philately - The study or collection of postage stamps.
The first stamps were issued in Great Britain in 1840 and were used to indicate that the costs of mailing had been prepaid by the sender.
One who collects stamps is a philatelist.
Used stamps are often more highly valued if they remain on their original envelope or "cover" as philatelists say.
Great Britain, Penny Black, issued on May 1, 1840, engraving, imperforate (meaning there were no perforations; it had to be cut from a sheet with scissors), and canceled with red ink, showing that it has been used. This was the world's first postage stamp.
Here is how two Penny Blacks appeared on their cover.
The portrait of Queen Victoria in profile was designed by Henry Courbould based on a medal designed by William Wyon in 1837. The mechanically produced background was a defense against forgery. The image was engraved by the father and son team of Charles and Frederick Heath. The stamp was printed by the firm of Perkins Bacon & Petch. No stamp issued by Great Britain has ever been lettered with the country's name; all have been identifiable as British by a portrait of the reigning monarch. See English art.
American, 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and 10-cent George Washington, 1847, engraving, imperforate, mint (unused). These were the first postage stamps issued by the United States of America.
Kingdom of Hawaii, 13-cent Blue, 1851, imperforate, National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. This and other stamps among Hawaii's first ones were nicknamed "Missionaries" after some of the prominent occupants of the islands. Hawaii's first postal system was established in December of 1850. The 13-cent stamp paid both the Hawaiian and 6-cent United States postage for letters bound to San Francisco and points east.
Vancouver Island, 12-cents Queen Victoria, 1865, engraving, printed by Thomas De La Rue & Company, imperforate. See Canadian art.
American, 12-cent George Washington, c. 1870, engraving, perforate. This 19th century stamp pictures George Washington. It is described as being in "mint" condition, meaning it was never used, and is uncanceled. It has its original gum adhesive. It is "lightly hinged" -- it shows evidence of having been mounted in an album with a small, folded piece of adhesive paper, as commonly done by collectors boefore the use of transparent and acid-free sleeves. Its condition has been assessed as "Very Fine," which is one of several levels on a standard scale of ratings. Its ink is described as having "Deep Color" -- looking fresh. There were "only 389 issued," and it is described as being "Very Rare and Choice," indicating both that few are known to have been produced (few exist) and its excellent appearance. The 2003 Scott Catalog number 107.
American, 24-cent "Inverted Jenny", 1918, engraving. This is one of the most famous and highly valued of American stamps, largely because of its rarity as a misprint -- the biplane at its center is inverted. The ones pictured here are all the more valuable because they are a "block of four." A typical way of identifying a stamp is by referring to its catalogue number. For American stamps, the most highly regarded is the Scott Catalogue. This rare stamp is Scott Catalogue number C3a, offered by Columbia Stamp Company.
Dubai, Six stamps commemorating 60 years of postal service, 1969.
Australia, Christmas, 2000, 45 cents, 40 cents, and 80 cents, 2000.
Belgium, The Year 2000, 17 francs.
French Antarctic Territories, Great French Explorers, 3 francs, 2000.
United States of America, designed by calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, Eid Mubarak, 33 cents, 2000, commemorates the two most important festivals or eids in the Islamic calendar. Eid al-Adha marks the end of the hajj, the annual period designated for Muslims to make their pilgrimage to Mecca. Eid al-Fitr celebrates the end of the Ramadan fast. The Arabic phrase "Eid mubarak" translates into English as "blessed festival," and can be paraphrased, "May your religious holiday be blessed." See calligraphy and Islamic art.
Poland, Seventh Visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland, 1.80 zloty, 2002.
Italy, 50th Anniversary of Television Transmission in Italy, 0.62 euro, 2004.
Ireland (Eire), Centenary Bloomsday: Ulysses by James Joyce, 0.65 euro, 16 June, 2004.
Also see deltiologist, engraving, ephemera, exonumia, numismatics, paper, philluminist, polypropylene, printing, and scripophily.