signed, sealed, delivered
Communication in the modern age changes every day. New programs and apps for sharing information and images are constantly being developed, and they are changing historical forms of communication along the way. With the advent of the cell phone came the phrase landline. And with the advent of e-mail came the phrase snail mail. As archaic as snail mail sounds, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The art of letter writing, sending, and receiving is back in fashion, and as a result, postage stamps are too. New designs are always a thrill for philatelists, but vintage, never-been-used stamps are resurfacing and dressing up envelopes all over North America
Vintage postage stamps are often maintained in curated hobby collections; however, they can still be used for practical purposes too. Editions that aren’t particularly rare offer a beautiful opportunity to honor social history and provide your friend or family member with a well-decorated piece of mail. Even though the cost of a single stamp is more today than it was sixty years ago, you can still use uncanceled stamps. As long as the face value totals the current cost of postage, you can use as many stamps as you’d like in the upper right hand corner of your envelope.
Create a mix of stamps you love or think the recipient would appreciate. You could also group them by color or theme. For example, animal postage stamps complement a jungle themed birthday party invitation, while stamps with love and flowers in pastel shades are a popular wedding invitation trend. A collection of vintage stamps is a particularly detailed and romantic gesture for brides and grooms to use when inviting guests. But whatever the occasion, postage stamps help communicate your message. “When I was in college I had a long-distance relationship, and we wrote letters constantly. Postcards, love letters, drawings—anything to stay connected,” says Liz Tannehill Cook, owner of online-based Vintage Postage Shop. “The envelope was as much a part of the correspondence as the letter itself. From the stamp that was chosen to any artwork that was drawn to any words used; it was very personal and intentional. I still have all of those letters. Each one gave me so much joy and is a story of that relationship.”
You can find usable stamps from Vintage Postage Shop and other vendors on Etsy. If you’d like someone else to curate a complete set and make sure it totals the amount you need per envelope, Etsy is a fantastic resource. Or if you’re simply on the hunt for sheets of a specific stamp, you can check out eBay or Amazon. There might also be local brick-and-mortar resources in your area.
Remember when you had to lick the stamps? Yes, there really was a time when the adhesive had to be activated with moisture. When applying vintage stamps, forgo the traditional method and instead use quality glue sticks to affix them to envelopes. Use a piece of scrap or construction paper to firmly press the stamp to the envelope and avoid getting glue everywhere.
Preserve the integrity of your vintage stamps by having them hand canceled. Today, most mail is machine sorted, which means it’s processed in a not-so-gentle way, and your pretty postage stamps might end up peeling or covered up completely. Take your mail directly to the postmaster for a hand cancellation. Not only is this a gentler and more traditional way to send mail, it can also add dimension to your envelope. (See the sidebar for more about specialty postmarks.)