When postal stationery was first introduced (government stamped envelopes and postal cards), collectors usually collected them as a “cut square”. Cut squares that are 2 inches by 2 inches in size are pretty common. Other sizes were used too. It sometimes depends on the size of the design used on the postal stationery.
Why cut squares? That’s easy. All that the early collectors were interested in was the “stamp” part of the postal stationery. That was much easier to mount in their early albums than those big bulky envelopes and stiff postal cards. Just cut out the interesting “stamp” part. Nothing else.
Over time, collectors started to notice that postal stationery was sometimes printed on, say, paper stock that had different watermarks. Or sometimes the way the envelope flap was produced was different. There were several differences that collectors noticed. Collecting just a cut square couldn’t always capture those differences. Collecting habits changed and postal stationery collectors began saving the entire envelope or postal card. These are referred to as “entires” in philatelic literature.
In some cases of very early postal stationery, no entires are known for some Scott numbers. The only thing surviving is a unique or rare cut square. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, collecting the entire was taking hold. Some were still collecting cut squares. But many more collectors were collecting the entire. By the 1940s and 1950s, collecting cut squares fell out of style and the only thing being collected were entires.
What does all of this mean to the average collector?
For the very early material prior to 1900, cut squares were the norm and the most commonly encountered items. Prices vary based on demand and scarcity. Entires in this period usually command large premiums if you can find them. For example, a cut square may have a catalog value of $1 but an entire has a catalog value of $50 or more.
From about 1900 to 1950, entires are preferred and in most cases, bring small premiums over cut squares because they are equally as common. For example, a cut square may have a catalog value of 25¢ and an entire has a catalog value of $1.
From about 1950 onward, there is almost no demand for cut squares. Cut squares add little if any value to a collection. Entires are preferred and in most cases, the entires are very common.
If you collect cut squares of modern issues and that’s what you like to do, more power to you. No one says you must only collect entires. Realize that collecting cut squares is not the preferred format and if you sell your collection, the cut squares are not going to add much value.
As always, collect what you like. But now you understand the changing trends in collecting postal stationery items over the years.