How to Determine the Era of a Stamp

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How to Determine the Era of a Stamp

King Henry I may have laid the groundwork for the initial mail delivery, but it was Charles I that gave the general public access to a postal service in 1635. For the first two hundred years, the recipient was expected to foot the bill for the delivery, and refusing the package meant loss of revenue. Parliament approved prepaid postage in 1839, and the following year, the first stamps were issued. A national contest determined the inaugural stamps, and the chosen both had a portrait of Queen Victoria; therefore, every other stamp follows the tradition of featuring the ruling monarch.

The first stamps were black penny stamps, sold in sheets of 240, and were valid for up to a half-ounce delivery; the blue tuppence stamps were used for heavier items. Interested parties should be aware that the era of a stamp can be easily identified by the portrait of the monarch, and within each era, characteristics such as the shape, colour of ink, and design are year specific.

Determining the Era of a Stamp

Philatelists can easily identify the era of a stamp based on the featured king or queen. The earliest postal stamps have Queen Victoria's face on them since public service was instigated under her rule. During King Edward VII's nine-year reign, the postal service began experimenting with colours and styles. George V era stamps mark the onset of a new and innovative type of printing press.

King Edward VII only had four stamps issued during his brief kingship. George VI stamps are widely collected because commemorative stamps became a popular collector's item. Queen Elizabeth is the most current era for philatelists. The sections below outline stamps' other common features indicative of era.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria began her six decade reign at the start of the first public mail system. Because the first stamps were designed with her portrait on it, even the most current stamps have the monarch's portrait or silhouette. The initial run of stamps was issued in 1840 and featured the Queen in black ink, known as penny stamps. It took the postal service a year to figure out patrons were reusing stamps, so in 1841 they switched to red ink. In 1854 the postal service introduced perforated sheets for easy tear. Before then, patrons used scissors or knives to separate stamps. 1887 marked the Queen's 50th year, and Jubilee stamps were issued in her honour. They were used until 1902.

King Edward VII

King Edward VII assumed the Crown in 1901; however, it would take a full year for stamps bearing his picture. Edward's stamps favoured the Jubilee stamps, and falling in line with Victorian trends, the framed portrait continued through this era. This is the first era where colour variations became popular. The postal service improved the design of the stamps and introduced the first stamp booklets in 1904. Though there is a limited number of Edward VII stamps, they remain popular with many collectors.

King George V

King George V reigned from 1910 to 1936, and during this era, the postal service made several strides. Under George, there were two major adjustments made. The first was the switch to Harrison's printers and the implementation of photogravure techniques. The second is the shift of the responsibility for printing the stamps; whereas Inland Revenue has been the governing entity, power shifted to the Post Office.

Additionally, the "postage due" stamp made its debut. In 1924, the first commemorative stamp was issued, and the years that followed saw a shift in design. For the first time, stamps began focusing more on pictorial designs, minimising the presence of the ruler. Additionally King George stamps are favoured because he began a Royal stamp collection that would continue for generations.

King Edward VIII

King Edward VIII had the Crown for only a year, and consequently, there are a limited amount of stamp designs. Although one could assume that only four types would make Edward VIII stamps quite rare, it is quite the opposite. These stamps are common and have a low value.

King George VI

King George VI took over after the abdication of his brother at the end of 1936; however, his stamps were not issued until May of 1937, right before his coronation. The era has many commemorative stamps, including one for Princess Elizabeth's wedding and the liberation stamp for the Channel Islands. George VI stamps remain popular among collectors due to the variety of stamps available, and it was a known fact the King himself took pride in continuing the Royal collection George V started.

Queen Elizabeth II

The post office scaled back Queen Elizabeth commemorative stamps from 1952 until 1964, issuing only 20 set, 16 of which were released between 1959 and 1964. 1958 marks the introduction of regional stamps, also referred to as country definitives for the following areas: Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man. In 1964, there was an attempt to remove the monarch's head from the stamp; however, these were only concept designs by David Gentlemen. The chart below is a quick summary to refer to for the dates and key features of stamps from each era.




Queen Victoria

1840 - 1901

Sold in sheets of 240; two sizes of stamps; first perforated in 1854

King Edward VII

1901 - 1910

Booklet introduced in 1904; colour variations in stamps

King George V

1910 - 1936

First commemorative and pictorial stamps; switch to photogravure; "postage due" stamp introduced

King Edward VIII


Only four stamps made; readily available and inexpensive

King George VII

1936 - 1952

Variety of commemorative and pictorial stamps sold; prized among philatelists

Queen Elizabeth II

1952 - present

Introduction of country definitives; array of commemorative stamps in array of shapes, sizes, and colours.

Several factors, the era being only one, determine the value of stamps. Many philatelists focus their collection on an era or type of stamp. Whereas age may be important to some collectors, others value a commemorative collection from a colourful era.

Other Important Factors for Stamp Collecting

Although era and stamp value often go hand in hand, there are other key points of consideration to weigh. Whether mint or used, well-preserved or damaged, the condition of the stamp can determine the value. Moreover, some misprints, limited editions, and other collectibles can be classified as rare and therefore are pricey. The following subsections allow stamp collectors to identify which stamps are worth the price and which should be discounted.


The condition of the stamp, like many collectibles, is an important element to consider. While mint is typically worth more, special or unusual postmarks may contribute to the value. Not all unused postage stamps are automatically "mint condition". Mint refers to the preservation of the stamp. It refers to an absence of tears, markings, and creases. Blemishes diminish the overall worth of the stamp.


In addition to the era, the rarity of a stamp also determines value. Some philatelists based their entire collection on misprints or commemorative limited editions. For example, although contemporary, David Gentleman stamp collections are quite decorative, and some prints are extremely limited. The first stamps issued were made from black ink, but the postal service was quick to catch onto customers reusing stamps. In 1841, the red ink replaced the black.

How to Buy Stamps on eBay

Finding era specific stamps on eBay begins with a simple keyword search. Including the year or monarch in your search helps narrow down results. Searches for "1962 Queen Elizabeth II stamp&" and "Edward VII commemorative stamp&" can yield much more specific items.


Before committing to any stamps, buyers should be familiar with which payment methods sellers accept. There are four common methods of payment used on eBay. PayPal is the preferred payment for many sellers as it is reliable, quick, and traceable. A buyer's PayPal account is tied directly into his or her bank account. Most buyers accept credit and debit cards, and like PayPal, these types of transactions are safe and can be traced. Large ticket items, such as boats and cars, are often held in escrow. Pay on collection is favoured by buyers who can pick up their item in person and inspect if before committing. Finally, a few sellers use take personal cheques, wire transfers, and post orders.


A stamp's general era can be easily identified by the portrait of the king or queen. Within each era, there are certain features that can narrow down the age of the stamp even further. Philatelists with an understanding of history of the postal service and key technological advances can better assess the authenticity of a stamp. The style, ink, and printing methods are all integral components that should be inspected. For example, all stamps before 1904 were sold in sheets, and the first stamp booklets were invented under Edward VII.

Furthermore, the buyers should always evaluate the condition of the stamp before annexing it to the collection. Torn and other blemishes depreciate the overall value; however, errors and misprints committed by the postal service are rare and highly prized. Philatelists can find a vast selection of their era specific stamps sold by private sellers, at conventions, and online websites such as eBay..

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