British Stamps Buying Guide

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British Stamps Buying Guide

The buying of postage stamps has been part of British heritage since the world's very first stamp, the Penny Black,, was issued on 6 May 1840. As there were no other postage stamps anywhere else in the world, it was unnecessary to indicate the country of origin. That practice continues throughout the United Kingdom today. What has changed is that the value of stamps and the costs of handling post has escalated in the same way as other products and services. The United Kingdom has constantly issued stamps, not only to accommodate an increase in pricing, but also to commemorate people, achievements, and a wide array of other subjects.

Many people collect stamps purely for the fulfillment that the activity provides. Others consider stamps to be a form of currency, with ever changing prices that encourage exchange. However, there are relatively few who buy stamps as a form of investment. Anyone considering buying British stamps would benefit from understanding the history and the reasons for making the purchase. British stamps can be bought from the post office, private sellers, and online at eBay..

History of British Stamps

All postage stamp history begins with Rowland Hill, who led the 1839 and 1840 reforms to the post office, which had been losing money steadily. His approach was to charge a flat rate regardless of the delivery distance, which at that time only encompassed England and Ireland. He also developed the idea that those who prepaid should receive a discount. Soon, the collection of fees at the point of delivery was virtually eliminated.

It later became apparent that a black background that defined the Penny Black was not ideal because the ink of the postmark that cancelled the stamp could not be seen easily. This resulted in the issue of the Penny Red in 1841, which went on to be produced for decades. Both the Penny Black and the Penny Red displayed an image of Queen Victoria. The other major development was the introduction of perforations in 1854, which allowed stamps to be torn away from each other rather than cut with scissors individually.

Early 20th Century British Stamps

British stamps display the profile of the reigning monarch. The trend continued exclusively from the reigns of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII, and George VI, until the birth of the commemorative stamp, which occurred in 1924 for the British Empire Exhibition. 

Late 20th Century British Stamps

The ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne required an updated stamp. The Wilding version was used until 1967, and was based on a photograph of the queen by Dorothy Wilding. This stamp was controversial due to the image of the queen facing the viewer. The Wilding version was followed by the Machin series of stamps, which marked a return to the more traditional profile of the monarch. This series is named after the artist Arnold Machin who created a clay bust model. An effigy of this model has been used extensively for coins and stamps ever since. The design is likely to be the most reproduced work of art in history, with over 320 billion copies produced to date.

Reasons for Buying British Stamps

People buy stamps for a number of reasons, not least of all, to facilitate the delivery of post. However, the study of postage stamps and collecting, also known as philately, which originated in Great Britain, is a fascinating science in itself. There is also a small, but important group of investors that trade in stamps for the sole purpose of growing their portfolio.

Buying British Stamps for Post

By far, the most common use of stamps is to pay for the delivery of post. As the prices of British stamps continue to adjust with inflation, they are issued for a specific class rather than a denomination. They are available in sheet or booklet form for first or second class post. Non-denominated postage has been available throughout the United Kingdom since 1989.

Most stamps are purchased directly from the post office for the price of the specific stamp. However, many people have turned to online sources such as eBay to find some interesting past issues that are available for very favourable prices. This is also the place to find bargains as many people have abandoned the post office completely in favour of electronic mail and are simply trying to sell stamps that they are never going to use.

British Stamp Collecting

Philatelists, those who specialise in the study of stamps, contribute much to the discussion of stamp collecting. The Royal Philatelic Society London, established in 1869, was the first organisation developed for those who specialise in learning about and collecting postage stamps.

Stamp collecting supplies are available in a wide array to simplify the process. Serious collectors have learned that magnifying glasses,, specialised tweezers,, display albums,, and other useful items are essential for the activity.

Investing in British Stamps

There is no question that some very valuable stamps are stashed away in lofts awaiting discovery. As there is no minimum price for these stamps, the investment value can be beyond reason. The growth potential of the price of rare stamps is great, even when it seems like the purchase price is already exorbitantly high. Like anything else, the fact that a rare stamp from the past cannot be produced ever again creates an ever increasing price.

Where there is value, there is also the unfortunate consequence of forgery. Membership to a group of philatelists is an excellent way to learn about both the benefits and the pitfalls inherent with collecting rare stamps. Interestingly, many forgeries from the past are now worth more than the originals that were copied. Nevertheless, earning an income from investing in stamps is rare and reserved for those with the assets that allow them to make a sizeable purchase in the first instance and the time to wait for the price to escalate significantly.

Appraising Rare British Stamps

Often people come across family relics and stamp collections that they were not aware of until they perused the belongings of elderly relatives. The first thing to do when buying one of these old stamps with an unknown value is to check whether it has been appraised. There are professional organisations that do this for a fee. There are also a number of philatelic organisations that offer an honest appraisal based on ethics and not monetary gain. As older stamps often have flaws that can affect the value of the stamp greatly, getting more than one opinion is always recommended.

Another way to appraise a stamp is to go online to a website, such as eBay, and gauge the market based upon what others are asking for. The vast number of sellers and the detailed descriptions of valuation methods should provide a greater insight into what buyers are willing to pay.

Unusual British Stamps

The table below describes some of the most unusual British stamps ever produced. Also provided is the production date.

Name of Stamp

Date Produced

Interesting Aspect

Two Penny Blue


Produced for only one year



Cost more to produce than its £1 value

2d Tyrian Plum


Image of Edward VII who died two months after issue

Most were destroyed

Postal Union Congress


Very detailed and intricate

Only one print run

European Free Trade


Misprints eliminated all black ink

Sweet Briar


Some printed without the denomination

These are just a sample of the unusual and rare stamps that have been printed since 1840. The values of some of these issues have increased fivefold in one decade.

Buying British Stamps on eBay

You can find every type of British stamp on eBay. Start by visiting the eBay home page or enter your search term into the field found on any page. If you want to find only Edward VIII stamps for example, type in that term. This takes you to a page displaying all of the available choices. You can then narrow the search based on price or other features of the stamp. eBay's Search Tips can offer help on searching for items.


Buying British stamps is a wonderful, timeless hobby that is suitable for people of any age. The postage stamp originated in the United Kingdom, so many collectors and philatelists all over the world have a great deal of interest in these stamps and believe that the most intricate and interesting items throughout history originated here. In addition to purchasing stamps, buyers should also consider the many accessories that amateur and professionals have found useful.

The world of stamp buying has become much more accessible with the advent of the internet and websites like eBay, that aggregate a vast number of sellers under one roof. As the competition is extensive, both the prices and selections should be wide enough to satisfy every budget. Some of the sellers may even offer an entire collection for those who do not want to collect individual items. While the rewards of stamp buying are usually reserved to the joys of growing and presenting a collection to friends and family, the occasional surprise discovery may be as close as the nearest computer.

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