No matter the era, people always want their mail to get delivered as quickly as possible. For example, nowadays, you can pay for Priority Mail Express service and get your item delivered the next day.
Before an express service existed, USPS used Special Delivery as a way for people to get their letters dispatched immediately. Using this service costs more and Special Delivery stamps were the way to pay for it. To find out more about Special Delivery, check out the rest of my research!
What Are Special Delivery Stamps?
Special Delivery stamps were part of the US Special Delivery service, which provided immediate dispatch of letters. Rather than going through the mail distribution system and being mailed on a regular delivery route, Special Delivery mail went straight from the Post Office to the customer. Customers paid for Special Delivery stamps in addition to regular postage.
If you’re curious about Special Delivery services and stamps, this is the article for you!
Special Delivery stamps were pre-paid postage that ensured immediate letter delivery through the Special Delivery service.
With that, customers had to pay for Special Delivery services in addition to the regular postage fee.
However, you couldn’t use Special Delivery stamps to pre-pay for normal or airmail postage.
When USPS first introduced the Special Delivery program, stamps cost $0.10, but prices steadily increased throughout the years.
For example, prices reached $0.60 in 1971, which was the last year USPS printed Special Delivery stamps.
In June 1997, USPS ended the Special Delivery mail service, which left many unused Special Delivery stamps in circulation.
As they were no longer valid postage, USPS allowed customers to return the remaining Special Delivery stamps and receive a refund for the face value.
Can I Still Use Special Delivery Stamps?
If you manage to get your hands on some Special Delivery stamps, keep in mind that they’re collector’s items and not valid postage.
Still, even though you can’t use Special Delivery stamps to mail letters, they make an excellent addition to your stamp collection.
Can I Buy Special Delivery Stamps?
If you’re a stamp collector or are just interested in this part of postal history, there are many places to purchase Special Delivery stamps.
How Much Are Special Delivery Stamps Worth?
As is often the case with stamp collecting, the value of Special Delivery stamps varies widely.
So, because these stamps span more than 110 years, their value is determined by the year of issue and the stamp’s condition.
Not surprisingly, the earliest Special Delivery stamps are among the most valuable, especially those dating back to 1885.
Moreover, these early stamps feature a messenger hand-delivering letters and are marked with the words “Secures immediate delivery at a special delivery office.”
When Special Delivery expanded to all Post Offices in 1886, the inscription changed to “Secures immediate delivery at any post office.”
Although subtle, this difference greatly impacts the stamps’ value. In fact, 1885 stamps can sell for as much as $450.
Also, another highly collectible US Special Delivery stamp is the 1908 $0.10 Helmet of Mercury because USPS produced this version for less than six months.
As a result, these stamps can retail for up to $125.
What Do Special Delivery Stamps Look Like?
Because Special Delivery stamps spanned more than 100 years, there was a wide variety of designs over the years.
So, let’s take a closer look at each of these designs:
The first era Special Delivery stamps featured a messenger running out of the Post Office on foot to deliver a letter.
Further, these stamps were initially marked with the words “Secures immediate delivery at a special delivery office.”
1902-1922: Bicycle Messenger
These stamps show a bicycle messenger off to deliver a letter and are inscribed with the words “Secures immediate delivery at any United States Post Office.”
1908-1909: Merry Widow
These stamps featured Mercury’s winged hat intertwined with an olive branch. That said, its design resembled a popular lady’s hat at the time called the Merry Widow. However, it was discontinued after a few months because it looked too much like regular stamps.
1909-1922: Bicycle Messenger Part 2
This stamp looks similar to the original Bicycle Messenger stamp, although it has a different text.
1922-1925: Motorcycle Messenger
Stamps in this series show another technological advancement in mail delivery, the motorcycle.
That said, these are the first stamps to show a Special Delivery carrier hand-delivering a letter to a customer.
1925-1928: Postal Trucks
This was the third US stamp featuring an automobile and cost $0.20.
1927-1951: Motorcycle Messenger Part 2
These stamps used the same design as the first motorcycle series but were printed in gray-violet, orange, blue and yellow, rather than blue.
1951-1954: Postal Trucks Part 2
This design was almost identical to the previous version of the postal truck series.
1954-1969: Hand to Hand
Stamps in this series feature a postal carrier handing a letter to a customer.
USPS produced two stamps as part of this issue. Further, they were the last design modification to Special Delivery stamps.
With that, the stamps feature a red, white and blue design of two arrows pointing in opposite directions.
What Is Special Delivery Service?
Special Delivery was an accelerated local delivery service introduced by the Postal Service in 1885.
At that time, the US Post Office worked with the Universal Postal Union to create a unique service that promised speedier mail delivery for an extra fee.
At first, this service only operated in townships with populations of 4,000 or more. However, in 1886 Congress expanded the Special Delivery service to all US Post Offices.
Further, paying for Special Delivery service meant your letter would be dispatched immediately from the Post Office to the recipient.
Without this service, your mail would go through the mail system for distribution on a regular delivery route.
Additionally, the Special Delivery service assured a single delivery attempt to the intended recipient.
So, if that person was unavailable at the time of delivery, the item would automatically revert to regular mail service.
This service operated from 1885 to 1997, including a 20-year period between 1977 and 1997 when Special Delivery service worked alongside USPS’ new Express Mail service.
Special Delivery and the stamps that paid for it were around for more than 100 years.
While most people today won’t remember this service, it’s a fascinating part of postal history and was instrumental in creating the express delivery services modern postal customers enjoy.