Reasons for Using Vintage Stamps
People mainly use vintage stamps is to make an envelope look more appealing. Pretty postage can be a lifesaver if you don’t have the time or the occasion to make intricate mail art. There’s a practical reason for adding vintage stamps to an envelope, too: sometimes, you need extra postage to cover the cost of an additional ounce. Other times, the extra postage covers a “bad envelope” penalty. In the US, that means that your envelope cannot pass through a postal machine due to its shape, a larger than usual size, or an external feature like a wax seal.
Where to Buy Vintage Stamps
In the US, unused vintage postage stamps are still valid at their face value for mailing purposes. You can purchase stamps from whatever year and use them to mail your letter. Keep in mind that the total value of the stamps must meet or exceed the cost of mailing the envelope. (If you’re not sure what the cost is to mail a 1 oz. letter, Google it. USPS constantly adjusts postage prices!)
I always purchase my stamps on eBay. It’s fun to order a random collection of vintage stamps because you never know exactly what you’re going to get! If unpredictability isn’t your thing, you can pay a premium and get your stamps from other sources. Rich at Treasure Fox has fantastic curated stamp collections, and Patrick at Edelweiss Post maintains a selection of modern and vintage stamps in his store.
Note that you can use canceled (meaning: used) stamps on an envelope. Those stamps, however, will not count toward the cost of the postage. They are just for fun and their worth as a postage stamp is $0.
Mixing and Matching
When I first started using vintage stamps, it cost $0.46 to send a 1 oz. letter. Now, that price has risen to $0.60. As stamp prices increase, it’s become increasingly difficult to use small denominations of vintage stamps to build up to $0.60. It’s often necessary to include at least one modern stamp to ensure that the envelope has enough postage value. The good news? Oftentimes, modern stamps are just as cool as vintage stamps! You can find a large selection online at USPS.com. It’s a good idea to keep a healthy supply of Forever stamps and global stamps on hand. Then, you can mix those modern stamps with a handful of vintage stamps, as shown below.
Making Vintage Stamps Stick
Most vintage postage stamps have moisten-to-seal glue applied to the back. The strength of that glue wanes over time, so it’s best to use a glue stick to apply adhesive to the back of a vintage stamp. Then, apply the stamp to your envelope. Make sure all four edges of the stamp are securely glued!
Combining the Right Stamps
The trick to a cohesive postage stamp collage is to pick a theme. For example, maybe you’ll choose to use stamps that predominantly feature a certain color, like the envelope below:
Alternatively, you can try to stick to a particular theme, like a holiday. On the envelope below, two of the stamps specifically mention Christmas, and the three pear stamps are related to Christmas (does anyone else love Harry & David pears at the holidays?). The “Poland’s Millennium” stamp has a color scheme and an intricate design that fits right in with the other stamps.
How to Make the Perfect Vintage Stamp Arrangement
If you have the time, make a stamp draft arrangement. Vintage stamps are easy to pre-arrange on envelopes because they don’t have a sticky underside. It’s a little bit more difficult to arrange contemporary stamps on an envelope because they have a sticky backing. If you can, go ahead and cut the contemporary stamp out so you can see what it will look like on your envelope. Otherwise, you can always just “eyeball” it.
I always begin with a stamp I like on the right, then I make my way toward the left with other stamps. It’s up to you whether you want to fill up the whole top of the envelope or not!
Once you’ve reached the appropriate value amount, you can add more stamps or simply stop. It never hurts to add a little bit of extra postage for visual effect.
Things to Remember
First of all, only use vintage stamp collages on envelopes that benefit from it. Some envelope art is so busy that it can only really handle one postage stamp! If your envelope abounds with flourishes and art, don’t feel pressure to somehow incorporate a smattering of vintage stamps.
You can also live on the edge and play with orientation. Strictly speaking, USPS prefers that you put stamps on the right. However, I have oriented stamps to the left without delivery issues. (That said, my local post office is known for being indulgent.)
Finally, don’t worry about making a creative postage stamp collage every single time. Sometimes, repeating one stamp design is just as impactful as combining different stamps!
I hope that today’s article gives you the resources and the knowledge to start including modern and/or vintage stamp collages on your mail. You’ll find that one of the best parts of mailing a letter is getting to sit down and select stamps that appeal to you and gracefully finish off the envelope!
If you have any questions about vintage stamp collages or input on stamp collaging in countries outside of the US, I’d love to hear from you in the comments! I apologize for not being able to speak about this topic on an international level, but I hope that you can fill in the blanks for me if you live outside the US. Can you find vintage stamps, and where? Does the post office mind when you use them? Do they need to be arranged a certain way on the envelope? Answers to questions like these would be helpful!
As always, thanks so much for reading TPK, and enjoy the rest of your day!
This article was first posted in July of 2017. It has been re-written to include new photos and updated information.