The use of stamps for distributing newspapers and other periodicals dates back to 1851, when Austrian postal authorities attempted to break private couriers’ stranglehold on delivery routes. These issues featured the profile of Mercury, the Roman messenger god, and today are among the rarest collectors’ newspaper stamps. Today, only a few copies of the 1856 Red Mercury survive, and those that make it to auction frequently fetch sums in the tens of thousands.
Newspaper Stamps in the United States
The U.S. was one of several countries to follow Austria’s example, introducing their own newspaper stamps in 1865. Prior to that, delivery was handled exclusively by private companies. A series of reforms in 1863 granted postal workers the authority to route parcels of newspaper directly from the point of origin to the delivery outpost, sidestepping the time-consuming process of going through a post office.
The reforms also inaugurated a discounted rate for bulk delivery, necessitating the production of new stamps. Unlike other countries, in America, stamps were provided for parcels of newspaper rather than individual issues. As a result, several high-denomination issues were produced, with face values up to $60.
The End of the Newspaper Stamp Era
Ultimately, the use of newspaper stamps in the U.S. was relatively short-lived. With the advent of more sophisticated handling and processing systems, U.S. newspaper stamps were phased out and demonetized in 1898. Remaining stocks were offered for sale to the collectors’ market but were met with tepid response. Newspaper stamps continued to be used by other countries until the mid-20th century, becoming increasingly rare as the global printing industry continued to modernize.
Collecting Newspaper Stamps
Collecting rare newspaper stamps can be a rewarding challenge for anyone interested in this small corner of postal history. Many, particularly the early American issues, feature attractive designs depicting historical or allegorical figures.
Values for rare newspaper stamps vary widely — while not all are as expensive as the Red Mercury, some continue to command high sums at auction. Others, however, are more accessible. Oddly enough, mint issues tend to be more common than cancelled stamps.
Starting Your Collection
The American Philatelic Society has a number of resources on their website for anyone interested in learning more about collecting rare newspaper stamps. Alternately, if there is something in particular you are looking for, contact Apfelbaum, Inc. first. You can buy rare newspaper stamps in our Buy-It-Now sales and online Stamp Store. Since 1910, we have been a valued partner to collectors across the country. We would be happy to help you find what you’re looking for.
Inherited a collection of rare newspaper stamps? We offer appraisals and consulting services that will let you know how much your collection is worth and what you should do to preserve it for the long term. Give us a call today to learn more about how we can help you.