Home > Free Essays > Design > Graphic Design > Postage Stamp Design in the U.S.

Postage Stamp Design in the U.S. Report

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Oct 14th, 2021


The graph designing which is applied to postage stamps is referred to as postage stamp designing. On May 6, 1840, the first ever pre-paid adhesive postage stamp was issued to the public and had the portrait of Queen Victoria on it. This first postage stamp, named 1d black, was printed from eleven plates. All of these plates were distinguishable. The last of 1d black was printed in February 1841. Printing of ‘2d blue’ had started just a day after the 1d black had first been printed. I early 1841, 1d red had been introduced which was serviceable in a variety of forms until 1879. These were tiny stamps of 3/4 by 7/8 inches. Britain was followed by Brazil and so became the second nation of the world to have postage stamps. United States introduced its first postage stamps in 1847 which featured the profile of Ben Franklin and George Washington (Merry Bellis, not dated and QV Pennies, Stamp History, 2008).

Main body

In 1852, first pre-stamped envelopes were marketed. After nineteen years the first pre-stamped postcards also appeared which were traded for a penny only. In mid 1850s it was required that prepayment of postage be done, however, some mail in US was still sent without stamps and the addressee had to pay for it. Perforated stamps were introduced for the first time in US in 1857. Formerly, people would cut the stamp sheets apart but appearance of perforated stamps made it simpler for the people. By 1860 postage stamps had been adopted by almost all the countries of the world. In 1869, first time something other than a dead person’s portrait were showed on stamps in United States. These stamps were named pictorial stamps. In 1893, commemorative stamps were issued in US. They had scenes of Columbus’ voyage to America. (A Brief History of Postage Stamps Through the Years, not dated)

As mentioned earlier, the profile of Queen Victoria was the first graphic image to appear on any stamp in 1840 and since then there have been myriads of such stamps. There are several essential things that make a stamp design purposeful, for instance, denomination of the stamp, is the most significant element. It is basically the monetary value of that stamp. It is compulsory that the country’s name be included in the stamp design as per international postal law agreements. When designing a postage stamp, it must be ensured that its design is not easy to counterfeit. It should also be easily recognizable by the clerks. It is expected by the postal customers that stamps would carry a design which people all over the world can relate to (Wikipedia, 2008).

The main objective of a stamp is to signify the prepayment for postage. It is important that each stamp has some monetary value as there are different stamps for different amounts of postages in accordance with the sizes and kinds of mails. There are extremely few instances of issuance of denomination-less stamps. In 1949, when there were tumults in China, stamps without any specified denomination were issued as the price fluctuated every other day due to the fluctuating value of gold yuan (Wikipedia, 2008).

Customarily, the denominations are written in forms of numbers, sometimes accompanied by the currency symbol as well. Initially, the denominations were specified in forms of words instead of numbers. Universal Postal Union (UPU) later set out some conditions that included specification of denomination in Arabic numerals for the postage of international mail. This was decided to make the job easy for clerks in different countries of the world. Recently, textual descriptions about charged rates have been replaced. For instance, ‘first-class letters’ are now depicted as ‘1st’ and a peculiar type of bulk mail is signified by ‘presorted ZIP+4’. Rate change stamps also include non-numerical denominations. This is when stamps are being printed before their rate has been decided. In these situations, the stamps are given a non-numerical denomination such as “A”, or “B”. The rate for these denominations is later announced just before the stamps are made available for sales. Semi-postal stamps are those that have two denominations. Sometimes there is a “+” accompanied by the denomination of the stamp. This “+” signifies the additional amount which is given for charity. Two denominations are also present in cases, where countries have had a dual currency but such cases are very few (Wikipedia, 2008).

The second most important element is the country’s name on the stamp design, particularly for international mail. As the first ever stamps were introduced by the UK, they did not have any name for their country on them. To this day, UK is the only country for which it is not compulsory to have its name on the postage stamps. It is required of all the rest of UPU members to include their names in the postage stamps. They are required to have the country’s name in Latin letters; however, some countries did not comply with this and continued with their old style. Such stamps are difficult to identify by the collectors (Wikipedia, 2008).

The country chooses the name for itself. Now the trend is to use simpler and shorter forms, and abbreviations. Initially Jordan used “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” on their stamps, however now they have changed it to “Jordan”. “RSA” is used by the “Republic of South Africa”. One country may also be using different allowed forms and ways of writing its name and the designer of the stamp may select whichever he/she thinks will suit his design the most. These names are sometimes given in adjectival form, ‘Posta Romana’ (Romanian Post) for Romania is one such example. Name of the parent country may be included in the postage stamps of dependent areas (Wikipedia, 2008).

The stamp design’s graphic element is classified in four ways. The first category shows a portrait bust, either profile or the full face. An emblem or a distinctive badge, for example a national symbol, coat of arms, or flag would fall under the second category. The third category is that of the numeric, which includes the font of or the design around the numeric of value. Fourth category is of pictorial, which, as the name clearly suggests means pictures (Wikipedia, 2008).

Earlier, when stamps were newly introduced the use of emblems and portrait busts was typical. Portrait busts usually included profiles of the rulers or other eminent figures. This is possibly because the early stamp designers only had the currency notes as the closest model. From 1840 to 1900, there have been many variations in the usage patterns. The image of Alfonso XIII was changed overtime as he grew to be an adult in Spain. On the contrary, British stamps used only one profile bust of Victoria but with many different frames. In Norway, stamps with one posthorn motif were issued for as long a period as one century. The only changes were made because of newer printing technologies. Since 1950s, the flag of United States has been used in myriads of settings and designs for postage stamps. Though numeral designs of postage stamps are believed to be most pragmatic as they focus on the most vital element of any stamp, they remain an exception and not a rule (Wikipedia, 2008).

Pictorial forms of stamp designs are the ones seen most commonly today. There is a wide variety of choices available to the designer, including plants, history, artworks, figures, animals, landscapes, and much more. It is not necessary for these images to be real-world objects. They could also be abstract or allegories. The pictorial designs are selected on different basis, for instance, the essential annual issues of Christmas, anniversaries, exhaustion of stamp stocks in use, postal rate changes, and demand for a particular pictorial stamp. The governments have the full authority over the choice of these images and pictures, as usually the postal administrations are run by the government or a monopoly under official control. This could also mean that the postage stamp designs depict how governments want themselves to be seen. Soviet Union had issued postage stamps that showed progress of communism, even when it was experiencing a downfall. The political pressures can sometimes have important effects. In late 1940s, many stamps were issued to delight the industry lobbyists and constituencies in the US. Public showed aggressive reaction and that resulted in establishment of an independent Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee which selects the designs of stamps to be issued out of thousands annually. Sometimes public polls are also held for this reason. The Elvis stamp issued in 1993 is an example one such case (Wikipedia, 2008).

A lot of countries also have their own set of rules and regulations that govern postage stamp designs. In UK the stamps must include the sovereign, customarily a silhouette. The color code for stamps may also be designated for different denominations and rates. Countries may also issue celebratory or commemorative stamps for special occasions. They are peculiarly there to attract the stamp collectors, apart from being used as any other regular stamps are used for. When these stamps are bought for collection purpose only and their postage value is not availed, that clearly means a 100% profit (Wikipedia, 2008).

Oftentimes poor countries issue stamps with intentions of appealing foreign stamp collectors. They are usually designed in uncommon fashion, or with vibrant colors and visuals. Different themes and areas have been used for this purpose such as polar animals shown on the stamps of a country that lies on equator or Space-related objects on a country’s stamp that does not have its own space program. Different international organizations are not fond of this practice as stamp collectors lose the incentive because stamps are not rare (Wikipedia, 2008).

Every stamp, more or less, has some text as a part of its design. Sometimes a statement of purpose is also included as a textual element, apart from the country’s name and the stamp’s denomination. “Official mail” or “postage” would be examples of statements of purpose. Other texts such as national mottoes, slogans, plate numbers, special events, name of the person in portrait, or the year of stamp issue may also be included. Text may also be used as the main element on certain occasions. In US, for instance, during the 1970s a lot of stamps had quotations from the United States Declaration of Independence. This practice however is not so common. In countries where several languages are spoken, the stamps may include texts and scripts of multiple languages. Lately the stamps of Israel have been including texts in Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin. The text does not necessarily have to be the main description; it could also be in the outside margins. Typically such text is placed at the bottom of the stamp and would include names of the designer or the printer of the stamp. Details of the stamp design could be included in the margins occasionally. Through the years, it has become customary to include the year of issue in the lower left margin (Wikipedia, 2008).

Designers may also include tiny elements or secret marks in the stamp designs, either on their own discretion or on the demand of authority. A year or a name could be made into a design. Secret marks are used to differentiate the prints to avoid confusions. These could be in forms of tiny marks or lines. The Chinese stamps which were slightly modified, when two separate arms were altered to touch, issued in 1940s would be an example of secret marks in stamps (Wikipedia, 2008).

Postage stamps can vary in shape and size, however, typically they are rectangular as it is convenient to pack them in a sheet. Other shapes may include rhombuses, circles, triangles, octagons, and other free form shapes such as heart. From 1969 to 1985, banana shaped stamps were issued Tonga and are a unique example. The common size being used varies from 10 mm to 30 mm in all directions. These are also assumed to be most comfortably handled. Many countries use limited set of dimensions as it is easier and simpler to handle automated machinery that way (Wikipedia, 2008).

The postage stamp design has evoloved through time, just like other things in life have. This is partially because of changes in trends and tastes, and partially because of introduction of newer printing technologies. Sometimes countries copy another’s design. One stamp printing house may also be printing stamps for a number of countries. For instance, despite of the fact that multi-color printing has nto been impossible and was done on stamps issued earlier in Switzerland, this transition was gradual and costly. Until 1960s, the stamps had a color or two only (Wikipedia, 2008).


Postal administrations may also try to issue uncommon designs. During the 1970s, tiny stamps were issued in the US in order to reduce the costs. These however were not liked by the public and the experiment was shunned. Modern trends seems to encourage simple designs but in some countries “retro” designs are being used. These are mimics of former designs made with new techniques. The lewis and Clark stamps with classic 19th century frames and 20th century color quality portraits issued in 2004 in United States are a recent example (Wikipedia, 2008).

Artists who design postage stamps are encouraged to use small canvas and focus on particular areas of traditional paintings and images instead of the whole image so that it does not come out to be an amorphic blur on the stamp. Artists submit their designs to the authorities for approval. These designs are modified if needed or sent for production process (Wikipedia, 2008).


  1. A Brief History of Postage Stamps Through the Years.
  2. Postage Stamp Design – Collecting Stamps.
  3. Mary Bellis, Postage Stamp – . Web.
  4. Wikipedia, . Web.
  5. QV Pennies, Stamp History, 2008.
This report on Postage Stamp Design in the U.S. was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Report sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2021, October 14). Postage Stamp Design in the U.S. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/postage-stamp-design-in-the-us/

Work Cited

"Postage Stamp Design in the U.S." IvyPanda, 14 Oct. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/postage-stamp-design-in-the-us/.

1. IvyPanda. "Postage Stamp Design in the U.S." October 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postage-stamp-design-in-the-us/.


IvyPanda. "Postage Stamp Design in the U.S." October 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postage-stamp-design-in-the-us/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Postage Stamp Design in the U.S." October 14, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/postage-stamp-design-in-the-us/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Postage Stamp Design in the U.S'. 14 October.

More related papers