not Moisten.”

305000 - First Day Cover
US #1552 – Classic First Day Cover.

The Christmas stamp, picturing the weather vane from the top of Mount Vernon, was issued on November 15, 1974, in New York City.  Unfortunately, both the USPS and collectors would soon deem the experiment a failure.  For the USPS, production of the stamp was too expensive and crosscuts didn’t prevent them from being reused.  Years later, collectors would discover that the rubber-based adhesive created brown spots on the stamps and this adhesive would also stain the covers.

2431 - 1989 25c Eagle and Shield
US #2431 – The second self-adhesive stamp, issued in 1989.

Because of all these issues, the USPS gave up on self-adhesives for 15 years.  Then in 1989, they decided to try again.  This time they used an acrylic-based adhesive and produced 18-stamp convertible booklets and strips of 18 for affixing machines.  The stamps went on sale on November 19, 1989, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to coincide with the annual VAPEX stamp show.  However, the stamps themselves were only distributed to 15 cities for a 30-day test period.

Customers in those cities were then given a questionnaire asking how they liked the stamps.  Unfortunately, they were unpopular.  But this was likely because there was a 50¢ premium added to the booklets to cover the higher production costs.   This issue was also deemed a failure.

2475 - 1990 25c Plastic Flag
US #2475 – The first successful self-adhesive stamp, printed on plastic.

Not ready to give up, the USPS tried again the following year.  This time they printed the stamps on plastic instead of paper and they were issued in sheets the same size and thickness of paper currency for sale in select ATMs in Seattle.  There was no additional premium added to these stamps and they were considered a success.  The USPS then expanded the program, but the next stamps would be printed on paper because of complaints they had received from paper recyclers.

2595 - 1992 29c Eagle and Shield, brown denomination
US #2595 – The first nationally distributed self-adhesive since 1974.
3070 - 1996 32c Tennessee Statehood
US #3070 – The first self-adhesive commemorative.

The experiments continued and then in 1992, the USPS issued its first nationally distributed self-adhesives since 1974, the 29¢ Eagle and Shield stamps.  They issued their first self-adhesive commemorative in 1996, honoring Tennessee Statehood.  The number of self-adhesives grew over the years and by 2002, almost all US stamps were issued self-adhesive.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Yes, I remember that day 45 years ago when the first self-adhesive stamps were released. It’s unfortunate that they were issued for Christmas so the only good time to use them was in December. I just used up an extra sheet of mine last month paying some bills, 4 10¢ self-adhesives and 1 15¢ other stamp to make up the 55¢ postage.

  2. As a stamp user, I think the self-adhesives are great; as a stamp collector–not such a big fan. One question to readers who live in humid areas. Are there still problems with the entire book sticking together in the summer months? I lived in Georgia in the late 80s and early 90s and a common problem for us was having to throw out half the booklet because they had all stuck together due to the humidity.

    1. I spray the back of the paper with Pure Citrus air freshener (or paint with a small paintbrush). Wait a few seconds, then gently insert and slide stamp tongs between the stamp and the paper to dislodge. Stop if it doesn’t slide easily. If the stamp does come off, let the stamp dry and rub some unscented talcum powder over the remaining adhesive. Works for most stamps, though not for the ones with black background like the bats or bio-luminescent life stamps

  3. I was not enthusiastic when this stamp came out. Thought is was unattractive, but it still holds a place in my collection. But it no longer has a white background, rather a mottled brown background. But it was a test and now they seem to have the problem solved. Though, I still prefer stamps with denomination specific numbers. No more gum varieties, but liked the “dry” gum idea. The used gum stamps were so much easier to soak off mailings.

  4. My own experience removing these stamps, after trying other methods, including the Pure Citrus, as recommended by an expert philatelist:
    I just get very hot water from the Fawcett and submerge the stamps for not less than 15 minutes.
    After that, carefully, starting in a corner, I proceed to lift going all around the perimeter.By the time I finish the center is practically off the paper too. Of course, you need sensitive fingers and patience to do it but much simpler than any other system ever suggested to me.Sometimes I damage one but not a regular problem.
    Good luck! :-

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