On this day in history, July 1, 1847, the US Post Office issues the first stamps

The United States Postal Service issued its first-ever postage stamps on this day in history, July 1, 1847.

The first postage stamps produced by the United States Postal Service (USPS) were sold in New York City, according to the USPS website.

The two stamps came in two designs, one for each denomination.

The five-cent stamp featured a picture of Benjamin Franklin, while the ten-cent stamp depicted George Washington.

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Stamps were not sold in book form as they are in modern times, noted the USPS website. In the 19th century, workers at the post office would have to cut stamps individually using a pair of scissors, and the sheets of stamps were not perforated.

They were, however, pre-gummed, said the USPS — making for easier application to envelopes.

original stamps, from 1847

The first two stamps printed by the U.S. Postal Service featured Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. (Getty Images)

While mail services have existed for millennia, it was not until 1837 that the postage stamp was proposed, said the USPS website.

British teacher and inventor Sir Rowland Hill had the then-revolutionary idea of having uniform postage rates for mail sent within the British Isles, and also the ability to pay these rates in advance, said the site.

Three years later, in 1840, consumers in the United Kingdom were able to buy and use postage stamps.

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The first stamps, the Penny Black and the Two Penny Blue, were sold for the mailing of half-ounce and full-ounce letters, respectively, said the USPS.

The United States would catch on relatively quickly, although not on a national scale. The City Despatch Post, a private mail carrier based in New York City, started issuing adhesive postage stamps on Feb. 1, 1842, just two years after they arrived in the United Kingdom, noted the USPS website.

Portrait of man

Sir Rowland Hill is a British inventor credited with inventing the first postage stamp. (Getty Images)

The USPS would acquire the City Despatch Post later in 1842, and would use postage stamps for mail sent within New York City, they said.

Three years later, in 1845, postage rates were simplified, said the website. Some postmasters created “Postmasters’ Provisionals” as a way for people to prepay for letters.

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Prior to the invention of the postage stamp, a person mailing a letter would need to bring each letter to the post office and pay for it in person, said the USPS.

Rather than a set price, the postage rate was determined by the length of the letter and how far it was being sent, said USPS.

Unlike the pay-in-advance system of modern postage stamps, prior to 1847, a person sending mail could either pay in advance, have the person who received the letter pay upon receipt — or pay some of the postage in advance and have the recipient pay the remainder upon delivery.

USPS truck driving in California.

A USPS mail truck. The first USPS postage stamps were sold on this day in history, July 1, 1847.  (iStock)

In lieu of a stamp, the postmaster would write “PAID” in the upper right corner of an envelope that was pre-paid, said the USPS.

It was not until 1855 that it became mandatory to pre-pay for postage, and the use of U.S. postage stamps did not become obligatory until Jan. 1, 1856.

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Since the postage stamp’s beginnings in the mid-1800s, the material, delivery, and sale of the item has evolved over the years.

In 1893, the USPS issued the first U.S. commemorative stamps, which featured designs commemorating Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the New World, said the USPS website. These commemorative stamps were almost double the size of a normal stamp, and the concept proved to be quite popular.

stamps featuring the sun

The U.S. Postal Service regularly issues “commemorative stamps” such as this set, highlighting views of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 18, 2021. (U.S. Postal Service)

Since then, the USPS has issued thousands of commemorative stamps, honoring everything from sports to eclipses to historical events.

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The Elvis Presley stamp, which was printed in 1993, remains the bestselling of these commemorative stamps, said the USPS website.

In 1900, stamps began to be sold in book form; the first self-adhesive stamp was sold in 1974, the site noted.

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In 2007, the USPS issued the “forever” stamp, “a nondenominated, nonexpiring stamp intended for customers mailing a piece of First-Class Mail.”

These stamps are “forever” good to mail a letter, regardless of the price of postage, they said.

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