Although there have been several claimants to priority, it is generally held that postage stamps were first introduced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in May 1 1840 as part of the postal reforms promoted by Rowland Hill. With its introduction the postage fee was now to be paid by the sender and not the recipient as heretofore, though sending mail prepaid was not a requirement. The first postage stamp, the Penny Black, while put on sale on the 1st of May, was postally valid from May 6, 1840; two days later the Two pence blue was issued. Both stamps show an engraving of the young Queen Victoria and were an immediate success though refinements like perforations were instituted with later issues. At the time of the Penny Black, there was no reason to include the United Kingdom's name on the stamp, and to this day the UK remains the only country that does not identify itself on its stamps.
Other countries followed suit by introducing their own postage stamps: the Canton of Zürich in Switzerland issued the Zurich 4 and 6 rappen on 1 March 1843. Although the Penny Black could be used to send a letter weighing less than half an ounce anywhere within the United Kingdom, the Swiss continued to calculate mail rates based on the distance travelled. Brazil issued the Bull's Eye stamps on 1 August, 1843. Using the same printer as that used for the Penny Black, the Brazilian government opted for an abstract design instead of an image of emperor Pedro II so that his image would be not be disfigured by the postmark. In 1845 some postmasters in the U.S. issued their own stamps, but the first officially issued stamps came in 1847, with the 5 and 10 cent stamps depicting Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. A few other countries issued stamps in the late 1840s. Many more, such as India, started in the 1850s and by the 1860s most countries of the world had issued postage stamps.
Following the introduction of the postage stamp in the United Kingdom the number of letters mailed increased from 82 million in 1839 to 170 million in 1841. Today an average of 21 billion items are delivered by post every year in the UK alone.
Prior to IBI being introduced, postage vault devices were used on personal computers to allow postage stamps to be printed from one's computer. The postage vault device is a tamper resistant postal security device to disable postage equipment when tampered with. The postage vault can be also identified as the means to store (and keep track of) monetary funds in the postage vault. You can think of this as prepaying for the right to print postage from your personal computer. The Internet is used to reset or replenish funds in the postage vault.
In March 2001, the United States Postal Service authorized Neopost Online and Northrop Grumman Corporation to test an innovative purchasing stamp system. This self-service stamp vending system allows the consumer to peruse through a variety of denominations and quantities, select the desired purchase and swipe his/her credit card to submit a purchase order. The stamp vending system then authorizes the purchase order, prints the stamp sheet(s) and finally dispenses them to the consumer. The ability to peruse, request, authorize, print, and dispense a stamp purchase using the Internet makes these the world's first browser-based stamps. This is the first instance where IBI was utilized on adhesive labels. The product from this self-service stamp vending system is aptly named by collectors as Neopost web-enabled stamps. These stamps were available from March 2001 through August 2003 and were denominated (fixed value) stamps.
In 2002 the United States Postal Service authorized Stamps.com to issue NetStamps. The NetStamps utilizes IBI technology and can be printed from personal computers with postal vaults. In 2004 the United States Postal Service introduced the Automated Postal Centers (APC). These kiosks provided non-denominated ($0.01 to $99.99) stamps. The intent of the APC is to reduce labor required to service consumers at the postal counters. Recently, personal pictures have been paired with IBI technology to provide a personalized stamp for the consumer. These stamps are custom made and require a period of time (days) to produce.
The push towards using IBI technology aids the United States Postal Service in finding new venues to sell stamps. It also reduces the burden of maintaining the mechanical machines to sell stamps. The United States Postal Service still relies on consigning stamps to retailers and banks (via automatic teller machines (ATMs). They must be the same size and thickness as currency in order to be dispensed by the ATM.
Similarly, Royal Mail in the United Kingdom has recently launched a "Print-your-own-postage" service allowing the general public to purchase IBI-style codes online, and print them onto address stickers or directly onto envelopes, in lieu of using First Class postage stamps. This was much remarked-upon in the press as the first time a consumer "stamp" has not featured an image of the reigning monarch. It joins the existing " SmartStamp" subscription service, which performs the same function but is primarily aimed at business customers.
On the first day of issue a set of stamps can be purchased attached to an envelope that has been postmarked with a special commemorative postmark. Known as a "First Day Cover", it can also be assembled from the component parts by stamp collectors, who are the most frequent users. These envelopes usually bear a commemorative cachet of the subject for which the stamp was created.
See also Philately
Stamp collecting is a popular hobby, and stamps are often produced as collectibles. Some countries are known for producing stamps intended for collectors rather than postal use. This practice produces a significant portion of the countries' government revenues. This has been condoned by the collecting community for places such as Liechtenstein and Pitcairn Islands that have followed relatively conservative stamp issuing policies. Abuses of this policy, however, are generally condemned. Among the most notable abusers have been Nicholas F. Seebeck and the component states of the United Arab Emirates. Seebeck operated in the 1890s as an agent of Hamilton Bank Note Company when he approached several Latin American countries with an offer to produce their entire postage stamp needs for free. In return he would have the exclusive rights to market the remainders of the stamps to collectors. Each year a new issue of stamps was produced whose postal validity would expire at the end of the year; this assured Seebeck of a continuing supply of remainders. In the 1960s certain stamp printers such as the Barody Stamp Company arranged contracts to produce quantities of stamps for the separate Emirates and other countries. These abuses combined with the sparse population of the desert states earned them the reputation of being known as the "sand dune" countries.
The combination of hundreds of countries, each producing scores of different stamps each year has resulted in a total of some 400,000 different types in existence as of 2000. In recent years, the annual world output has averaged about 10,000 types each year.
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