A commemorative stamp
is a postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...
, often issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honor or commemorate a place, event or person. The subject
of the commemorative stamp is usually spelled out in print, unlike definitive stamp
A definitive stamp is a postage stamp, that is part of a regular issue of a country's stamps available for sale by the postal service for an extended period of time...
s which normally depict the subject along with the denomination and country name only. Many postal services issue several commemorative stamps each year, sometimes holding first day of issue
A First Day of Issue Cover or First Day Cover is a postage stamp on a cover, postal card or stamped envelope franked on the first day the issue is authorized for use within the country or territory of the stamp-issuing authority. Sometimes the issue is made from a temporary or permanent foreign or...
ceremonies at locations connected with the subjects. Commemorative stamps can be used alongside ordinary stamps. Unlike definitive stamps that are often reprinted and sold over a prolonged period of time for general usage, commemorative stamps are usually printed in limited quantities and sold for a much shorter period of time, usually until supplies run out.
There are several candidates for the title of first commemorative. A 17-cent stamp issued in 1860 by New Brunswick, showing the Prince of Wales in anticipation of his visit is one possibility. One of the most notable examples of the Columbus commemoratives was released when The United States issued its first commemorative stamp in 1893, the $1 Columbian Exposition issue, "Isabella pledging her jewels", one of a set of 16 commemoratives issued to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492.
The United States 15-cent black stamp of 1866 depicts Abraham Lincoln, and was the first stamp issued after his assassination in 1865, but it was not officially declared as a memorial to him. The U.S. also issued a 5-cent stamp in 1882 showing the recently murdered President James A. Garfield. In addition, the United States issued stamped envelope
A stamped envelope or postal stationery envelope is an envelope with a printed or embossed indicium indicating the prepayment of postage. It is a form of postal stationery.-Use in the United States:In August 1852 an act of the U.S...
s for the Centennial Exposition in 1876, although technically these are postal stationery
A piece of postal stationery is a stationery item, such as a stamped envelope, letter sheet, postal card, lettercard, aerogram or wrapper, with an imprinted stamp or inscription indicating that a specific rate of postage or related service has been prepaid...
and not stamps. The British Jubilee Issue
The postage stamps of the United Kingdom issued in 1887 are known as the "Jubilee" issue because they were issued during the year of the Golden Jubilee of the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne in 1837. They continued in use throughout the remainder of Victoria's reign, and many of the...
of 1887 may be thought of as commemorative of the 50 years' reign of Queen Victoria, although there are no special inscriptions on the stamps, and they were intended as regular stamps. In 1871 Peru issued a 5¢ scarlet Locomotive and Arms stamp and is regarded as the first commemorative postage stamp, issued to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first railway in South America.
Though the United Kingdom often set the precedence for postage stamps and their designs, they were the late runners with the issue of their first commemorative stamp, not issuing one until 1924 when it printed and released the British Empire Exhibition issue of 1924.
Other premier commemorative stamps were issued by New South Wales in 1888 to mark its 100th anniversary; the six types all include the inscription "ONE HUNDRED YEARS
". Commemoratives followed in 1891 for Hong Kong and Romania. In 1892 and 1893 a half-dozen nations of America and Spain issued commemoratives for the 400th anniversary of the West's discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.
The appearance of commemorative postage stamps caused a backlash among some stamp collectors, in the early years of stamp collecting who balked at the prospect of laying out ever-larger sums to acquire the stamps of the world, so they formed the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps
The Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps was a short-lived and ill-fated attempt by philatelists before 1900 to suppress the issue of unnecessary stamps designed mainly for sale to collectors....
in 1895 to blacklist what they deemed to be excessive stamps. The organization broke up after unsuccessful attempts at getting collectors at large to comply with their wishes. Today the early commemoratives are still prized by collectors.