Mail used to be sent free; the delivery was paid for by the recipient. But in 1837, an English schoolmaster named Rowland Hill noticed that the post office lost out too much by recipients refusing delivery. He proposed prepaid stamps in a pamphlet called The Post Office Reform.
On 1 May 1840, the first stamps went on sale in Britain. (The Christmas card was invented 3 years later.) They were the One-Penny Black and Twopence Blue stamps, featuring Queen Victoria. In 1870, the British Post Office introduced a half penny stamp for sending cards.
No provision was made for separating the stamps one from another. To do so required a knife or a pair of scissors. In 1847, an Irish engineer named Henry Archer submitted a plan to the British Post Office for perforating stamp sheets. By 1854 Archer’s machine was sufficiently perfected to produce the first perforated stamps. The United States began using a perforating machine in 1857.
Canada issued a stamp with the Mercator map “Christmas 1898” inscribed. Post offices in England and the Netherlands also issued stamps with Christmas-related themes. In the US, postcard artist Ellen H. Clapsaddle designed Christmas themes for stamps. However, none were special Christmas issues. The first postage stamp for Christmas was issued in 1937 in Austria: the Rose and Signs of the Zodiac stamp.
The first official US Christmas stamp was launched in 1962. This year, the US Post Office will print more than 4 billion Christmas postage stamps. They can even be bought at some ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) using a bank card: 18 stamps are printed out on a sheet the size of a $1 bill.
The Christmas stamp on your Christmas card may be accompanied by a Christmas seal, an idea conceived by a Danish postal clerk and first issued by Denmark in 1904 to raise money for tuberculosis. In the same year, Sweden and Iceland followed with their versions later in the same year.
In 1907, American Red Cross worker Emily Bissell followed the Danish Christmas seal success with a simple red and white seal to raise money to save her local TB sanatorium. It was so successful that in 1908 the American Red Cross ran the campaign national wide. Since 1973, the Christmas seal campaign has been organised by the American Lung Association.
You might want to use your Christmas stamps, and Christmas seals, for letters you want to send someone in a town called Christmas in the USA. In fact, there are 140 “Christmas” place names in the US, including Merry Christmas Creek, Alaska; Christmas Gift Mine in Pinal County, Arizona; and Merrie Christmas Park in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
You’ll even find 11 towns called “Santa Claus” in 8 US states: Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. And 50 “Noel” place names, including communities named Noel in Colorado, Missouri, and Virginia. You’ll find Noel Lake in Spencer County, Indiana, near the community of Santa Claus.
John Grossman, noted California collector/designer and long-time member of the Ephemera Society of America, has a collection of 200,000 Victorian Christmas stamps. He has licensed the stamp designs to the US Post Office via his business, The Gifted Line, John Grossman, Inc.
The word philately was coined in 1864. It comes from two Greek words that mean “the love of tax-free things.”