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Special Use Stamps

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10c Washington Ellis, McAlpin &. Co. encased postage

The world of postage stamps has many classifications. Most stamps function as regular, everyday postage on letters and packages, and they have no special designation inscribed upon them. We call these stamps 'regular issues' or 'definitives' and 'commemoratives'.

'Special use' stamps cover services other than those handled by normal postage, and special service inscriptions almost always identify these services. Such classifications or services include semi-postal, airmail, special delivery, airmail special delivery, certified mail, postage due, official use, newspaper and periodicals, parcel post, special handling, postal insurance, military, war tax, and other special categories.

The Scott catalog lists regular issues and commemoratives first, but some stamp catalogs mingle their listings of regular and commemorative issues with some 'special use' stamps, such as semi-postals, airmails, and special deliveries. It is more common in the United States to list regular issues and commemoratives first while placing all other categories—'special use' stamps—separately after the regular issues and commemoratives (hence the expression 'back-of-the-book' stamps, another term for 'special use' stamps).

Catalogs use special prefix letters to designate special use stamps. The Scott catalog uses “B” for semi-postal, “C” for airmail, “E” for special delivery, “PR” for newspapers and periodicals, and so forth. Catalogs including the semi-postals, airmails, and special deliveries in the regular postage sections do not use prefixes for those stamps, but they do include prefixes after the regular postage listings.

James E. Kloetzel


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1c Franklin Ayer's Sarsaparilla encased postage

$5 multicolor Pair of Ross's Geese stamp

Each year since 1934 the federal government has issued a "Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp," a revenue stamp popularly referred to as a "Duck Stamp." Funds generated by the sale of the stamp are used to purchase and maintain migratory waterfowl refuges. The program has raised over 670 million dollars to date by the sale of over 120 million Federal Duck Stamps to hunters, conservationists, and stamp collectors.

$60 Indian Maiden Newspaper and Periodical card plate proof

Postage now affordable, newspapers sprang-up all over the country, linking citizens with their state capitals and with Washington, D.C., and inviting greater citizen participation in politics.

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25-cent Manufacturing Steel Plant Parcel Post stamp

2-cent Postage Due stamp

'Postage due' stamps were authorized by an act of Congress, approved March 3, 1879, and effective July 1, 1879.

10c Postal Note block of four

Unlike regular postage stamps, which are used to pay the rate for mail delivery, postal note stamps together with the postal note cards, were created to send small amounts of money up to ten dollars to anyone on the mainland of the United States.

20c Hand to Hand Special Delivery stamp

Current patrons of the nation's more than 37,000 post offices are aware of Priority Mail and Express Mail services. They might not realize that these services are successors to the Special Delivery service established by Congress in 1885.

About U.S. Stamps