What Are Commemorative Stamps? (Meaning, Value + More)

USPS first introduced postage stamps in the United States in 1847. For about 50 years, the designs were limited to presidents and the Founding Fathers. That changed in 1893 when USPS issued its first commemorative stamp to mark the Columbian Exposition.

Since then, the Postal Service has used Commemorative stamps to contribute to civic education and honor historical events. If you’d like to learn more about these mini works of art, then settle in and check out all my research on the matter!

What Are Commemorative Stamps?

Commemorative stamps are postage stamps issued to honor some event, activity, or person of national importance as of 2022. Also, they’re offered for a limited period (usually about one year) and printed in limited quantities (typically between 50-100 million). Unlike regular stamps, Commemorative stamps remain in circulation until they sell out or are withdrawn from sale.

There’s a whole lot more to know about Commemorative stamps, so make sure to keep reading!

USPS’ Commemorative stamps are postage stamps issued to honor some event, activity, or person of national importance. That said, examples include animals, former US Presidents, sports heroes, and cartoon characters.

Unlike regular stamps (called Definitives), these stamps are printed once in a limited quantity (typically 50 to 100 million).

Then, they remain available until they sell out or USPS withdraws them from sale after a specified period (usually about a year). 

According to USPS, Commemorative stamps are “designed to look beautiful on your envelopes, to be educational and to appeal to collectors and pen pals around the world.”

Also, a spokesperson from USPS referred to them as miniature works of art. Therefore, Commemorative stamps allow for a lot of creativity and flexibility.

Aside from the standard stamp decor (the year, the phrase “USA” and “Forever” printed), Commemorative stamps can include almost any design possible.

Further, most Commemorative stamps are Forever stamps. However, USPS also sells the following types of Commemorative stamps:

  • One-ounce
  • Two-ounce
  • One-cent
  • Two-cent
  • Three-cent
  • Four-cent
  • Five-cent
  • Ten-cent

Moreover, USPS sells Commemorative stamps in panes of 16 or 20 stamps, in booklets of 20, or coils of 100, 3,000, or 10,000.

Can I Use USPS Commemorative Stamps?

Yes, you can use USPS Commemorative stamps for all of your mailing needs.

Most of the designs are Forever stamps, meaning they’ll always have the same value as a one-ounce First-Class stamp.

As a result, you can buy Commemorative stamps now and use them for years to come without worrying about having enough postage.

Conversely, you can choose to save and collect these stamps as part of a special collection or hobby.

Where Can I Buy USPS Commemorative Stamps?

You can purchase Commemorative stamps through the USPS website, calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), by mail through USA Philatelic, or at Post Offices nationwide.

Note that while grocery stores, office supply stores, and banks usually sell stamps, they’re unlikely to have Commemorative stamps available.

When Does USPS Announce New Commemorative Stamp Designs?

USPS releases between 25 and 30 new Commemorative stamps each year. With that, these new designs are generally announced in November of the year before. 

How Does USPS Choose Commemorative Stamp Designs?

How Does USPS Choose Commemorative Stamp Designs

Choosing new Commemorative stamp designs is a lengthy process involving thousands of proposals and multiple committee meetings.

Each year, USPS receives tens of thousands of proposals for new stamp designs. Some put the number of proposals at 30,000, while others estimate the number could be as high as 50,000.

That said, USPS’ Stamp Development office opens the Commemorative stamp proposals.

Then, this office determines whether submissions meet stamp guidelines and criteria (more on that later).

Next, all submissions meeting the basic requirements are put into binders for the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) to study and evaluate at their quarterly meetings. 

Moreover, CSAC is a 15-member committee first established in 1957 consisting of artists, professors, athletes, and historians.

Its members are appointed by, and report to, the Postmaster General on a volunteer basis.

Additionally, their mission is to consider and recommend stamp suggestions to the Postmaster General that will appeal to a large segment of the American population.

In general, they deliver 25-30 recommendations each year.

Ultimately, the recommendations are based on their collective expertise. However, the Postal Service does have set criteria that potential stamp subjects must meet, including:

  • If it’s a person, they must have been dead for at least two years (Former US presidents are an exception, as they can appear on a stamp one year after their death)
  • Subjects must be American or related to America in some way
  • Historically significant events can be honored every 50th anniversary (also true for states celebrating statehood and major military services)
  • A subject represented on a stamp in the past 50 years will not be considered until the 50th anniversary of that feature
  • Stamps celebrate positive contributions to American society; therefore, disasters will not appear as subjects

How Do I Recommend A Commemorative Stamp Design?

Anyone wishing to suggest an idea for a new stamp design must make their submission in writing (either by letter, postcard, or petition).

Before submitting your request, make sure your idea meets the criteria for appropriate stamp subjects.

Also, be sure to include relevant historical information and important dates associated with the subject in your proposal.

If your idea meets the criteria, you can mail your suggestion (one topic per letter) to the address below:

Stamp Development

Attn: Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee

475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300

Washington, DC 20260-3501

Due to the large volume of submissions the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee receives each year, it’s best to submit at least three years before any anniversary you wish to commemorate.

Who Designs USPS Commemorative Stamps?

USPS’ Stamp Development office works with professional art directors to oversee the creation of stamp designs.

Art directors, in turn, work with professional designers, artists, illustrators, and photographers to produce stamp art.

Further, artists are typically selected from the Stamp Development office’s talent file. However, artists new to stamp design create a small percentage of each year’s stamps.

How Much Does USPS Make From Commemorative Stamps?

USPS makes hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from its Commemorative stamp program each year.

In 2005 alone, the Commemorative stamp program contributed an estimated $225.9 million in retained revenue for USPS. Unlike other government agencies, USPS is self-supporting.

Therefore, it doesn’t receive any direct taxpayer funds and must rely on revenue from stamps and other service fees to stay afloat.

That being the case, revenue from Commemorative stamps is essential to keeping the Postal Service alive.

Are USPS Commemorative Stamps Worth Anything?

In almost every case, USPS Commemorative stamps are not valuable.

So, while stamps tend to be valuable when they’re old, rare, or contain errors, that’s not the case for Commemorative stamps.

If you want to know more, you can also see our posts on USPS stamp types, Purple Heart Forever stamps, and what are Forever stamps.

Conclusion

Thanks to their interesting and thoughtful designs, USPS’ Commemorative stamps are an excellent way to spread a little joy the next time you stick something in the mail.

Also, Commemorative stamps are a great way to celebrate something you’re interested in while supporting USPS.

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Marques Thomas

Marques Thomas graduated with a MBA in 2011. Since then, Marques has worked in the retail and consumer service industry as a manager, advisor, and marketer. Marques is also the head writer and founder of QuerySprout.com.

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