Stamps are almost disappeared nowadays. We don’t send letters anymore because the internet has reshaped communication. Though we must say writing a letter to a loved one is bound to be a welcome surprise). Before the advent of the internet, letters were the best way to relay a message. There was a time when the receiver paid for the letter when they went to pick it up themselves. The system was confusing and inefficient. The receiver could refuse to receive your letter, or not have enough money for it. Paying in advance was possible, but you had no guarantee your letter would arrive.
That’s why postal stamps were invented. They proved the letter was paid for and simplified the way mail operated. Ever seen a mailbox? These couldn’t work without stamps.
Nowadays, postal stamps seem like an anomaly. But they still have a few use cases, such as when communicating with someone in prison. These people don’t have access to the internet, so letters are the only way of talking to them. Well, beyond visiting, which comes with its own challenges (e.g. you live very far away from their location).
Postal stamps were necessary to send letters. Throughout the decades, the US postal system issued all sorts of stamps. Plenty of these, especially the oldest ones, have become sought-after collectibles. Some fetch prices that would make your car payments look like buying candies for a kid.
In this article, you are going to learn everything you need to know about one of the most famous postal stamps in US mail’s history: the 2 cent stamp. Its history, why it is valuable, and how to start your own stamps collection, as well as a few record auctions.
The History of the 2 Cent Stamp
Before stamps, letters had to either be paid to the person delivering it, or the receiver had to pay for it. The system was a mess. Let’s say you were writing to family that was in the UK. You had to write your letter and bring it by hand to a ship’s captain. The captain would then reach his destination and make it known he was carrying a bunch of letters.
This lasted until around 1855, when the prepayment of letter postage became mandatory. Stamps actually appeared a few years before that, in 1847. Yet, their adoption was slow as people weren’t yet accustomed to them.
The first 2 cent stamps appeared in 1863, as a result of postal rates changing. Before that year, you’d pay either 1 or 5 cents for mail delivery, depending on weight and distance. Now, 2 cents were the smallest you’d pay for a local mail delivery, making the creation of a 2 cents stamp necessary.
These stamps are also called the “Blackjack” because of their design. They are black and they portray president Andrew Jackson. The design changed in 1883 with the classic Washington Red stamps, which survived until 1932. There was a brief period of 3 years, from November 1917 until June 1919, where the lowest postal rate rose to 3 cents to finance the war. 2 cents stamp production resumed in july 1919 and carried on until 1932, when postal rate rose again to 3 cents.
The last resurgence of 2 cent stamps was from 1952 until 1958, to pay for postcard delivery. These had a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on them. But letters’ delivery was already double as expensive, priced at 4 cents.
Evaluating a Postal Stamp
Experienced and newbie collectors alike need to know how to evaluate a stamp. You don’t need to become an expert appraiser, but you do need to at least be able to ballpark the stamp’s value.
There are 2 main advantages of knowing how to assess a postal stamp:
- The ability to avoid scams
- Recognizing fakes
If you don’t know how valuable a piece is, it’s easy to overpay for it. And, unfortunately, fakes are rampant in the world of postal stamps. So much that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) has an entire page dedicated to it.
Pay attention to the following aspects when evaluating a postal stamp:
- The color: The brighter the color, the more valuable the stamp is. Faded out colors are a sign of poor conservation — such as letting the stamp catch sunlight, dirt, or pollution.
- The cancellation: This only matters for used stamps. A used stamp got a cancellation mark on it to avoid reusage. The lighter the cancellation, the better, as it lets us see more of the original design
- Centering: A perfectly centered stamp is the most valuable, since it means that the subject of the stamp was printed in an area with no borders, leaving us a bigger and more complete image.
- The paper: A paper with no signs of damage is the most valuable. Thin paper, or torn stamps could have a decreased value.
- The perforation: A perforation is the little dots that allow us to “rip” off a stamp, without damaging it. A perforation all around the stamp means it’s meant to be used on letters. A perforation “ripped” off in certain points could indicate they’re samples or were never meant to be used as postage.
- The gum: Just like the centering, good quality gum is hard to find nowadays. Gum with no age spots (dark spots) increases the stamp’s value too. In particular, look for hinging. The lighter the hinging (which means the paper was stuck on the stamp instead of being printed with it) the more valuable the stamp. Regummed stamps are still very valuable, though nothing beats the original gum (when it’s in good condition).
All of these factors contribute to figuring out the grade of a stamp. The grades go from Poor (P) to Super (S), depending on the conditions of each aspect we listed above.
Let’s see them in greater detail.
Stamp, much like most other collectibles, have a grading system that help us determine their conditions. The higher a stamp’s grade, the higher its price. Higher grades are reserved to stamps that look closely to their new counterparts, whereas the more degraded ones have lower grades.
Editor’s note: The perforation accuracy is the main factor in determining the stamp’s grade.
Here are the grades:
- Poor (P): A poor graded stamp has an uncentered design or is poorly perforated (the edges haven’t been cut perfectly). These stamps’ designs usually are faded out, making it hard to distinguish their main features.
- Average (A): Average stamps look slightly better than poor ones. They still have a few imperfections, such as a poor perforation job or the cancellation mark is too heavy, but they look better than poor ones.
- Fine (F): Here’s where perforations start looking like they are supposed to. They are still not perfectly done, but at least there is some symmetry between top and both OR left and right sides.
- Very Fine (VF): Very fine stamps usually look pretty good with minor asymmetries. These are some of the most valuable stamps because they still look like how they were originally designed.
- Extra Fine (XF): Extra fine stamps have perfect symmetry and a very light cancellation mark, if any at all. They have minimal signs of usage.
- Superb (S): A stamp with a superb grade is in mint condition, as it has a perfectly centered design and an almost perfect cancellation. These are the most valuable stamps, since they look like they were just printed — making them highly sought-after by collectors.
Pay attention to the stamp’s grade when deciding how much to pay for one. The various aspects that determine a piece’s grade can also help you in spotting a fake.
Spotting a Fake Postal Stamp
Fake stamps are a source of easy money for a few dishonest actors out there, as they are easy to reproduce. Often, they are printed on top of a cheaper stamp, but you can also find some built up from scratch.
The biggest indicator for a stamp’s authenticity is its color. Fake ones look a little too good, as they were freshly printed. Even a perfectly-conserved stamp from 1883 will not be as bright as a modern stamp.
Pay particular attention to bundles sold online. If you see a bunch of stamps (say, 25) selling for 20 to 50 percent off their regular value, you’re most likely getting defrauded. Unfortunately, that’s the main risk of doing business online — you can’t inspect the items before buying.
Here’s a great video by the USPIS detailing how to spot a fake stamp:
Now that you know how to evaluate postal stamps, let’s see a few of them, how much they sold for, and current sales.
Buying a 2 Cent Stamp
If you’re in the market for a stamp, there are a few things to know before rushing head first into a dealer.
First off, where can you buy a vintage 2 cent stamp? There are 3 main locations:
- On an online marketplace like eBay
- At an auction
- From a specialized seller
Each place comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Online marketplaces are great if you’re looking for bargains, or aren’t exactly sure what you want to buy. Say you want to start a collection but don’t particularly care what you buy, just that it’s a cool looking 2 cent stamps. In that case, a place like eBay would be perfect, as you can easily snag a cool stamp like this Red George Washington stamp for a few cents. However, it’s also the place where scams are more likely. Since you can’t inspect the object before you buy, astute photography tricks can mask any tampering.
Auctions are their own beast. Here’s where you can find the rarest pieces, but prepare to fight hard for them. Some people treat auctions like they’re trying to buy eternal life. Ever heard of auction fever? That’s when emotions run high and people are up bidding each other for the sake of it. It’s when rationality goes out the window and emotions take the driving seat. The main advantage of auctions is that you will buy an original piece. The problem is that you risk paying a hefty premium for it, though you could get lucky and end up underpaying for the piece of your dreams. Auctions are very volatile in this regard.
Specialized sellers are vintage shops or boutiques that sell vintage stuff, including postal stamps. You are guaranteed to receive a genuine item, as well as a few guarantees. On the other hand, the stock they have is often limited, so you’ll find yourself visiting multiple dealerships to find the piece you’re after. Plus, this is by far the most expensive method (excluding auctions of unique pieces).
There is no single solution to the matter of where to buy postal stamps. It depends on what you’re after and your budget. If you’re after a unique piece, auctions are your best bet, whereas if you want something middle of the road, sellers are just fine. Online marketplaces offer the best and the worst of both worlds. Prepare for a lot of painstaking research when buying on them, especially on the more expensive items.
Now that you know where to buy a piece and the advantages of each type of shopping experience, let’s see a few sales that are of interest to us.
Most Valuesable 2 Cent Stamps (Rare Ones)
Quick reminder: there are 2 main designs we’re going to look for in this section: the U.S. Scott #73 (the Blackjack 2 cents stamp) and the 2-cent Red George Washington stamp. Although U.S. Scott prices pale in comparison to Washington’s.
Editor’s note: We ordered these from the lowest price to the highest one. Most of the prices come from Mavin.
This is a bundle of 40 used Jackson stamps. Unfortunately, the cancellation mark on some of them is way too intrusive, or they’d be valued much higher. Still, this was a valuable bundle of items for any collector who isn’t after mint pieces.
Editor’s note: This is the only Jackson 2 cent stamps that sold for a decent price. There are some on sale right now that have higher asking prices, but we will deal with stuff currently on sale later.
This is another great piece that suffers from heavy cancellation marks, especially around its center. Still, everything else is pretty much perfect, if you exclude the top/bottom perforations. That’s why this stamp earned the Very Good (VG) grade.
Another heavyweight on our list, this astounding piece is as good as new if you exclude the cancellation mark. However, this is from an era where the mark didn’t impact the stamp’s design too much, which helps in conserving the piece’s value. Everything else is perfect: the paper, the color, and the centering. The biggest flaw of this stamp is that it is attached to the original letter’s envelope, although to many people that is a plus. How cool is it to own an original letter envelope from 1928?
Although some might consider this cheating (the green 1 cent stamp is also very valuable), this is by far the highest sale of 2 cent stamps we’ve had in recent times. The picture doesn’t give these stamps justice, since it’s too small/blurry. But the image is enough to show us the pieces are in pristine condition. The colors are excellent and the paper is still clean. Plus, the cancellation mark is on the lighter side, especially on the 2 cent piece. This is a piece that many collectors wish they had. Our biggest gripe is that the year of issue is missing.
But enough about historical pieces, let’s now see something you can buy right now to kickstart or grow your collection.
2 Cent Stamps for Sale
Let’s now see a few 2 cent stamps for sale right now.
This is a pair of 1954 2 cent stamps. These were used from 1952 until 1958, when sending postcards still costed only 2 cents. You can buy them right now on Etsy for $52, which is a pretty good price, considering they are a pair and they look great. If you’re wondering why they’re so cheap, the main reason is that they aren’t rare at all. They’re relatively young and there are a lot of them in circulation.
This is a decent buy for a beginner. You can get it for just $1.49. And it’s very likely authentic – why would anyone go through the effort of replicating the cancellation mark for a little over $1? That said, you can tell why this piece has such a low price. For starters, the cancellation mark runs all over the piece. Other pieces on this list aren’t as struck as this one. Plus, the piece is very poorly centered, look at the top vs bot and left vs right margins. Still, for such a low price you can get your hands on a piece from 1928. It is definitely something you should consider if you don’t care about grades.
Andrew Jackson 2 cent stamps are quite unique. The black color plus the choice of president makes them so. This piece is currently on auction, but you can also buy it immediately for $300. The cancellation mark is almost faded away which helps with the value, but as you can see from the pictures, the perforation and centering is less than stellar. Still, if you’re looking for a blackjack, this is a good piece to get.
Conserving 2 Cent Stamps (and Envelopes)
Conserving old stamps and envelopes is pretty simple. Store them in a place that’s away from direct sunlight and that protects them from outside elements like plastic sheets. That’s enough to keep them as new. In fact, you’ll notice that most pictures online have them in one of these plastic sheets.
One thing we’ve seen someone attempt. Do not, under any circumstance, attempt to remove the cancellation mark. While you may think that will restore the stamp to its original condition, what’s going to actually happen is that you’ll ruin the stamp forever.
Cleaning old 2 cent stamps is also a bad idea, as it can damage them beyond repair. Old paper and chemical agents don’t go well together. If you have vintage stamps that need to be conserved or restored, consult a professional instead of trying at home remedies. They’ll be able to advise you on the best way to do this without harming your valuable piece.
FAQs about 2 Cent Stamps
Can I still use 2 cent stamps?
Technically yes. However, with the current delivery rates, it’s a poor idea. Yes, these stamps are still valid. No, slapping 30 of them on an envelope is not a good idea.
What are the different types of 2 cent stamps?
There are many different types and designs of 2 cent stamps. Some common examples include the Washington-Franklin series, the Blackjack series, and commemorative stamps. These stamps have different designs and printing processes, which can influence their value and desirability among collectors.
What’s the best place to shop for vintage 2 cent stamps?
The best place is easily eBay. The variety is unmatched, but if you’re after a specific piece, auction houses are a better bet.
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Postal stamps are, together with coins, the OGs of collectibles. You’ll find many people who collect them, even if they never cared about collecting other stuff. It’s fascinating to observe, and also a great opportunity for anyone. It means you’ll easily find one for a decent price.
If you’re in the market for postal stamps, you will easily find many. And with such ample choice, there is one for everyone. Whether you’re on a budget, or an experienced collector looking for your next big buy, you’ll find the perfect stamp for your collection.
Make sure to protect yourself from potential scams. Don’t buy unless the seller offers a money-back guarantee. If possible, only buy from reputable sources. If you’re shopping online, go for sellers with lots of reviews.
Collecting postal stamps is fun and easy. Unless you’re after the most unique pieces, you’ll find it easy to create a complete collection of stamps from all eras. The rich history of U.S. postal service adds to the fun of collecting its memorabilia.
Good luck, and remember, what matters is that you are happy with what you’re collecting.