Understanding Rare Stamp Collecting Classifications

Stamps are classified into four separate types. They are Stamp Types, Purpose, Formats and Condition.

Stamp Types generally means the difference between a definitive stamp and a commemorative stamp. A definitive stamp most always showed a portrait of some famous person at present time or in history, although recently these have expanded to include the U.S. flag or the White House. Typically these stamps are relatively small and ordinary looking. They can be purchased at different denominations to pay for the different types of postal mail. These usually get printed in large numbers and remain in effect until the postal rates changes.

Commemorative stamps are larger than the definitive’s and are printed in much smaller numbers. They’re usually sold for the standard first class postage rate. The pictures usually show images of historical events. Once these stamps run out, they usually are not printed again. In recent years there has been another stamp type called the Special. A good example of these stamps would be the Christmas stamps that are printed out for the holidays. These are larger, decorative stamps that are sold at the standard postal rate for a certain time period until the supply runs out.

Purpose shows what the stamp is for. Most stamps are classified as regular stamps because they are used on your every day basic mail. However, immediately after the postage stamp was distributed came along other stamps showing different purposes. Some show postage due for the mail that had insufficient monies applied to the postage. Other stamps were created to show classified mail, airmail and a variety of other special services.

Stamps are issued in a variety of ways. Format is another classification term used to show how these stamps were originally issued. Whether it was as a sheet, booklet, coil or panes.

Condition of a stamp is very important to many collectors. Mint condition is one that has never been used and is still in the same condition as when it was issued. If one has been in a collection held in an album with a hinge then it is considered an unused one. The reason for the difference is that the one that was in an album has had its “gum” disturbed. One that has been sent through the postal system and been stamped is considered used.

Other classification types are whether they are perforated, what kind of printing is used and whether a watermark was used.

By understanding the different classifications, one can begin their collection based on certain criteria. Many collectors have a certain theme to their collections. There have been billions of stamps that have been issued over the years that it would be literally impossible to have a complete collection. Many people choose a certain topical theme or perhaps stamps from a certain country only. Whatever you decide to create your theme around, it’ll be interesting and fun for you to study.


Now that you’ve decided what type of stamps you want to collect, here are some tips on the best way to keep these stamps in good condition. You may end up with one that is worth a lot of money someday and you’ll want it to be in the best possible condition.

  • When looking for a stamp album, look for one that has blank, acid-free pages. Don’t go for anything that has flimsy pages for these will not be sturdy enough to house your stamps safely. Make sure you have stamp hinges or mounts that are designed for housing stamps. Using glue or tape will damage your stamps.
  • Do not try to tear or peel a stamp off of an envelope. Cut them carefully from the envelope without touching the perforated edges, this damages the stamp. Once the stamp has been cut off, float it in a small bowl filled with cool water. This dissolves the glue to a point where the paper from the envelope will come off easily. (Be careful with those stamps that have been heavily inked with cancellation stamps or strange looking ink that could potentially damage other stamps.) Rinse the remaining glue with fresh water and spread out to dry. If necessary place them in a book after drying to straighten them out. Always handle them with tongs.
  • Think about your collection theme and sort the stamps according to your theme. Whether it’s by a topical or country theme or stamp types, it’s good to have some kind of order to them. Remove any damaged stamps as the value is most likely not that great. The only time you want to hang on to something that’s damaged would be if you had something that was extremely rare or valuable. If you have duplicates then display the best one you have of the set and use the other for trading with other stamp collectors. Sorting is an ongoing process as you pick up more and more stamps.
  • Another extremely important thing to think about is having tongs. Seems like such a simple thing, doesn’t it. People think they can handle just as well with their fingers but they don’t think about how much oil we have on our skin. These oils transfer to the stamps and can damage them in the long run. Tongs are the best way to handle stamps. One may need to practice handling tongs before attempting to pick up stamps with them as some of them, if not handled correctly, could tear or poke holes through the stamps.

Once you’ve made the decision to collect stamps and you’ve obtained all the essential tools for collecting, you’ll probably find getting more and more curious about the history behind some of these stamps. There are thousands of books, literature and papers written on the subject. Many of them explain how and why some of these stamps became so valuable or interesting over the years. Most stamp collectors become so for a lifetime. There are so many different types of stamp collections that one could collect for years and never find themselves getting bored.

Darren Williger is an over-caffeinated, low carbohydrate eating, winemaking enthusiast who writes for WindPurifier.com, RareStamp.com, and BeeYourself.Com

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