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Stamps and collectables

There are many interesting and funny facts about stamps to learn! Read the facts about Australian stamps, stamps around the world and the weird and wonderful!

Stamps in Australia – our past and present

  • In Australia's early days, stamps were issued by individual colonies, not Australia-wide. The first stamps issued in Australia came from New South Wales and Victoria in 1850. The NSW stamps, which showed the seal of the colony, and the Victorian stamps, with a portrait of Queen Victoria, could now be worth several thousand dollars in mint condition. Wouldn't you like one of those in your stamp collection!
  • The first national stamp release in Australia was in 1913. The stamp featured a kangaroo on a map of Australia.
Kangaroo and Map
  • The Kangaroo and Map series, were the first stamps issued for Australia-wide use. The range of stamps bearing this design featured values up to £2 (about $4 in today's money). A mint example of the £2 Kangaroo and Map is worth several thousand dollars today.
  • The first Australian miniature sheet was issued on 29 October 1928 and featured four 3 penny stamps showing a kookaburra on a branch of a gum tree. The miniature sheet was printed on site at the Fourth Australian Philatelic Exhibition, held in Melbourne.
  • In 1932, a gang of three men forged copies of the 2 penny George V red and 2 penny Sydney Harbour Bridge stamps. An Adelaide philatelist detected the forgery and notified the authorities. The three men were arrested and 60,000 forged stamps were seized.
Olympic Games stamp
  • Australia was the first country to issue regular Christmas stamps each year, from 1957. The first stamps specifically for Christmas were issued by Austria in December 1937.
  • Since 1968 stamps have been issued to celebrate Australia's participation in the Olympic Games. Go for gold Australia!
  • The first Australian stamp pack featured the 50th Anniversary of the first UK / Australian Flight, and was issued in November 1969.
  • First day covers for individual stamps issues were first produced by the Australian Post Office (now Australia Post) in March 1970 for the World Expo '70 stamps.
  • In 1977, Australia issued one of its most controversial stamps ever. This was the Surfing Santa 15 cent Christmas stamp, designed by Roger Roberts. The drawing of Santa Claus riding a surfboard to deliver presents caused many complaints from people around Australia.
Maximum cards
  • The NSW Stamp Council (now part of the Australian Philatelic Federation) introduced maximum cards for the 1978 Christmas stamps. Subsequently, Australia Post took over the production of maximum cards.
  • If you love reptiles or insects, stamps are for you! These animals have been featured on more than 50 Australian fauna stamps issued since 1982.
  • Australia's first Postal Numismatic Cover (PNC) was issued in April 1994 and featured the International Year of the Family 45 cent stamp and 50 cent coin.
  • Australia has issued several stamps which look just like gems. Special technology was used to create the look of real opals on stamps issued in 1995, and a real diamond in 1996.
  • Australia's first Prestige stamp booklet was issued in February 1997 featuring the Classic Cars stamp issue.
  • About one billion (or 1000 million) stamps are produced in Australia every year and over 1.3 million Australians collect them. Talk about a popular hobby!
Commemorative stamp
  • In Australia, all stamps are issued by Australia Post. We also produce stamps for Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory, as well as many other stamp-related products.
  • Although the main use for stamps today is to pay postage, Australian stamps have become well known throughout the world for their unusual and amazing designs. The history of Australia can be traced through its commemorative stamps, on which all aspects of Australian culture, as well as our natural heritage, have been illustrated.
Waltzing Matilda stamps

Stamps and post around the world – a history

Queen Victoria on the Penny Black
  • Queen Victoria was the face on the first stamp ever issued (the Penny Black). However, just because a stamp is old doesn't always make it valuable. The Penny Black is not rare – 68 million of them were printed – but if you had one in excellent condition it could be worth a few hundred dollars.
  • Although an Englishman, Rowland Hill, thought up the idea of the postage stamp, pre-paid postage in New South Wales was created before the famous "Penny Black" (the first adhesive stamp) by nearly two years.
  • The numbering of houses for postal purposes began in Paris in 1463-4; the Pont Notre Dame district being the first to be numbered.
  • The first stamp collector was John Bourke, Receiver-General of Stamp Duties in Ireland. He formed a collection of fiscal stamps in an album in 1774.
  • The first person other than a head of state (living or dead) to appear on a stamp was Benjamin Franklin whose portrait featured on the 10 cent stamp issued by the United States in July 1847.
  • The world's rarest, and most valuable, stamp is generally recognised as the 1 cent British Guiana of 1856. It was acquired in 1873 by an English schoolboy who later sold it for 6 shillings to a fellow collector. The stamp was last sold in 1980 for $750,000. That's an expensive stamp!
  • The first Air Mail stationery, consisting of postcards and letter sheets, was produced in Paris for transportation by balloon in 1870, when the city was surrounded by enemy troops.
  • China issued stamps which are among the world's largest ever, measuring 210 x 65mm. They were issued in the early 1900s for use on express letters.
Stamps from around the world
  • Since 1935, Canadian stamps have concealed the year of their production in tiny numerals in the design. Australia has featured tiny year dates in stamp designs since 1989.
  • The first person other than royalty to appear on a British stamp was William Shakespeare in 1964.
  • The first self-adhesive stamps were issued by Sierra Leone on 10 February 1964. In 1990 Australia was the first country to produce self-adhesive stamps for ongoing postal use on a mass scale.
  • Germany was the first country to adopt postcodes, introducing a two-digit system in 1942. Australia introduced postcodes on 1 July 1967.

Stamps – the weird and wonderful!

  • The earliest postal markings date back to about 3000 BC. They were used by Egyptian court officials and read: "In the name of the living king, speed!"
  • People who study and collect stamps are also called "philatelists", which comes from the Greek words philo (enjoyment of an activity) and ateleia (free of taxes and charges).
  • The earliest adhesive stamps were issued imperforate and had to be torn apart or cut with scissors, although the printers, Perkins Bacon, actually had a small perforating machine in 1840 to perforate cheque book counterfoils. They regarded the perforation of stamp sheets as impractical because of the closeness of the stamps and unevenness of the layout caused by paper shrinkage after printing.
Stamp perforations
  • Potato starch, wheat starch and acacia gum were amongst the ingredients of the gum used on British stamps from 1840. The British Post Office called it "cement" and early stamps bore instructions printed on the sheet margins – "In Wetting the Back be careful not to remove the Cement". This led to public panic that it was dangerous to lick. Yuck!
  • In 1849 the French government introduced a law making it an offence to wash or otherwise clean used French postage stamps. This was to combat the practice of using the same stamps over and over again. In one six-year period almost 15,000 people (including genuine stamp collectors) were charged under this law.
  • One of the smallest-ever stamps was issued in 1863 by the Colombian state of Bolivar. It was only 9.5mm x 8mm!
  • In 1879, cats were used for a mail service in Liege, Belgium. 37 cats were used to carry bundles of letters to villages within a 30km radius of the city centre. The experiment was unsuccessful as the cats proved to be undisciplined and unreliable!
  • In 1973, Bhutan issued a stamp that looked like a record. When put on a record player it would actually play the Bhutanese national anthem! Amazing!
  • The Pacific kingdom of Tonga once issued stamps shaped like a banana. Creative!
  • The United Kingdom is the only country that does not feature its name on stamps. However, all UK stamps have a picture of the monarch's head.