ISO 1600, f/4.5, 1/20th Second
Postage stamps have been carrying the mails of the world to their destinations since the 1840s. Before this time, ink and hand-stamps (hence the word 'stamp'), usually made from wood or cork, were often used to frank the mail and confirm the payment of postage. The first adhesive postage stamp, commonly referred to as the Penny Black, was issued in the United Kingdom in 1840. The invention of the stamp was a part of the attempt to reform and improve the postal system in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland which in the early 19th century was in disarray and rife with corruption. There are varying accounts of the inventor or inventors of the stamp. In 1845 some postmasters in the United States issued their own stamps, but it was not until 1847 that the first official U.S. stamps were created, 5 and 10 cent issues depicting Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
Before the introduction of postage stamps, mail in the UK was paid for by the recipient, a system that was associated with an irresolvable problem: the costs of delivering mail were not recoverable by the postal service when recipients were unable or unwilling to pay for delivered items, and senders had no incentive to restrict the number, size, or weight of items sent, whether or not they would ultimately be paid for.
The postage stamp afforded convenience for both the mailer and postal officials, more efficiently recovered costs for the postal service, and ultimately resulted in a better, faster postal system. With the conveniences stamps offered, their use resulted in greatly increased mailings during the 19th and 20th centuries. Postage stamps during this era were the most popular way of paying for mail, but by the end of the twentieth century were rapidly being eclipsed by the use of metered postage and bulk mailing by businesses. The same result with respect to communications by private parties occurred over the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st due to declining cost of long distance telephone communications and the development and explosive spread of electronic mailing ("e-mail" via the Internet) and bill paying systems had.
As postage stamps with their engraved imagery began to appear on a widespread basis, historians and collectors began to take notice. The study of postage stamps and their use is referred to as philately. Stamp collecting can be both a hobby and a form of historical study and reference, as government-issued postage stamps and their mailing systems have always been involved with the history of nations.
Stamp collecting is a popular hobby. Collecting is not the same as philately, which is defined as the study of stamps. It is not necessary to closely study stamps in order to enjoy collecting them. Many casual collectors enjoy accumulating stamps without worrying about the details. The creation of a valuable or comprehensive collection, however, may require some philatelic knowledge.
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