A Beginners Guide to Buying Stamps

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A Beginner's Guide to Buying Stamps

Finding the rights stamps one needs to start his or her collection can be difficult, as these collectible stamps are not commonly found in outlet or strip malls, or even hobby stores. By using eBay, however, the collector can quickly find the exact stamp he or she needs, often at a reasonable price.

But before one begins buying stamps, however, there is a lot to know about them. There are many different kinds of stamps available, and it is important to know the difference between, for example, a definitive stamp and a commemorative stamp, the semipostal and the special purpose, the thematic stamp and the souvenir sheet. Additionally, the collector should be well informed on the benefits of buying on eBay as well as exactly to find specific items on eBay. Other vital pieces of information that potential or beginner stamp-collectors need to know are stamp terminology, ways of sorting stamps, stamp formats, and other stamp-related items that can also be collected.

Why Collect Stamps?

Stamps are colourful images that hold many stories behind them, from the people and places that cover the stamp, to the stamp's origins, to the maker of the stamp. As with any other hobby, stamp collecting begins with a spark of interest: thus, though it may go without saying, before deciding to collect stamps one should already have a general interest in them. Stamp collectors are often very enthusiastic about their hobby; they take great pride in owning a vast collection and feel excited when they find a certain stamp they have been looking for. Collecting stamps is a hobby that one can share with family and friends, and besides some basic facts about the stamps themselves, there are no concrete rules that dictates how one should collect stamps. Collecting stamps also helps enhance the user's ability to concentrate, as well as gives the user more information about the world around him or her.

Ways of Sorting Stamps

Stamps can be sorted by colour, shape, the era or year they were made, origin, stories or traits they share, or type of stamp. For example, a collector who sorts by era, and more specifically the eras relating to Great Britain, could collect stamps from the reign of Elizabeth II, World War I or World War II, or the Victorian era, to a name a few. Hobbyists can also organise stamps by the country of origin, with one section for African stamps, one for stamps from the United States, and so on. There ways to sort stamps are virtually limitless, which gives the user a great deal of freedom over how he or she wants to organise a stamp collection.

Types of Stamps

There multitude of different types of stamps may overwhelm someone who is just being introduced to the hobby, so it is often best to start out by focusing on some of the more popular or common types of stamps. Some of these basic types of stamps include souvenir sheets and commemorative, semipostal, special purpose, and thematic stamps. The user should also be aware that within one category of stamp, such as thematic, there may be several sub-categories that he or she may want to look into in the future; however, the knowledge of those sub-categories is not vital knowledge for a beginner collector.


Commemorative stamps are specially issued stamps that are designed to honour a special person or place or an event, such as a holiday, a sporting event, or a royal wedding. These stamps are usually made in a limited quantity (typically only a year's supply), but during that time period commemorative stamps are easily found on envelopes. If one soaks them off in the right way, one can keep them as part of a collection.


Unlike commemorative stamps, definitive stamps are produced in mass quantities and are available for a long period of time, usually for several years, and sometimes even decades. Often the design of a definitive stamp features the present ruling monarch and includes historical monuments, symbols of the stamp's country of origin, or even the denotation.


A semipostal stamp is one that comes with an additional charge that is donated to charity. The first figure on the stamp is the cost of the stamp itself; the second figure is the extra cost that will be given to a charity. The first ever semipostal stamp was one in the US that helped raise money for breast cancer research and awareness in 1998.

Special Purpose

Special purpose stamps are used by the post office, and include express mail, official, airpost (or airmail), and Special Delivery stamps. Express mail stamps will guarantee a delivery by a certain time. Official stamps are used for government agencies only. Airpost stamps, as the name implies, pay for sending mail by air. Finally, when a stamp is needed to pay a special messenger who delivers a letter within two hours to its destination post office, a Special Delivery stamp is used.


Thematic stamps have just about any image the shopper can think of: vehicles, birds, animals, locations, art, military, and more. These stamps are good for beginners who might want to start collecting and organising stamps by image or theme.

Souvenir Sheets

A souvenir sheet is a pane that contains one or more pictures relating to the stamp design in the selvage. Souvenir sheets essentially enhance the already-present design or topic in the commemorative stamp. To send mail with a souvenir sheet, the sender will usually apply the entire sheet to the item that he or she is sending.

'Cinderella' (Revenue)

Cinderella stamps are, in fact not actually stamps; these are labels that have the appearance of stamps but do not pay postage. Revenue stamps are a type of Cinderella stamps, and can be used as receipts that indicate taxes have been paid on items. Duck revenue stamps are used on hunting permits to validate them. Even though they do not pay postage, many stamp enthusiasts still enjoy collecting Cinderella stamps, though these are stamps that are better for experienced stamp collectors to do, because of the specialised knowledge it requires.

Stamp-Collecting Terms

As with any hobby that develops into specialised sections, stamp collecting has many terms specific to stamp-collecting that people who are not familiar with the hobby may not recognise. Knowledge of stamp-collecting terms is an important aspect of becoming a stamp collector.

Mint vs Used: As some shoppers may know, the term 'mint' refers to the condition of an item being unused and brand-new; this is the same for stamps. Used, in stamp collecting, means that the stamp was put on an envelope and served its purpose of paying for postage. As the shopper starts collecting, he or she will gradually develop a preference to collecting either mint or used stamps.

Imperforate: Before the 1850s, stamps were not cut with perforating machines. Because of this, there are stamps in existence that do not have perforations, and these are called imperforate.

Se-tenant and Tete-beche: As stamps are typically sold as in sheet form, there are terms relating to some of the positions of the stamps in relation to each other on the page. When stamps of different designs are next to each other on the same sheet, they are referred to as 'se-tenant', meaning 'joined together'. When there are two adjacent stamps whose images are upside down in respect to each other, this is referred to as 'tete-beche'.

Stamp Formats

Stamps come in several formats, many of which one can purchase at a local post office. A collector searching for a pane of specific stamps that is not readily available can check sites such as eBay.

In addition to the ways stamps are given out in quantity (as opposed to one stamp at a time), stamps can also either be 'lick and stick', meaning they use conventional adhesive, or they are 'no lick, peel and stick', meaning the stamps use a sticker-type adhesive.

Stamp Format


Coil Roll

Stamps rolled up into a coil


A sheet comprised of four or more panes of the original stamps as printed

Postal Stationery

Includes postal cards, stamped envelopes, and aerogrammes

If one wishes to buy stamps in bulk, shopping online is usually the most hassle-free approach, since the shopper saves gas money and time. For the collector who wants to buy vintage stamps in bulk, he or she should either try looking at eBay, for a quick, easy solution, or go to a local stamp collector who is willing to bargain.

How to Buy Stamps on eBay

An extremely useful tool for locating hard-to-find or rare items, eBay is an easy-to-use shopping platform that has thousands of sellers posting millions of products for sale every day. To start using eBay, you must first go to the eBay home page. Next, type in some keywords that relate to what you want to find, such as 'breast cancer commemorative stamp', and hit Enter. When the list of results appears on the screen, you can narrow down the search results by a number of features including price, condition, or era. To make sure buyers feel safe when purchasing products online from sellers unknown to them, eBay has a system that awards 'Top-Rated Seller' badges to those sellers who have met several requirements. Some of those requirements include consistent four- to five-star ratings from the seller's previous buyers and a certain quota of products sold every month. The 'Top-Rated Seller' badge can be seen on the seller's personal page, as well as on the pages of the products he or she is putting up for sale.


Though building a large, varying stamp collection requires information and time, one can start his or her collection by knowing only a few different types of stamps and some basic stamp-related terminology. Over time, especially if the shopper befriends other stamp collectors, it becomes easier to remember all the different types of stamps; moreover, generally the collector settles on a particular kind of stamp on which he or she wants to focus. In the beginning, however, with some basic knowledge of such stamp types as commemorative, Cinderellas, special purpose, and semipostal, as well as stamp formats and stamp terms, the shopper is ready to start a collection.

Prospective stamp collectors are advised to look at eBay. Here, many other stamp collectors are selling parts of their collection, making it easy to find whatever type of stamp the shopper wants, whether a Hawaii thematic stamp, a Victorian-era commemorative stamp, or souvenir sheet that focuses on World War II airplanes. Stamp collecting is a hobby that touches on a wide array of topics and ideas, all expressed visually, making it a worthwhile and interesting hobby.

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