First Firsts

This is Philately, by Kenneth  A. Wood is an indispensable 3-volume encyclopaedia of stamps. Volume 3, Q-Z under stamps lists most the stamp types you can think of and, in many cases, identifies the first of each type.

The second key source of information is my favourite stamp book, James Mackay's Guinness Book of Stamps (origin of the Guinness Pages) which devotes a full chapter to covering similar ground in Kinds of Stamps. On this page I will aim to combine both sources and then, of course, collect the stamps. new page



Country Scott
Date Notes Value M/U
£ 1999


El Salvador










Acknowledgement of Receipt
This is a fairly obscure type of stamp. Wood mentions Chile, Columbia and Montenegro as having issued them, and El Salvador as the first, on a pair of stamps in 1897, inscribed Aviso de Recepcion. Mackay favours Columbia in 1865 with another pair.
My Scott Classic 2001 dates Columbia A/R H1 as 1893 and El Salvador as  1897.

Colombia [Illus 1]

£2.50 / £2.10



5 c red


5 c green

Italy C1 102 1917

The first government-issue airmails
are from Italy, two stamps issued in May and June 1917, both overprints of existing Express Delivery stamps.
Mackay (as one might expect from the author of a book on the subject) goes into rather more detail, mentioning:
• Samuel King's 1877 Buffalo balloon post;
• W Fricker's 1898 pigeon post
• Labels for various early aviation meetings, starting with 1909 at Bar-sur-Aube;
• German semi-official stamps for Grade's flights between Bork and Brόck
Then agrees with Wood on Italy's 1917 for the first government airmail stamp.

In the Guinness Pages, I also look for the first real airmail for each country, that is the first stamp designed for the purpose - usually with an aeroplane on it - not an overprint of an existing stamp. I will have to find the first real airmail of all.



25 c red
o/p Express SG-E73

Geneva Sc-2L1 G1 1843

Bipartite stamps
Stamps which can be split and used separately. Mackay identifies the earliest example as the 1843 Double Geneva. These are distinct from Bisect stamps which have been  divided in half and used for half their face value (etc.).
[Illus 2]

£35,000 / £26,000]

10 centimes black and green
Luxembourg   SB1 1895

Mackay notes that the idea was first suggested in Britain in 1878, but not implemented until 1904. First, then is Luxembourg in 1895. Wood identifies the US as second in 1900. Having consulted the Gibbons Benelux Specialised in my local library - there were two Luxembourg booklets issued in 1895, numbers SB1 and SB2, containing 4 panes of 6xSG155 and 2 panes of 6xSG128 respectively and priced at £1,200 and £2,000. They sold at 5c over face value and I think they were both illustrated with the Grand Duke Adolf.
[Illus Stamp Magazine June 2004]

Switzerland ? 1538 2003 Braille stamp
The first ever braille stamp might be this March 2003 issue from Switzerland, mentioned in unfavourable terms in the August '03 Gibbons Monthly as unnecessary, given that registered blind Swiss can post for free.
Illustration from the  Swiss Federation for the Blind, who state 'Swiss Post is one of the first postal organisations in the world to issue a Braille stamp' so this might need more research.
  Stamp in Braille
70 c red
Finland ? P471 1949 Bus Parcel Stamps
This is a Finnish speciality and mentioned in Mackay, but I could not find a reference in Wood. First issued in 1949 by the Finnish Post Office for the carriage of parcels on coach services, including private company services.

The only image I have found so far is from here and shows the first set, complete with a 'watermark' from the dealer.

95p / £2.75

[1 m green]

Canada 85 168 1891 Christmas Stamp
There is some controversy over this one. Although it is the first stamp to have "Xmas" on it, it is really nothing to do with Christmas and therefore better claimants may be advanced following further investigation. There are interesting and contradictory articles here and here. Other suggestions from those sources include: Austria 1937; Brazil 1939; Hungary 1941 - proposed by the first article and dismissed in the second, which also mentions Netherlands 1926 and 1933 semi-postals.
£25 / £4.75
New South Wales 77 253 1888 Commemorative
There are several claims to this title. Wood lists:
• The first stamp with a specific commemorative inscription is the 1888 New South Wales issue for the centenary of the first colony in Australia.
• An 1871 stamp from Peru is said to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first South American railway;
• Some local German commemoratives were issued in 1887, but Wood discounts these as they were not a government issue;

Mackay mentions and dismisses:
• Baden and Wόrttenburg, both in 1851 issuing stamps with a 'tiny inscription signifying the German-Austrian Postal Union';
• two New Brunswick issues of 1860, relating to the railways and the Prince of Wales;
• a French reissue in 1863 with a laurel crown added to the image of Napoleon III;
• the Peru 1871 as above;
• the US 1876 stamped envelopes for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition;
• the German locals above;
before arriving at the 1888 NSW issue as the first 'adhesive commemorative stamps produced by a government postal administration'.

£3.75 / 10p
1d mauve, view of Sydney
Centenary of NSW
        Charity - see semi-postal    
Poland 767-768 1007-1008 1957 Composite stamps
Defined by Mackay as 'where the design is spread over two or more stamps'. The first is a Poland 1957 issue featuring two fencers. I'm not sure what term Wood uses for this feature and so cannot yet list his corresponding entry.

Here's half to go on with (April 2004). See also Se-tenant

25p / 15p

20p / 10p

60 g red

60 g blue

Great Britain 1 2 1840 Definitive
The clear winner here is, of course, the Penny Black, 1840.
£3,400 / £200
Penny Black
Belgium ? ? 1914? Exile stamps
Issued by governments in temporary exile following invasion. Mackay identifies as first the Belgium government in exile in Le Havre throughout WW1.
        Express Delivery - see Special Delivery    


Netherlands Indies










Floating Safe stamps
These were issued by the Netherlands and Netherlands Indies, for mail shipped between the two countries. Mail with this additional stamp was carried in a special safe designed to float and be recovered if the ship sank. The service was introduced in 1921 and discontinued in 1923 through lack of interest.
£9 / £48


£5.50 / £28

15 c green
Turkey 102 175 1901 Foreign Mail stamps
Only in Mackay, stamps specifically for mail going abroad, the first being an issue from Turkey in 1901. 

This caused some debate in the FICC pages which I have not yet resolved.

25p / 15p
5 pa brown
Spain S1 F172 1869 Franchise stamps
Issued to certain individuals and groups, effectively allowing free postage. Wood does not name the first, but mentions France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland as issuers. Mackay refers to these a Private Stamps and names a Spanish issue of 1869 for the benefit of Don Diego Castell as the first.  [Illus 1]
£55 / £45
Dominican Republic G1 R339 1935 Insured Letter stamp
One of Scott's standard prefixes, which Gibbons describes as Registration Stamps.
£1.20 / £1

Language (from Mackay)

This subject is less interesting than it might at first appear. The most intriguing multi-lingual stamp that never was is discussed in Mackay Classics. If Mauritius had not officially adopted English as its language shortly before the issue of the famous Post Office stamps in 1847 then these might have been inscribed in English and French. The Ordinance sanctioning the postal service, dated December 1846, but published in February 1847 was printed in English and French in parallel columns. In the real world, Mackay's Guinness  identifies a large number of linguistic categories and distinctions, some of which are shown here.

Zurich 1L5 ? 1850 Bilingual - In Guinness, Mackay credits Geneva's 1843 cantonal stamp (see above) as it includes a Latin motto. I don't think that Latin really counts and so go with his third choice for using two living languages, the 1850 Zurich issue in German and French.    
South West Africa 1 1 1923 A Bilingual Pair was issued by South West Africa in 1923, where South African stamps (already inscribed in both English and Dutch) were overprinted alternately SOUTH WEST AFRICA and ZUID-WEST AFRIKA. £2 / £1each
½ d green
Switzerland 14 47a 1854 Trilingual - Switzerland again, with a 1854 issue showing the denomination in centimes (French), centesimi (Italian) and rappen (German), with the used version unusually accessible for early Swiss stamps.  [Illus 1]
After that it gets more interesting:
bullet Finland, 1867, Finnish, Swedish and Russian
bullet Soruth, 1877, English, Urdu and Hindi
bullet Djibouti, 18894, French, Amharic and Arabic
bullet North Borneo, 1897, English, Chinese and Arabic (Malay)
bullet Yugoslavia, 1933, Serb, Croat and Slovene
bullet Yugoslavia, 1938, Serb, Croat and Latin
bullet Bhopal, 1935, English, Arabic and Hindi
bullet Italy, 1955, Italian, Chinese and Latin
bullet India, 1948, English, Urdu and Hindi
bullet Pakistan, 1956, English, Urdu and Bengali
bullet Ceylon, 1950, English, Tamil and Sinhala
bullet Cyprus, 1960, English, Greek and Turkish
bullet South West Africa, 1980, English, Afrikaans and Latin
£100 / £8
5 rappen brown
South West Africa 312 220 1968 Trilingual Triplet - South West Africa again, with a 1968 issue honouring President Swart printed alternately in English, Afrikaans and German. 45p / 15p
3 c red, blue and black
Hyderabad 4 13 1871 Multilingual – The first stamp containing four languages was an 1871 Hyderabad issue – they continued fairly consistently in English, Maharatti, Telugu and Urdu until 1948. 75p / 10p
½ anna brown
Victoria I1 33 1855 Late Fee stamps
These were used to charge an additional fee for items accepted for delivery after the normal closing time for the mail. Wood lists a few examples: a Victoria issue in 1855  [Illus 6]; Denmark issues of 1923 and 1926; Columbia in 1886 and Ecuador in 1945. Mackay agrees on South America but does not mention the first two.
£650 / £120
6 d lilac and green
        Local Stamps
Privately produced to cover the service of delivering mail to a functioning government post office. Used for example, during strikes. Outside the scope of this study.

Local postage stamps are official stamps but produced for a limited geographical area and not usable for postage outside that area, e.g. Russian rural posts - no examples given.



















1964 Lottery stamp
Mackay identifies the only stamp to have incorporated a lottery entry as coming from Norway in 1964. It is described in Gibbons but not numbered, I haven't yet found it in Scott. [Illus 5].

According to Gibbons, 50φ of the 2k50 price was for postage, the rest for a UN refugee appeal and an attached lottery ticket could be submitted for a draw.



Japan also issued a lottery stamp in 1989 [Illus 8].

est $90 text
2k50 blue, black and red

        Marine Insurance, see Floating Safe    
East Timor     2002 Micro printing
Australia Post produced a first stamp for East Timor in 2002 which included, as a security device, micro printing in the form of what looks like a grey line on the left side of the stamp. This is probably the first use of micro printing, not the Crown Agents omnibus issue honouring the Queen Mother which apparel a few months later in appeared in August 2002.

The text is in Portuguese and tells part of a traditional story about the creation of the island of Timor from a crocodile. A section of the text is shown in the second image which includes one of the small flowers (which I have moved) to give an idea of the true scale.














Used by military forces, often serving abroad. The first is an 1898 Turkish issue.  Mackay agrees on Turkey (district of Bosnia and Herzegovina), but dates it as 1879. Scott supports 1898.

There is also a Military Reply stamp, which a serviceman would include in his letter to be used on the reply - Sweden issued these between 1929 and 1951. Sweden M176, without the FALTPOST inscription catalogues at £40 / £120: M177, with the inscription is 75p / £1.25.



£40 / £120

75p / £1.25

10 pa yellow green


















187a ?















Miniature Sheets
Mackay passes over an 1894 Ethiopia issue as it never went on sale and gives first prize to Luxembourg for its 1923 issue as a souvenir of the birth of Princess Elisabeth.
This is incorrect, however. Wood correctly identifies a 1906 Luxembourg sheet celebrating the accession of Grand Duke William IV to the throne. Further details here. [Illus 5]

Mackay goes on to identify:
• Belgium's 1937 issue for the Queen Elisabeth Music Fund as the first miniature sheet including stamps of different designs or values. The stamps on this sheet are the inexpensive SG795 and 796. [Illus 5]


• Israel's 1960 issue as the first in which the design extends into the marginal paper. The stamp is SG195 which catalogues at 30p / 50p or £1.50 / 40p with tab.  The stamp alone is illustrated right  [Illus 1].

The miniature sheet is now in stock (June 2004). The image is Ό size, and still on the large side.

£950 / £1,700



£17 / £9.50




£30 / £13.50

USA 610 614 1923 Mourning stamps
This is a rather quaint commemorative subset. As one might expect, this was first reserved for royalty and senior politicians. Wood mentions:
• Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss of Austria, King Albert of Belgium and President Hindenburg of Germany, all issued in 1934
• Pride of place is given to a 1935 Belgian issue, mourning the death of Queen Astrid in a car crash
• Finally, King Constantine of Greece in 1936 and King George in 1947.

Mackay takes a rather different route:
• An 1888 local German stamp on the death of Emperor William 1 and then for his son who died a few months later;
• The US 1923 2c stamp in black, featuring President Harding who died one month earlier.

I cannot find the German local, so Harding gets the first prize. I will try to get copies of the others as they are both attractive and inexpensive.

70p / 10p
2 c black
Austria 374-5 738 1934 Mourning, Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss 45p / 45p
24 g black


257 (B208) 654 1934 Mourning, King Albert 15p / 10p
75 c black
Germany 436-41 545-50 1934 Mourning 90p / 35p 3 pf brown
Belgium B174
713 1935 Mourning, Queen Astrid 10p / 10p
70c + 5c black
Wood further notes that popularity has more recently bred contempt with vast and meaningless international mourning issues for Churchill and Kennedy. Mackay gives more detail on this trend, enumerating 287 stamps and 1 miniature sheets from 73 countries within 12 months of Churchill's death and 183 stamps and 32 sheets from 44 countries for Kennedy. In both cases, a trickle of issues has continued.
Austria P1 N11b 1851 Newspaper Stamps
Stamps for the carriage of newspapers and magazines. The first was Austrian, January 1851, with many since. The US newspaper stamps are probably the largest. Both sources agree.
£150 / £100
(0.6kr) blue
  ?     Occupation stamps
Issued by an invading or occupying power. Wood notes that many were issued, arising from WW1 and WW2, states that French occupied Germany were some of the most attractive, but does not attempt to identify the first. Mackay favours the 1864 issue by the German Federal Commissioners  in the  duchy of Holstein following the invasion by Austrian and Prussian forces.
Spain O1 O46 1854 Official
Issued for the use of government departments. The first would have been an 1840 Penny Black variant with V and R in the top corners, but this was never issued (although some got into circulation and are available at outrageous prices). First place therefore goes to Spain for an 1854 issue. This section also includes Department stamps, used by a particular government department, found in the US, GB and some Commonwealth countries.
£2 / £2.25
½ onza black on orange
Italy Q1 p38 1884 Parcel Post
Italy's 1884 issue, inscribed PACCHI POSTALI was the first according to Wood. Mackay mentions an 1821 parcel from Dublin to Ludlow; the Belgian railway parcel service beginning in 1879; a GB issue of 1883 of the appropriate denomination for parcels but making no specific mention of parcels. He comes eventually to the Italy 1884.
£65 / £16
10 c grey
Czechoslovakia EX1 P363 1937 Personal Delivery
These covered delivery to the specific addressee. They have only been issued by Czechoslovakia (first, in 1937) and Bohemia and Moravia.
20p / 45p
50 h blue
        Pictorial Stamps
In his 1972 Classic Stamps, Mackay nominates the 1874 Lady McLeod (see Shipping Companies below) as the first pictorial. By 1988, in Guinness, he offers three possibilities:
• an 1843 local issue by D. O. Blood & Co of Philadelphia showing a postman leaping over the city
• the New South Wales 1850 SG1 showing  the colony seal doesn't really count
• this gives first place for the first government issue pictorial  to Canada for the 1851 3d Beaver (SG5).
        Pigeon Post
The September edition of Stamp Magazine had an article on stamps and transport. The use of carrier pigeons has a long history, particularly in the context of conflicts. The first public service it mentions for which specific stamps were issued was in 1897 for carriage between the Great Barrier Islands and New Zealand. I haven't found them in a catalogue yet.
Upper Silesia




















Plebiscite stamps
Used in times of geographical uncertainty (mostly after WW1), when the populace of some areas was given a vote on which country they wished to belong to before the boundaries were redrawn. No first identified in the books.

I have two plebiscite #1s, Upper Silesia, issued on 20th February 1920, and Marienwerder, also 1920, but undated in my Scott. I will include these as illustrative examples while looking for the first.

35p / 50p




35p / 35p

2½ pfennig grey

5 pfennig green

Italy D1 PE96 1913 Pneumatic stamps
From Mackay, in 1913, Italy issued stamps for a pneumatic tube delivery system between five cities.
£1.10 / £7.50
10 c brown
France J1 D87 1859 Postage Due
Wood refers to these as labels rather than stamps. France was first in 1859.
£20 / £16
10 c black
Belgium Q1 P63 1879 Railway Parcel Post
This is a Belgian speciality for the rail parcel post service, first issued in 1879. Mackay mentions various early local and private GB stamps and then moves on to Belgium in the context of parcels, as above.
£35 / £3
10c violet brown
Argentina 470 (also 471-2) RM688
1939 Recorded Message stamps
I first became aware of these in July 2003, when setting up this page, from an article in Gibbons Monthly and then found further details in Macka
y. First issued in three values by Argentina in 1939.
£17 / £8
1p18 blue
Victoria F1 34 1854 Registration
For stamps specifically intended for registered post, the only date mentioned by Wood is the US stamp used from 1911 until 1913 for this purpose. Mackay identifies the 1854 Victoria as the first.
£800 / £90
1 s red and blue
These indicate that a tax or fee has been paid. Some examples are given at the end of this text. Many British and Commonwealth stamps are inscribed for used for both postage and revenue.
Cuba C31 433 1939 Rocket Mail
Another from  the Stamp Magazine article. It mentions experiments with mail-carrying rockets in Texas (1926), Austria (1928), Rottingdean, England (1934) and India (between 1934 and 1944). But, it states, the only stamp issued for a rocket mail service is this 1939 example from Cuba, overprinted in a rather nice font,  Experimento del Cohete Postal Ano de 1939: the experimental flights never took place.
£35 / £5.50
Switzerland ? 1478 2001 Scratch 'n' Sniff stamp
The first I have found celebrates Swiss chocolate, issued in May 2001. Illustration from SwissPost, who state 'Ralph Schreivogel and Yves Netzhammer (Zurich), the two designers, have geared the stamp totally to the product. Just rub your finger lightly over its surface and you'll get the sweet smell of chocolate.'
75p / 70p
90c brown
        Semi-Official Air Mail
Issued in the early days of email by private companies and tolerated by the postal authorities, presumably while getting an official service organised. Wood mentions Canada, Columbia, the British Railway Air Services,  and many other countries, but does not nominate a first.
New South Wales B1 (also B2) 287c


1897 Semi-Postal or Charity
Scott identifies semi postal stamps, where only part of the cost of the stamp relates to the actual carriage. Some other sources refer to Charity stamps. There is not always a clear match between the two categories. Wood identifies New South Wales as the first with two stamps of 1897 supporting a home for consumptives  [ both Illus 1]. Mackay also mentions a GB pictorial envelope of 1890 for the benefit of Post Office Widows and Orphans.
£40 / £40

£150 / £150

1d (1s) green and brown

2½d (2/6) gold and blue

German South West Africa Sc27 Sc28 pane Sc27b SG25 SG26 pane SG25b 1913 Se-tenant stamps
Two different stamps joined together. Bill Senkus, creator of the best stamp site there is,, queried the Composite stamp entry above and suggested this German South West Africa booklet pane as the first se-tenant stamps. Bill's summary of the discussion is here.
5pf green 10 pf carmine

Shapes (from Mackay)

Great Britain 1 2 1840

The rectangle is spoken for with the Penny Black, above.

GB 5 59 1847 Polygon - the GB embossed 1 shilling stamp of 1847. (Illus 4) £5,000 / £5000
1 shilling green
Cape of Good Hope 1 18 1853 Triangle - the famous Cape of Good Hope of 1853
£110 / £225

1 d red
Colombia 59 58 1869 Scalene triangle (three sides of different lengths) - the first and only was an 1869 2½ centavos of Colombia. £3.40 / £1.40
2½ c black on violet
Latvia C1 84 1921 "Inverted" triangle -  Latvia for an 1921 airmail. £5 / £5
 10 rublis blue
Scinde A1 S1 1852 Circle - the Scinde 'Dawks' of 1852. (Illus 4) £4,500 / £200
½ anna white
Nova Scotia   4 1851 Diamond - Nova Scotia, 1851 £700 / £130
3 d blue



1 1






Oval - Bhor (Indian State) half-anna red of 1879


The first upright oval is an 1881 Colombian registration stamp.

£1.75 / £3.25


£30 / £30

½ anna red


5 c black

Malaysia   48 1967 Trapezoid -  Malaysia 1967. £1.40 / £2
25 c multicoloured
Malta   409 1968 Irregular Polygon - Malta 1968 Christmas issue. 10p / 10p
1 d multicoloured
Sierra Leone 257-263 285-291 1964 And finally - no shape at all - Sierra Leone, 1964 (New York) World Fair commemorative set.  [Illus 1] around 10p each
1d - 5s multicoloured
Trinidad     1874 Shipping Company stamps
To prepay the postage on mail conveyed by steamships, these were issued by private companies. Mackay states that the first issue was 1847 in Trinidad, by David Bryce, for the journey between San Fernando and Port of Spain. [Illus 2]

Mackay, in Classic Stamps, regards this as the first pictorial stamp.

USA E1 E217 1885 Special Delivery and Express Delivery stamps
Stamps indicating an additional charge for  faster delivery. The US was first in 1885.
£160 / £20
10 c blue
Austria QE1 (and QE2) N271 and N272 1916 Special Handling
Austria was first in 1916, followed by the US in 1925, then Bosnia. The US versions, first in 1925 upgraded mail to first class. The function of the Austrian version is not yet clear.
65p / 75p
Italy 718-719 940-941 1956 Stereoscopic
Issued by Italy in 1956 to mark the first anniversary of its admission to the United Nations. A pair of stamps which when viewed through red and green specs, appears three-dimensional.
15p / 10p

30p / 10p

Germany ? ? 1916 Submarine stamps
Mackay identifies a commercial service, with official approval between  Germany and the US, by submarine and run by Deutsche Versicherungsban GmbH, starting in 1916.
Bulgaria RA1 286b 1925 Sunday Delivery stamps
Mackay describes this Bulgarian concept, an additional charge for delivery on Sunday or bank holidays, beginning in 1925.
 [Illus 1]
£2.75 / 15p
Keeble College, Oxford     1871 University stamps
Issued by Oxford and Cambridge colleges and various US business schools. Mackay identifies Keeble College, Oxford as the first in 1871
Spain MR1 W217 1874 War Tax stamps
Many British colonies issued War Tax stamps during WW1 to raise funds for the was effort. Spain, however, was first on the scene in 1874.
£8 / 85p
5 c de p

Other types not covered here:
·        Boating stamps - US issued  required from 1960 for all boats over 10 h.p.
·        Cigarette Tube stamps - US tobacco tax, first issued in 1917
·        Cordial or Wine stamps, another US revenue stamp, issued from 1914 to 1954
·        Customs Fee stamps  - US revenue issue used between 1887 and 1918
·        Documentary stamps - US revenue stamp for taxed documents, issued from 1862 until 1967
·        Duck Stamps, more properly Migratory Bird Hunting Stamps
·        Life Insurance stamps - issued in New Zealand from 1891 to date, a subset of Official stamps.
·        Motor Vehicle stamps - US revenue, 1942-45
·        Narcotic Tax - US revenue, 1918-71
·        Playing Card stamp - US revenue, 1894-1965.
·        Potato Tax - US revenue, used for one month in 1935 until declared unconstitutional.
·        Savings stamps
·        Silver Tax, US Revenue on profits on the sale of silver, 1934 until 1963.
·       Telegraph stamps, indicating payment of the cost of a telegram. Wood states that these are normally regarded as revenue stamps.
·        Tobacco Sales Tax came and went with the potato tax as unconstitutional.


Principal Sources:
James Mackay, The Guinness Book of Stamps, 1988 and The World of Classic Stamps, 1972
Kenneth A. Wood, This is Philately (3 vols), 1982
Stanley Gibbons, Stamps of the World, various editions
Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, 1976 and Classic Specialised Catalogue, 2001

Illustration sources
2. Mackay, Classic Stamps
3. Scott catalogue
4. Stanley Gibbons catalogue
5. eBay auction item
6. Sandafayre auctions
7. Jay Smith and Associates
8. FICC publications and members
otherwise, as specified, or from the collection.


Page created July 2003