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Official stamps

In the 1870s, government departments lost the franking privilege. Separate series of stamps were issued for each department's use. Except for the issues of the Post Office Department, which feature only numerals, the stamps were patterned on the then-current "banknote" issues. Continental had the contract for regular postage stamps and provided the first issues of Official stamps as well.

1873 issues, Continental Bank Note Company

1879 issues, American Bank Note Company

In 1879, American won the contract to print regular postage stamps, and with it, the printing of Official stamps. Only a few denominations were printed, generally in low and common denominations. Some are quite rare, as stocks of Continental stamps were sufficient that major printing runs were not necessary.

After a few years, the franking privilege was restored (the last official day of use was July 5, 1884), and government departments were not required to use stamps for another 100 years.

1881 Special Printing examples are rare. Please report any examples.

1918 Postal Savings Official issues are included at the end of the 1879 reissues.

Modern Official issues

During a trial period in the 1980s, the franking privilege was revoked for several government departments and agencies, which were then required to use official stamps on all official mail (or otherwise account for their postage costs, such as through meters). The experiment apparently led to better accounting for postage costs, and was expanded to all government agencies by the mid-1980s.

In 2012, USPS announced that no more official stamps would be issued or printed. Departments still using official stamps would use up existing stocks and transition to other methods of accounting for postage expenses.


Officially Sealed labels

Post Office Seals or "Officially Sealed" are labels, not stamps, as they have no postal value. They were used to seal or re-seal envelopes that had become torn in transit, had been opened for inspection, or had been opened by mistake.


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This page last updated February 15, 2021.