Is this the end of stamp collecting? No! Let me explain.

When the first postage stamp was created in 1840 (the Great Britain Penny Black), no one thought about stamp collecting. Stamps were to prove prepayment of postage. The first issues in the US appeared soon after in 1847.

No one thought about colorful and pretty stamps. No one thought about stamp collecting. Stamps were usually printed in a single color of ink. They paid postage on a letter and that’s it.

By the late 1800s, stamp collecting was really coming around. More people were collecting stamps. Formal stamp collecting associations were being formed. Postal administrations began to realize that they could raise money by issuing stamps that were of interest to collectors. The 1893 Columbian issue is considered to be the first US commemorative issue. Some will claim that they 1869 issue was the first commemorative issue, but I’m not going to get into that debate here. Nevertheless, by the late 1800s, stamps were still primarily produced to pay postage. But postal administrations realized the profit potential by having commemorative stamps that were of interest to stamp collectors.

By the 1940s and 1950s, some postal administrations put out large numbers of stamps to cater to collectors. No longer were stamps created just to pay postage. Some postal administrations put out stamps just to make a profit from them by primarily selling them to collectors. If you read any of the philatelic publications of this time period, some collectors were angry about the endless line of postage stamps with little or no postal validity. Terms like “wallpaper” came into being.

In the US, collectors will say that the USPS issues too many stamps. I’m not going to get into that debate. However, in the last 10-15 years, the USPS has changed its philosophy around subjects depicted on stamps. Gone were deceased Presidents and famous people. Gone were historical events. Issues like Harry Potter and Batman are clearly aimed at stamp collectors.

Look at the typical American household where there is no stamp collector in the home. Most of the mail received is either parcels or junk mail. Very little is first class mail and even less is franked with stamps. Most mail doesn’t have a stamp on it. Most mail is franked with a bulk rate permit, electronic postage, or a postage meter.

I think that stamp usage by commercial mailers is on the decline too. It used to be that they wanted to use “real” stamps (the bulk rate and other special service stamps) because the appearance of a “stamp” on their mailing made it look like important first class mail. They wanted the recipient to open the letter and read it. But commercial mailers realize that having a stamp on there isn’t an advantage any more.

The use of stamps on mail is on the decline. Will we ever get to a point where stamps aren’t needed on mail? I don’t know.

But it’s obvious that many postal administrations are creating stamps for the collector and not the person sending a piece of mail. In the case of the USPS, a few issues like whatever the present day Flag stamp is will be the work horses that carry most of the mail. But commemorative stamps? They won’t be used on mail much (except by fellow stamp collectors) and they will depict subjects that are popular with the public (Disney characters, birds, butterflies, etc.).