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What we collect!
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Collecting #1s

by Steve Swain
3rd of November 2012

Are “#1s” the first regular issue stamp of each country?  Or are #1s the first airmail issues or the first revenue issues or the first stamped envelopes or the first semi-postals?  The decision and collecting choices are left to the individual collector since there are many avenues to take when collecting #1s.

First Regular Issues

As all philatelists know, the 1840 British Penny Black was the first official adhesive stamp.  The stamp cost 1 pence and was darkly colored, hence the name Penny Black.  A few years later, many countries followed suit and produced their own first regular issue stamp.  Notice that all of the earliest first issues, examples below, are imperforate.  Perforation for postage stamps was not widely adopted until the latter half of 1850.

                   Penny Black      U.S. Franklin       Belgium      France
                    Great Britain 1840            United States 1847                Belgium 1849                   France 1850          

                     Canada       Chile      Luxembourg      Cuba
                               Canada 1851                      Chile 1853                  Luxembourg 1854                  Cuba 1855

                        Mexico        St Helena     Peru    Russia
                              Mexico 1856                   St. Helena 1856                    Peru 1857                       Russia 1857           

First Air Mail Issues

Orville and Wilber Wright built the world's first successful airplane and made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on December 17, 1903.  However, it took another 20+ years for the refinement of aircraft to be sufficient not only for air travel but the transportation of mail. Below are images of some of the first issue airmail stamps.

               Denmark Air    Costa Rica Air    Egypt Air
                            Denmark 1925                            Costa Rica 1926                                    Egypt 1926

      French Morocco Air       Cuba Air      Canada Air
                   French Morocco 1927                                        Cuba 1927                                            Canada 1928

“First Issue” Overprints

One of the purposes of overprints on stamps is to signify the sanctioned use of the stamp by a country or territory that has been recently occupied or conquered by another country.  It could be argued, however, that until the occupied country can issue its own stamps, using an existing stamp with an overprint really isn’t the first issue of the original stamp.  But that’s what makes collecting #1s so intriguing!  Below are images of some “first issue” overprints.

 Cyprus   Martinique   French Morocco Overprint   Danzig   Latakia
          Cyprus 1880                         Martinique 1886          French Morocco 1891            Danzig 1920                   Latakia 1931

First Issue “Stamps on Stamps”

Many countries have commemorated their first issues on other stamps either signifying the anniversary of the first issue date or promoting stamp collecting. Below are examples of these first issue “stamps on stamps.”

         Russia SOS   U.S. SOS    Great Britain SOS
Russia 2008                                           United States 1972                       Great Britain 1970 

                            Canada SOS 1      Canada SOS 2     Canada SOS 3
                      Canada 1951                               Canada 1982                          Canada 2001 



First Issue Forgeries

One of the more esoteric paths to take regarding #1s is to collect forgeries of first issue stamps. Granted, this could be a very challenging, and potentially expensive, undertaking.  Below is an example of a genuine first issue, a forgery of that issue and an explanation of how the forged stamp can be identified.

                                        Angola Genuine        Angola - Forgery
 Angola 1870: Genuine                        Forgery

Genuine: (1.) There are 121 dots around the central circle. (2.) The cross over the orb is .75 mm wide.
(3.) The orb is .8 mm wide. (4.) The number of dots on the arches, starting from the right arch is 9-10-5-10-9. 

Forgery:  (1.) There are only 108 dots in the central circle. (2.) The cross on top of the orb is 1.2 mm wide.
(3.) The orb is .8 mm wide. (4.) The number of dots on the arches, starting from the right arch is 8-9-5-10-8.

End Note

The numerous types and variations of #1s provide many intriguing collecting themes.  For additional information about first issues, visit the First Issues Collectors Club at http://www.firstissues.org. The club promotes the collection of the first postage stamp issued by any nation, province, city, army or other entity that has, at any time, issued postage stamps, and facilitates the exchange of information about these issues among stamp collectors.


The Author

Steve Swain has collected stamps for 56 years.  His articles have appeared in The American Philatelist, U.S. Stamp News, The Philatelic Commnicator, Florida Postal History Journal, Georgia Post Roads, Stamp Insider, Stamp Collecting World and other philatelic publications on topics such as Encased Postage Stamps, Civil War Adversity Covers, U.S. Revenue Stamps on Photographic Calling Cards, Mourning Covers and Revenue Stamped Paper on Bank Checks.

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