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Postage Stamps

Stamp collection is the world's oldest and the most widely followed hobby. People buy or collect them not only for postal use, but for their design and value as souvenirs. The collection and study of postage stamps is known as Philately.
A stamp is a token that postal fees have been paid. It is usually issued by a nation or a national post office. In the 1700s many parts of Europe used adhesive labels to collect tax on newspapers. This was a verification of the fact that all dues were cleared. Nearly a century later an English schoolmaster and civil servant - Rowland Hill - borrowed this idea for the adhesive postage stamp in Britain, and on May 1, 1840, Britain released the world's first officially issued adhesive postage stamp, a one-penny denomination referred to as the Penny Black. It featured a portrait of Queen Victoria and didn't inscribe the name of the country. The Penny Black established a postal precedence in Britain: since that time all British stamps have portrayed the reigning monarch without the name of the country.
The Penny Black stamp and subsequent other denominations became so popular, that it kicked-off the trend of stamp collection within days after the Victoria-portrait stamps were issued. The Penny Black is not a rare stamp - many millions were issued - but, as the world's first adhesive issue, it remains highly regarded by philatelists.
India has a rich history of postage stamps. As the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Danish and British displaced the Mughals, their postal systems existed alongside those of nominally independent states. British India had 652 Princely States, but most of them did not issue postage stamps. The stamp-issuing States were of two kinds: the Convention States and the Feudatory States.
Convention States were those which had postal conventions (or agreements) with the Post Office of India to provide postal services within their territories. The adhesive stamps and postal stationery of British India were overprinted for use within each Convention State. The first Convention State was Patiala, followed by Chamba, Gwalior, Faridkot, Jind, and Nabha. These stamps all became invalid on 1 January 1950.
The Feudatory States (like Alwar, Bhopal, Cochin, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Indore, etc.) maintained their own postal services within their territories and issued stamps with their own designs. The stamps of each Feudatory State were valid only within that State, so letters sent outside that State needed additional British India postage.
The first stamps valid for postage throughout India were placed on sale in October, 1854 with three values 1 anna, 2 annas, and 4 annas. The 4 annas value was the world's first bi-coloured stamp. Featuring a youthful profile of Queen Victoria, all values were designed and printed in Calcutta.
India provides the largest scope in the world to collectors. Early hand struck postage stamps, hitherto unknown, are still discovered by collectors every year. India's early classics - 1854 imperforate Issues - are the only classic issues of the world which are still available cheap compared to prices of similar issues world wide. Indian stamps have been officially used in half the world viz. Africa, Middle East, Persian Gulf, Malaysia, Zanzibar and other far off places. For Thematic Collectors, modern Indian stamps, particularly the post-independence issues provide a wide range of selection.
Stamps are usually made of small rectangular paper that is attached to an envelope. They have been issued in other shapes also, including circular, triangular and pentagonal. Countries like Sierra Leone and Tonga have issued self-adhesive stamps in the shape of fruit. Switzerland made a stamp partly out of lace and one out of wood; the United States produced one made of plastic, and the German Democratic Republic once issued a stamp made entirely of synthetic chemicals. Netherlands once issued a stamp made of silver foil.
An omnibus issue is any group of stamps, generally with the same design, released by a number of stamp-issuing authorities to mark the same occasion. The British Commonwealth has by far produced the greatest number of omnibus issues. Another series was released on July 29, 1981, to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Frances Spencer.
Almost all countries issue large stamps with colourful pictorials, often solely for the revenue to be obtained from sale to collectors. Stamp designs usually depict heads of state, and symbols or artistic designs. Among the wide range of pictorials are stamps devoted to sports, art and music, aviation, birds and flowers, literature, scouting, ships, and telecommunications. Stamps are also issued to commemorate important events. Unique and valuable stamps, apart from their aesthetic or financial appeal to collectors, are also records of history, geography, politics, art, and numerous other aspects of human civilization.

Soumya Maitra
Kolkata

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