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Art of Postage (related History of Network Communications)

Postal History

“Transport of the mails, transport of the human voice, transport of flickering pictures—in this century as in others our highest accomplishments still have the single aim of bringing men together.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In the age of email and chat, the art of the letter and the art of postage are seemingly antiquated. Is the postage stamp a dead technology? Will we see, through the changes wrought by email, the kinds of revolutions in communications networks that have been created over the history of postage stamps?

Postal history is a fascinating look at one of the basic processes by which a society organizes itself. Without postal organizations, stamps, messengers, mail and communications networks, a city, country or government cannot hope to function long term or over long distances. The act of providing for networked communications within a populace is an act of governance, and so, the creation of the stamp and the organization of a postal system is an act of the state. A stamp, no matter what the aesthetic or monetary attachments that is has, is fundamentally a creation of the state.

Network communications have a long history in human society. Private couriers have been documented from as early as 3000 B.C. and the networks have expanded to include newspapers, telephones, home mail delivery, and digital communications.

The first mail systems were developed in 2400 BC in Egypt and originated as a means for pharaohs to diffuse decrees to their populace. Mail routes took over existing routes that had sent the same information in oral form to the citizenry. But the first real mail system is usually attributed to ancient Persia (present day Iran), though the exact date of its development is in question (with the dates under consideration ranging widely from 1700 BC to 521 BC). The Persian system may have had a dual purpose – delivering mail and collecting taxes. The system used pre-positioned men and horses to complete routes, and Herodotus, describing the route, said that there were enough men and animals that “these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.” Sound familiar?

Similar systems developed in India under the Mauryans (322-185 BC), China during the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC), and Rome during the time of Augustus Caesar (62 BC-AD 14) when the routes included light carriages and slower ox carts. Other societies used homing pigeons and private mail systems belonging to religious orders. Mail has been carried by every kind of transportation, from dogsled to balloon to mule. But as society became increasingly connected and technologically advanced in Europe, mail systems became better organized as well. 1505 saw the establishment of a mail system in the Holy Roman Empire and following the abolition of the Empire the system, known as Thurn and Tassis, continued to run as a private enterprise until 1806 when it was absorbed into the German Empire’s postal system.

The 1800’s saw the real birth of what we think of as modern and systematized postal systems, where governments issue stamps that are purchased by senders, affixed to a letter or package and sent through a route system managed and maintained by the state, to a recipient that receives the package in their own home. Though we think of the postage stamp as a quintessential component of the modern mail system, they were not initially part of the machinery of mail delivery. In fact, stamps were originally used by governments to collect money. These were often called revenue stamps, tax stamps or fiscal stamps and were a type of adhesive label used to collect taxes or fees on various items. Governments have issued such stamps for alcohol and tobacco, documents, playing cards and hunting licenses. While they may look like postage stamps they were not meant to be used on mail and didn’t receive postal cancellations.

Stamp duty was used throughout the 18th century and was so successful that it even continues today through a series of Stamp Acts. The attempted enforcement of the Stamp Act 1765 in the original 13 colonies in America led to the colonists cry of no taxation without representation, one of the disagreements between England and the colonies that led to the American War of Independence.

Before the postage stamp was used as part of government systems for delivering the mail, the post was sent using pre-adhesive mail, also called pre-stamp mail. These kinds of mail are also referred to as stampless covers, since envelopes were not popularized until after the introduction of postage stamps. Senders simply covered their letter, sealed the cover, and addressed the outside. Recipients were expected to pay for the letter on delivery. The system began to change with the issuance of the Penny Black, the world's first official adhesive postage stamp, by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on May 1, 1840. However, although postage stamps became available in America in 1847, mailers had the option of sending their letters and having the recipients pay the postage until 1855, when prepayment became compulsory. Previously, if the addressees refused to accept the letter -- and they often did -- the Post Office's labor and delivery costs were never recovered.

Though mail delivery became more organized and standardized with these modernizations, the systems still suffered from a certain unreliability throughout the 19th century.

In response to the slowness of the mail delivery in the western U.S. the Pony Express was developed in 1860. In March of that year, William H. Russell, an American transportation pioneer, advertised in newspapers as follows: "Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." And men did apply.

The men first started riding on April 3, 1860, serving parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Riders covered an average of 75-100 miles a day, often changing horses with their saddles and mail bags in one leap. The Pony Express remained in operation until October 24, 1861, when the transcontinental telegraph line was completed. Though the Pony Express lasted for only seventeen months, its romance has endured in the public’s imagination.

Modernization, standardization, increased access, and above all, improved transportation has created the international postal service we know today. Mail is now paid for by the sender, arrives at the recipient’s home or business address, letters can be sent to any country on the planet. And even as this fast, cheap and practiced system has become taken for granted, we have been busy replacing it with email and private companies that transport our large packages like UPS and FedEx. Is there a future for the government run postal system? ∑ Some terms to use in researching the history of postage: Postal History, before stamps, adhesive pre-paid postage, the Penny Black, the birth of philately, History of United States postage stamps, modern postage stamps.

Postal History Definition

The study of the history of the international mail posts, documents, and objects, including all types of mail. In collecting terms, postal history typically denotes envelope covers. In the United States, state postal history collecting is popular. Postal history studies can take many forms, including stamps on cover, marcophily (postal markings), registered mail, transportation types (zeppelin mail, etc).

General U.S. Postal History Resources

National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum offers exhibits tracing the history of the postal system in the United States. It houses more than 13 million postal-related items — mostly stamps, but also postal stationery, greeting cards, covers and letters, mailboxes, postal vehicles, handstamps, metering machines, patent models, uniforms, badges, and other objects related to postal history and philately.



The online database of the National Postal Museum, Arago, was named in honor of the French physicist, astronomer and politician, François Arago. The site features special histories told through selected assemblages of museum objects and exceptional private collections, sections on philately and postal operations and the ability for users to create digital “collections” of their own.


United States Postal History from USPS

The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the United States Government responsible for providing postal service in the United States. The USPS offers a historical timeline of its operations on its website.


Unites States Postal History from Wikipedia


United States Covers by Jim Forte

A resource for collectors of United States and worldwide postal history. The site offers over 108,000 covers for sale, focusing on United States town cancels, United States and worldwide 20th century postal history and worldwide military postal history. Also includes a database of the dates of operation of all U.S. Post Offices.


Postage stamps and postal history of the United States of America from Wikipedia

A survey of the postage stamps and postal history of the U.S., including early postal history, first stamps, and modern stamps.


United States Stamp Society

The United States Stamp Society is a non-profit, volunteer-run association of collectors who promote the study of the philatelic output of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and of postage and revenue stamped paper. Once concerned exclusively with the production of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the USSS has expanded its coverage to include all United States issues, both classic and modern, regardless of printer.


American Philatelic Research Library Article Index

The American Philatelic Research Library is the largest public philatelic library in the United States. Its holdings include many of philately's classic periodicals, and it receives more than 400 current periodicals from around the world. The society also operates an articles database for research purposes.


American Philatelic Research Library Book Catalog

The American Philatelic Research Library also operates an interactive catalogue of the book titles owned by the American Philatelic Research Library


Pony Express Museum

The Pony Express Museum stands as a tribute to the legend and legacy of the Pony Express and its enduring era. Modern, interactive and educational exhibits depict the need, creation, operation and termination of the famous mail service that lasted from April 1860 to October 1861.


Railway Mail Service Library

The Railway Mail Service Library has artifacts, mail route schedules, schemes of mail distribution, and publications relating to the Railway Mail Service/Postal Transportation Service.


Military Postal History Society

The Military Postal History Society was founded in 1937 to focus largely on the postal history of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. The group changed its name in 1991 to better reflect the study of the postal aspects of all wars and military actions of all nations, including soldier campaign covers, prisoner-of-war mail, naval mail, picture postcards of a military nature, field post offices, propaganda labels and leaflets, V-mail, censored mail and similar related material.


Illinois Postal History Society

The Illinois Postal History Society holds regular meetings at COMPEX (late May) and CHICAGOPEX (November), and publishes a quarterly journal called Illinois Postal Historian.


Gay & Lesbian History on Stamps Club

The GLHSC is a philatelic organization with members that collect gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender people on stamps or who are GLBT that happen to collect stamps. The club also publishes a journal known as Lambda Philatelic.


International Postal History

Universal Postal Union history

Established in 1874, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), headquartered in Berne, Switzerland, is the primary international forum for cooperation between postal-sector players and helps to ensure a truly universal network of postal services. The Union also helps promote worldwide postal awareness with World Post Day on October 9.



PostalHistory.org operates a Web site that includes country, topical and specialist resources, including a directory of information pages for individual countries’ postal operations


General Postal History from Wikipedia

A general entry detailing the broad definition of postal history:


A useful entry on the global history of mail delivery, from ancient Egypt to modern times:


A history of stamps:


A timeline of significant dates in postal history from the 1600’s:



Roy and his wife Debbie Lingens are full-time stamp and postal history dealers. The operate a series of stamp- and philately-related Web sites, including one dedicated to key moments in history documented in stamps.


The International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors

The International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors serves the interests of all worldwide collectors. It publishes a bi-weekly newsletter, “The Circuit,” with classified ads from members and dealers who cater to worldwide collectors.


Postal History Publications

James E. Lee's Philately

James Lee is a well respected and long-established dealer of essays & proofs, philatelic literature, and postal history. He publishes a quarterly newsletter, called James E. Lee's Philately.


Military Postal History

The MPHS is a group of collectors with a mutual interest in military mail – the envelopes that were used to send letters by or to soldiers, sailors, airmen, etc., usually during some sort of conflict.


La Posta: A Journal of American Postal History

Published for over 35 years, the bi-monthly magazine La Posta: A Journal of American Postal History, contains informative research by the leading students of U. S. postal history, including articles, collecting tips, classified ads and auctions.


Encyclopedia of United States Stamps and Stamp Collecting

The Encyclopedia of United States Stamps and Stamp Collecting covers the full scope of United States stamps and stamp collecting. Beginning with an introduction to letters mailed before the introduction of postage stamps, it also covers the many stamps issued from their inception through the stamps of the early 21st century.


Cartographic Resources

Perry-Castañeda Library of University of Texas

One of the 15 libraries that make up the University of Texas library system, the Perry- Castañeda Library features an extensive online collection of maps and cartography resources.


History Resources

General History Resources

Library of Congress

This is an outstanding and invaluable site for American history and general studies. It contains primary and secondary documents, exhibits, map collections, prints and photographs, sound recordings and motion pictures.



The online version of The History Channel, Histroy.com features extensive resources on U.S. and world history, including speeches, discussions, newsletters and interactive features.


Best of History Web Sites

Best of History Web Sites is an award-winning portal that contains annotated links to over 1,000 history web sites as well as links to hundreds of lesson plans, teaching guides, activities and more.


Digital History

A collection of hundreds of primary and secondary sources detailing key areas of U.S. history, operated as a collaboration between the University of Houston, the Chicago Historical Society, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and other institutions.


Princeton University Library Selected History Resources

An online collection of dozens of history Web sites and online resources worldwide, covering U.S., European and worldwide history.


Postal History Activities

Study a mailpiece. Where was it sent from? Where was it sent to? Is the post office identifiable? What type of markings does it have? What rate is paid fro which service?
Find a verbose listing for a postal history item in an auction catalog. What does it say about the item?
View a state-related postal history exhibit. What does it say about the displyed items?


“(Interviewer) – “Why, you’re a fatalist!” – (Yogi Berra) – “You mean I save postage stamps? Not me.” - Yogi Berra

As you can see from the above quote, the public has often believed that philately is only the hobby of collecting postage stamps. It is, in fact, a broader pursuit. It does include collecting, but it is also the study of postage stamps. A philatelist might amass a collection of great, rare stamps, but he or she might also spend time studying stamps that are only available for viewing at a museum. And hobbyist philatelists might collect stamps only for the aesthetic rewards offered in finding stamps issued with a certain kind of image on them, boats or birds or butterflies.

Studying stamps is an almost endless pursuit. For example, though all the stamps produced with the same image on them might look the same to the casual observer, each of those individual stamps has unique qualities. They might have different watermarks in their paper, different color variations, perforations and kinds of paper. Some of those variations might be intentional, some might not. These variations are the result of the fact that stamp production was one of the earliest forms of mass-production. A philatelist might study the records of the issuing postal authority to determine why each stamp was different.

Traditional philately involves the acquisition and direct observation and study of stamps of the world. Philatelists often spend their time assessing stamps through powerful magnifying glasses, holding the objects with tiny tweezers to protect them from finger oils, a perforation gauge can distinguish the size of perforation being examined. They use additional tools in study, including fluoroscopes which produce ultraviolet light and watermark fluid, which can reveal hidden details of the stamps history and manufacture. The study of stamps is enhanced using philatelic literature.

Philately is greatly informed by postal history, the study of the mails. Philatelists use postal history to assist them in their studies. They might study the use post offices, the systems for delivering mail, postmarks, canceling machines.

There are many specific kinds of philately that are practiced, technical philately and topical philately being the most common. Technical philately is the study of the technical aspects of stamp production and identification. This can include perforation, fakes and forgeries, overprints, engraving, typography, and the wove, watermarks and laid of stamp paper. Topical philately includes the themes of the images printed on stamps. Philatelists collect and study every topic you can imagine, from birds and insects on stamps, to ships, maps and historical figures. Country collecting is a popular form whereby a hobbyist limits a study to one or several countries of interest.

Philately is one of the largest and longest running hobbies on the planet, the number of collectors alone ranges up to 20 million in the United States. Since stamps have been manufactured since the beginning of postal history and billions of those stamps were being manufactured at a time, there are an enormous number of stamps available for collection and study. Collecting has been so enduringly and reliably popular that governments have often catered to collectors issuing stamp runs that target specific areas of study for philatelists, or that are small or significant enough to become desirable to collectors.

And there are some very prominent collectors. Bill Gross, a successful bond trader, is one of the most prominent. In 2005, Gross purchased the famous “inverted Jenny” stamp which has an engraving of a biplane that is upside down. He was able to trade the “Jenny” plateblock to another prominent collector, Donald Sundman, for a 1-cent “Z Grill” from 1868. The addition of that stamp to his collection made Gross the second person to collect all the postage stamps produced by the U.S. in the 19th century. The first person to do this was Robert Zoellner in the 1990’s.

To discover more about famous philatelists and the famous stamps they study and collect, check out these Wikipedia site A list of famous philatelists:


And a list of notable postage stamps:


Philately Definition

The collection and study of postage stamps, and more broadly, postal history, postmarks, and related materials; stamp collecting.

Philatelic Resources on the web

Philatelic Clubs and Societies

American Philatelic Society

With more than 44,000 members in more than 110 countries, the American Philatelic Society is the largest, nonprofit society in the world for stamp collectors.


United States Stamp Society

The United States Stamp Society is a non-profit, volunteer-run association of collectors who promote the study of the philatelic output of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and of postage and revenue stamped paper. Once concerned exclusively with the production of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the USSS has expanded its coverage to include all United States issues, both classic and modern, regardless of printer.


The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society

The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society was originally founded by a group of stamp enthusiasts interested in the 1851 to 1857 era. Since its founding, the Society has broadened its scope to include postal issues and postal history from the Stampless era up to the Bureau Issues. http://www.uspcs.org/

American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors

Founded in 1986, the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors is a worldwide organization of stamp collectors who exhibit their collections competitively and work together for the betterment of philatelic exhibiting and judging standards and practices.


Chicago Philatelic Society

Organized October 8, 1886, The Chicago Philatelic Society is Chapter No.1 of the American Philatelic Society, and one of the two organizations with the longest uninterrupted service to philately in the United States. The CPS holds monthly stamp meetings on the third Thursday of each month in downtown Chicago at the Harold Washington Library.


Ukrainian Philatelic and Numismatic Society

The Ukrainian Philatelic and Numismatic Society (UPNS) seeks to unite all collectors of Ukrainian materials and is particularly dedicated to the promotion of Ukrainian stamp, coin, and medal collecting.

http://www.upns.org/ The Collectors Club of New York

The Collectors Club is a group of more than 750 people who study philately, promote the hobby and provide a social, educational, and non-commercial outlet for members. Founded in 1896, the Club has counted among its members the leading and legendary names in philately.


The International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors

The International Society of Worldwide Stamp Collectors serves the interests of all worldwide collectors. It publishes a bi-weekly newsletter, “The Circuit,” with classified ads from members and dealers who cater to worldwide collectors.


United Nations Philatelists

The United Nations Philatelists is an organization of philatelists devoted to the collection, study and exhibition of the issues of the United Nations Postal Administration, the postal agency of the United Nations. The organization serves members’ interests in the postal history of the United Nations, the issues and postal history of its branches, specialized agencies and forerunners, as well as the world-wide topical issues that call attention to the United Nations, its agencies and programs.


The Association of British Philatelic Societies

The Association of British Philatelic Societies Ltd (ABPS) is the national organization catering for the needs of philatelic federations, local and specialist societies, individual collectors and others interested in philately through all of its branches.


Vatican Philatelic Society

Organized in 1953, the Vatican Philatelic Society is the oldest philatelic society in the United States devoted exclusively to the stamps of Vatican City and The Roman States.


Peshawar Stamp Society

The Peshawar Stamp Society promotes philately in Pakistan through stamp shows, exhibitions, virtual exhibits and scholarly articles.


The Machine Cancel Society

The Machine Cancel Society was formed to study the history of the machines used to cancel mail, as well as the actual markings that appear on mail. The Society studies machines from all countries and eras.


The Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections

The Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections (ESPER) is a national stamp society which promotes the collecting of African Americans on stamps and the collecting of stamps by African Americans. The society currently has over 220 members covering many parts of the United States.


American Air Mail Society

The AAMS was founded in 1923, and is the second oldest aerophilatelic society in the world with over 1,500 members worldwide. The AAMS publishes the monthly magazine The Airpost Journal & the Jack Knight Air Log, as well as the American Air Mail Catalogue, and many other aerophilatelic books.


American Topical Association

The American Topical Association (ATA), with members in 65 countries, is the largest philatelic society devoted to this specific area of stamp collecting. Organized in 1949, it is one of the best sources of information, fellowship and authority in the topical stamp collecting field.


Anarchist Stamps


Postal Agencies

United States Postal Service

The United States Postal Service is an independent establishment of the Executive Branch of the United States Government.


List of Postal Agencies from Linns.com

Linns.com is an introductory web site for beginning stamp collectors. Visitors to Linns.com will find how-to articles, a stamp glossary, a listing of countries around the world that issue stamps, polls, quizzes, headlines from the weekly Linn's Stamp News and much other useful information. The purpose of Linns.com is to introduce newcomers to stamp collecting and to provide them with a sampling of the content Linn's Stamp News.


Philatelic Auction websites


Philatino defines its activity as an interactive Internet portal for professional stamp auctioneers. It is born and managed by a group of philatelists who add up to over 100 years of commercial activity including on line auctions experience from the beginning of this sector. They also have their own stamp business and continue in permanent contact with market reality.



R. Maresch & Son Auctions Ltd.

R. Maresch & Son Auctions Ltd., is Canada's largest stamp auction firm. Dr. Richard A. Maresch, a collector since 1904, commenced the firm in 1924 in Vienna, Austria. R. Maresch & son was incorporated in Toronto in 1942 when Bill Maresch joined his father Dr. Maresch.. Maresch & Son is the only Canadian stamp dealers to have a booth at every CAPEX International Stamp Exhibition since the very first show in 1951.


Stamp Circuit Club

Stamp Circuit Club is the virtual meeting place for stamp collectors, dealers, auctioneers and anybody who shares the hobby. Stamp Circuit Club's main concern is to make this search as easy and direct as possible. They do not charge any commission on transactions made on the site. Furthermore, Stamp Circuit Club is not involved in any philatelic trade - their sole purpose is to provide the forum for all things related to philately.


Stamp Auction Network

Stamp Auction Network contains Online Stamp Auction Catalogs, a Worldwide Auction Calendar, 1000's of images of stamps in auctions, prices realized, auction company profiles, articles about auctions, and other auction related information. It is your all in one resource for Stamp Auctions.


Stamp Dealers

Stamp King Coin King

Located at Higgins near Harlem, Chicago, IL.

Rasdale Stamp Company

Rasdale Stamp Company, a third generation business, has dealt with stamp collectors for over 70 years. The company is a member of the American Stamp Dealers Association, National Stamp Dealers Association, Midwest Stamp Dealers Association, Florida Stamp Dealers Association, and American Philatelic Society.


Earl Apfelbaum

Spanning four generations, they are regarded as a world leader in the philatelic community, with more than 75 years in this specialty business.



eBay is an online auction site, enabling trade on a local, national and international basis.


Zillions of Stamps

Zillions of Stamps.com is a searchable online database that aggregates the inventory of more than 150 dealers to provide collectors with a quick way to find just the stamps they're looking for.


Philatelic Literature

Women on Stamps USPS Publication 512


Linns Stamp News


American Philatelist


Illlinois Postal Historian

Scott Catalog available at local libraries

Philatelic Libraries

American Philatelic Research Library (APRL)

The American Philatelic Research Library is the largest public philatelic library in the United States. Its holdings include many of philately's classic periodicals, and it receives more than 400 current periodicals from around the world. Catalogues, government documents, auction catalogues, and a variety of other materials are available for your use.


American Philatelic Research Library Article Index


American Philatelic Research Library Book Catalog


Chicago Public Library

Search for philatelic literature in the Chicago Public Library online catalog.


Columbia College Library

Search for philatelic literature in the Columbia College Library catalog, connect to other library databases.


Philatelic Stamp Shows

American Philatelic Association List of International Shows


American Philatelic Association Calendar of Stamp Shows


American Philatelic Association “World Series Shows”


American Postage Stamp Dealers Postage Stamp Mega Event

A show held at Madison Square Garden in New York City with over 90 Dealers, Postal Administrations, Agencies, Societies and Clubs.


Chicagopex 2007

Illinois largest stamp show, attracting dealers, collectors, enthusiasts and exhibitors from all over the country.


Philatelic Activities

Find a high-quality image of an unused international postage stamp. What image is represented? What other text informs the stamp? What does the information represent?
Obtain and examine and compare several different sheets of stamps. What can you say about the relative size and production of the stamps? What other printing is on the sheet?
View a stamp exhibit that is either topical or technical. What does it say about the stamps?

Mail Art

Mail Art Definition

Art of the letter, artistically inpired letters, objects, parcels, postacrds sent through the mail, decorated envelopes, artists mail, art postal artifacts (also mailart).

“Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap.” - George Bernard Shaw

Mail art, decorated envelopes and postcards sent through mail, often poke fun at traditional art exhibition and consumption practices, by using the mailbox as a museum.

Mail artists trade all manner of postable objects and art, including illustrated envelopes, faux postage, zines, artist trading cards, three-dimensional objects, and artistamps. And in order to exchange these items, mail artists form mail art networks. Some of these networks are small, only a few artists at a time, and some are very extensive, with international calls for submissions. Mail artists create take-offs, homages, and dodges of all forms of postal material, envelopes, stamps, postcards. And they become linked by their work into a group linked through their works they are collectively referred to as a Mail Art Network or the Eternal Network.

Mail art networks are usually informal and temporary, with calls for work on a specific theme often issued and publicized and then documented as mail art, artist books, zines or some other medium. Mail art is also a fun way for artists to communicate with each other internationally. Their development was influenced by other art movements, often political ones, but chiefly by Dad and Fluxus.

Mail art lends itself to political and anti-establishment art and movements. It seeks to subsume and subvert the power of the post office, and plays on the notion that mail and stamps are truly an outgrowth of state control. Mail art is often referred to as commerce-free exchange, art that has no high price tag and is sent and received in generous and collaborative spirit. Mail artists often say that “senders receive” since one cannot expect to get mail art without making and sending it themselves.

Although early mail art was, in part, a snub of gallery art, there is a significant trend bringing more and more mail art and artistamps to the art consuming public at museums and art galleries.

Mail art has a history that is as long as postal history itself. Some mail artists claim that the first mailed art was created by Cleopatra, when she mailed herself to Julius Caesar in a carpet. But, the first true mail art may be postal stationary, though postal stationary is now considered its own genre of postal work outside of mail art. The first piece of postal stationary was created by artist William Mulready in 1840 for the launch of the Penny Post in England. His work, widely mocked for its look, was a printing press reproduction on the first stock of pre-paid postage wrappers.

Envelopes are frequent sites of creative use of the mails, but postal stationary is not to be confused with other uses of envelopes. In addition to the illustrations of postal stationary, philatelists spend a great deal of time collecting and studying envelopes carrying first day issue postage stamps, often referred to as first day covers. Pictorial envelopes that exists outside of the genre of first day covers, and they have been created for many years, and within the postal services of many nations. But, pictorial envelopes have never seen the return of their early popularity since the rise of the post card. Picture postcards came into being in 1869, when, in October of that year, they were first offered for sale at all post offices in Austria-Hungary.

It is hard to say precisely when mail art as we understand it now first started. It obviously could not have begun without the introduction of the postage stamp, and in this way, postal history, philately, mail art, and artists’ stamps are inextricably linked. Some writers site the Futurists, artists working before WWI, who created postcards, writing paper and envelopes to advertise themselves like commercial companies did at the time. These materials were not, however, sent through the mails.

The Dadaists are also frequently linked to mail art. Their love of play and subversion of artistic pretensions, systems, and politics has been a huge influence on mail art. They did use the postal system for sending work to one another, though they did not play with the postal system itself. Marcel Duchamp was a forerunner of mail art when he defaced a postcard of the Mona Lisa, ‘L.H.O.O.Q’ in 1919.

But, though these artists set the stage for the emergence of mail art, the true father of the movement is artist Ray Johnson. In the 1950’s he began to create the New York Correspondence School, where he and a collection of other artists created perhaps the first mail art network. Also by the 1950’s a European artists’ group known as the Nouveau Realists were working with mail art to tackle new issues in contemporary art. In Europe, the group known as the Nouveau Realistes was addressing radical new issues. In Japan, artists would eventually work under the name Fluxus began to stretch the boundaries of art, and were using mail art to do it.

Now, mail art networks are extensive and multiple, they exist in dozens of countries throughout the world. The internet, zines, and even galley shows, connect artists to each other and to the larger world. It is a 'movement' with no membership and no leaders.

Mailart related: rubber stamps, stamping, embossing, applique, fabric accessories, scrapbooking, postcards, printing, stickers, paper ephemera, digital printing, address databases, commercial printing

General Mail Art Resources

The Electronic Museum of Mail Art (EMMA)

Your guide and director at EMMA is Chuck Welch a.k.a. Crackerjack Kid. EMMA is mail art's first electronic mailbox museum where the address is the art, the web is your key, and admission is free.


And here’s Welch’s “External Network” page:


International Union of Mail Artists

The International Union of Mail Artists (see IUOMA external link) is a group of mail-art artists individually practicing in several countries. The IUOMA started in 1988 and has now their own online forum. The I.U.O.M.A. is a Union that was invented in the Netherlands by Ruud Janssen in 1988 and no rules. Everybody who is active in mail art and hears about the Union can become a member just by saying so. About 300 mail artists reacted in a year, and official membership cards were made, even an official Union Magazine was published. http://www.iuoma.org/


An artists resource site from Budapest, They have a mail art collection that consists of art works that have been sent to Artpool by post or via fax.



A site from an individual mail artist with multiple links and information.



Self-description of the site reads as follows: “In addition to housing the world's largest online database of mail art calls, this site also features syndicated posts from many mail art blogs, and is home to the Small Art Project.”



An organization of artists who create LMAOs or Land Mail Art Objects, which are then swapped by post.


Art in the Mail

A curriculum on mail art for grades 7-12, lots of interesting links and very good overview for teachers.



A site from Belgium with archives, and work on a mail art encyclopedia. This site also includes a link to their yahoo ground mailing list.


Subjugated Knowledges

A publication from The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The University of Iowa Libraries, Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts: Subjugated Knowledges and the Balance of Power by Estera Milman with contributions by Ken Friedman, Stephen Perkins, and Owen Smith. This work is divided into chapters that detail Fluxus, Artifacts of the External Network


Mail Art Historical Resources

Online Library: Reflections on Mail Art

Links to thirteen articles on mail art, artistamps, etc.


Fortune City

This site is created by Ruud Janssen, Netherlands, to publish the Thesis written by Michael Lumb, England. The first concept of this site contains the texts of his thesis. Lateron graphics and layout will be updated. This covers mail art from 1955-1995. Tons of information, laid out by chapters including Fluxus, Johnson and Duchamp.


Mail Art 1955-1995: Democratic Art as Social Structure

Here is another link to Michael Lumb’s thesis work.


The Early Days of Mail Art

Text of the article “The Early Days of Mail Art: an historical overview” by Ken Friedman:


Mail Art and Networking Magazines (1970-1980)

An article from the folks at the Zine Resource Guide by Stephen Perkins


Mail Artist Interviews

Cracker Jack Kid and Honoria Interview

Full text of the interview “Introducing Mail Art: A Karen Elliot Interview with Cracker Jack Kid and Honoria” from Postmodern Culture.


Mail Art Interviews

Ruud Janssen interview project, with multiple interviews posted online with prominent members of the mail art community.


Keith Bates

An email interview with Keith Bates from the T.A.M./I.U.O.M.A website of Ruun Janssen from 1995


Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson at Artpool


Ray Johnson Remembered

An article titled Ray Johnson Remembered by Vittore Baroni.


Ray Johnson at EMMA

This special Ray Johnson gallery contains Cracker Jack Kid’s narrative of Ray Johnson’s art and life, a song by Cracker Jack Kid and a gallery of images.


Wikipedia’s Ray Johnson Page


Ray Johnson Estate

The estate of Ray Johnson is represented exclusively by Richard L. Geigen and Company.



Art Encyclopedia on Dada and Fluxus

This site aims to become the definitive and most effective guide to museum-quality fine art on the Internet. They have compiled a comprehensive index of every artist represented at hundreds of museum sites, image archives, and other online resources. They only provide references to sites on the World Wide Web where artists' works can be viewed online.


ArtLex on Fluxus

Definitions for more than 3,600 terms used in discussing art / visual culture, along with thousands of supporting images, pronunciation notes, great quotations and cross-references.


A Child’s History of Fluxus

Article by Daniel Higgins on Art Not Art site.


Open Letter to Fluxus

An open letter from Fluxus artist Allen Burkoff to first and second generation Fluxus artists.


Fluxus Portal

A Fluxus portal for all Fluxus information on the internet, also maintained by Allen Burkoff.



This site has listings for Alan Kaprow, Fluxus artist and Rutgers faculty member, as well as mail art maker.


Individual Mail Art Projects/Calls for Submissions

Fan Mail

Based in County Mayo, Ireland, Fan Mail has both a long list of previous projects, dating back to 1995, and a call for submissions. They also do other fine arts work and have a press.


Animals in Mail Art

A mail art show, exhibited at the zoo in Hamburg, Germany in 1998. Many countries submissions listed.


Alyonka Mail Art Project

Creative people from around the world are invited to make artworks with the image of Alyonka, a well-known Russian chocolate brand. Works are collected by Ivan Zemtsov and posted to him. The first "Alyonka" show was presented to public in Yoshkar-Ola Museum of Fine Arts in October 2006. But the project is still ongoing!


Confess Your Sins

This mail art project is looking for audio taped confessions (regular cassette size tape or CD)...also wanted mail art and/or written confessions - work submitted will be posted online and possibly used for additional art projects. Audio will be used for exhibition. All participants will receive documentation of exhibition and/or notice of absolution in the form of mail art. If you want your confession to remain anonymous please do not include your contact information or indicate. Work is posted weekly.


Field Study International

Field Study members have been involved in a variety of projects, including group shows, performances, installations, bookworks, sound art, solo activities and community work. Each year members send 100 A5 pages as their contribution to the Field Report; in turn they receive a copy of the report. This publication - 'The Journal of Field Study International' - is assembled and distributed by David Dellafiora who also places it within archives (such as Artpool), libraries and collections. The current list of members runs to over 200.


and their links to mail art projects:


The More I Change

This is a mail art exhibition based on the idea that the more dynamic you think you are, the more likely the opposite is true. Calls for entries have been posted at various web sites and mail art groups. Direct mailings soliciting admissions have also been sent.


Red Ant/Your Deepest Fear

What are you afraid of? What terrifies you? What keeps you awake or makes your skin crawl? What do you dread? Send a postcard of the one thing that most frightens you. No deadline.


Individual Mail Art Artists and Mail Arts Groups

The Spare Room/Fluxzone

The Spare Room’s site dealing with mail art. This one is fascinating. There is a long exegesis/rumination on the nature of mail art as a subversive art movement within the underground, descriptions of Matt Ferranto’s quest to create a mail art archive and a project site as well, called the dead white letter project:


Dodo/Dada Arte Postale Network

An Italian network of mail artists and artistamps producers, many with their own pages, membership is required to post projects.


Chuck Welch/The Crackerjack Kid

An introduction to Chuck Welch aka The Crackerjack Kid, from the EMMA website.


Shimamoto Shozo

A Japanese mail artist.


John Held Jr.

American mail artist featured on Mailartist.com with links to mail art archives and essays.


Dragonfly Dream

Detailed we site from mail artist Alice Kitselman from New Mexico. Also contains information on artistamps


Envelope Collective

The Envelope Collective is an ongoing collaborative experiment in art that uses the transportation of mail as a medium. The website serves as an online gallery for those pieces that we receive. It was started by two fellows named Garrett & Adam who think that art is one of the best things in the whole wide world ever.


Mailart Archives on the Web

http://alyonkamailartproject.blogspot.com/ http://confessyoursins.blogspot.com/

Mail Art Shows

Reeperbahn 1997

For this mail art installation „Reeperbahn 1997", which was specially conceived for the ElbArt 97 inside the old tunnel under the river Elbe, they have asked their colleagues worldwide to work over a view of the Reeperbahn that is more than 100 years old, contributing in this way to the subject „Reeperbahn" and everything related to it.



Interactive Arts and Media blog post about “Multiplicity/Multiplicidad” an Argentinian-curated show of mail art and artistamp archives at SOMArts in San Francisco, held in July 2007, and featuring Interactive Media’s own Andy Oleksiuk. This show was a major retrospective of mail art and artistamps. It included hundreds of international artists and performers such as Jas Felter, Anna Banana and John Held Jr


And a Youtube video of the same show with artists discussing their work and the show:


Axis of Evil

Axis of Evil was an international exhibition in 2005 featuring 47 stamp artists from eleven countries, thematically peeking into the depths of sin in search of the evils in our world and culture. Curated by Chicago-based artist Michael Hernandez de Luna, the exhibition includes work by artists from Russia, Mexico, England, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, France, Canada, the former Yugoslavia, Uruguay and the U.S.A. “Axis of Evil” made international headlines In 2004 when the U.S. Secret Service investigated a Chicago artist at Columbia College Chicago’s Glass Curtain Gallery. http://web3.colum.edu/press_releases/archives/005311.php An article from the Columbia Chronicle discussing the controversy surrounding the Axis of Evil exhibition. http://web3.colum.edu/press_releases/archives/005311.php

MOMA/Dada Exhibit

In 2006 there was an artistamp and mail art show and art event at MOMA as part of a large Dada exhibition.


Art Through the Mail: The External Network

Description of a show at University of California, Santa Barbara Special Collections Library.


Mail Art Literature

  • Correspondance Art (see artistamp literature)

Mailart Web Resources

Plymouth Fine Arts Links Page

A site created by individual artist Paul Ramsay that has a fantastic links section on Mail Art. Follow this down the rabbit hole.


The Open Directory Project on Mail Art Links Page

The Open Directory Project is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors.


Electronic Museum of Mail Art (EMMA) Links Page

EMMA is mail art's first electronic mailbox museum where the address is the art, the web is your key, and admission is free.


Mailart Related

  • Rubber Stamps, Stamping, embossing, applique, fabric accessories, scrapbooking, postcards, printing, stickers, paper ephemera, digital printing, address databases, commercial printing,

Mailart Wiki (Interactive)

Create a mail art piece. Affix correct postage. Mail to this address:

Mailart Wiki (Interactive)
Columbia College Chicago
Interactive Arts and Media
600 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60605

Make several more mail art pieces,; make each one slightly different. Mail to several friends. Don't forget to mail one to yourself.

Look for mail art shows on the web. Find a show with a theme or no theme at all. Create an appropriate maila rt piece nad mail it by the deadline.


Artistamps Definition

Miniature works of art, intended to look like and often parodying postage stamps.

“Designs in connection with postage stamps and coinage may be described, I think, as the silent ambassadors on national taste.” - William Butler Yeats

You can tell a lot about a country by the stamps it produces, and as philatelists can tell you, study of these little government-sponsored art works can be revealing and fascinating business. But, since government issued postage stamps represent the height of government controlled art (after all, the powers that be commission, produce and distribute this art for almost compulsory consumption by the masses) how are artists that prefer to work and think outside of government controls going to respond to this state sponsored art? Oftentimes they respond with artist stamps (artistamps).

Government issued stamps place every subject within the context of the issuing country’s political and organization systems. In response to the formalism sometimes inherent in that context, artistamps sometimes contain activist slogans and parodies of "official" subjects.

Artistamps have an inherently political nature due to the play of formalism in the genre. However there is a flip side to that view which is whimsical and often deals with virtual worlds or fantasy lands. Artists may name their fantasy domains, "Republic of Bookgirl,” or the "Island of Mraur," for example. Sometimes they even create imaginary postal administrations and whole governments for these countries.

Artists who make these stamps sometimes have a complex relationship with the real mail systems of their own countries. Some place their work alongside real postage on mailed envelopes, often in attempts to get their stamps canceled by the official postal administration. On occasion this can be an overtly political act, but more often the artistamp is being included alongside the correct legitimate postage and there is not chance that the created stamp will be mistaken for the real thing. It can even become part of a larger piece of mail art.

Artistamp creators may make their works in limited editions or in multiples of single design sheets. They may play with the sheet concept altogether and decorate borders, make miniature sheets or use several designs on one sheet that comment on or influence each other. The stamp form becomes more free form in the hands of the artist. Artistamps are often made to resemble genuine postage stamps, complete with perforations, gum on the back of the paper or even self-adhesive backing (though this may not be truly archival). They may be created through rubber-stamping, offset-printing, lithography, etching, engraving or photocopying, or using computers and printers. Artists often created cancellations for their stamps and create first day of issue covers. Cyberstamps have begun to flourish in the age of the internet, often these are online only creation, not intended to become tangible, printed stamps; many include animation.

The first artistamp may have been created by dadaist Raould Hausmann in 1919, when he put a self-portrait stamp on a post card. But Jas Felter, curator of the first exhibition on the artistamp, claims that the first real set of artistamps were made in 1941 by German political prisoner Karl Schwesig. He created a series of images depicting life in a concentration camp, drawn with ink on the perforated margins of postage stamp sheets.

The first set of artistamps made for a fine art context was created by Fluxist Robert Watts when he made a block of 15 perforated stamps in 1961. The above mentioned 1974 artistamp exhibition, curated by Jas Felter gave rise to a more general public awareness of artistamps as well as a growth in the number of artists producing them. But artistamps weren’t even called by that name until 1982, when T Michael Bidner coined the term.

Artistamps are now impressively documented in literature, on the internet and within the walls of galleries. Catalogues, reference guides and websites can introduce the medium by artist or genre. These include works in progress such as the International Directory of Artistamp Creators, updated by James Warren Felter and the Standard Artist Stamp Cataloged which is being compiled by Bugpost.

And as the medium grows, so do collections and exhibitions. As Jas W. Felter puts it: “There have been exhibitions in national museums (Hungary, Switzerland, France), and recently Guy Bleus has issued a CD-ROM of his artistamp collection. Other major archives are found at Artpool in Budapest, the Anna Banana Archives in Sechelt, British Columbia, Chuck Welch's International Register of Artistamps, and my own Modern Realism Archives, which contains over 3,000 stamp sheets by 600 artists. Perhaps the largest public collection is at Oberlin College in Ohio, which obtained the artistamp archive of Harley. But almost every artistamp producer maintains his own collection, and there are impressive holdings in many areas of the world.”

∑ Some terms to use in researching artistamps: faux postage, fantasy stamps, labels, cinderellas, virtual worlds

Artistamps Resources


Mail artist’s page dealing with artistamps.


Artistamp Mailing List

The Artistamp Mailing List is is a resource for people interested in discussing, trading, teaching and learning about the art of creating Artistamps. Generally one-of-a-kind, and / or limited editions, artistamps are not intended to fool your local postal carrier, but are instead a miniature art form with specific guidelines / formats pertaining to the ability to create art in the form / size / shape of a postage stamp. If you are interested in the art of Donald Evans, Anna Banana, Steve Smith, etc, (and by association mail artists such as Chuck Welch, John Held, Ray Johnson and the New York Correspondence School) then this list is probably for you.


Open Directory Project Links Page for Artistamps

The Open Directory Project is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors.


International Directory of Artistamp Creators (IDAC)

Jas W Felter took a different approach to the subject in 1991. Focusing on the Artist rather than the Artistamp, he produced a directory of 72 artists who were creating Artistamps. Not satisfied, he continued to search the world for Artistamp creators, located a number of important Artistamp collections, gathered as many catalogues of Artistamp exhibitions as possible and surveyed more Artistamp creators. With this data he edited the first edition of the International Directory of Artistamp Creators in 1993. The burst of Artistamp activity since then and the location of older catalogues of Artistamp exhibitions created the need for a second edition. This directory, like the publications described above, is an indispensable locus for understanding the medium and locating its practitioners.


Notes Towards a History of Artistamps

John Held jr’s article on artistamp history.



An article on the history of artistamps by Jas W. Felter, who curated the first artistamp show in 1974.


You Know the Way to Mail Art – Philately

Humorous list linking a history of mail art moments and anecdotes to philately.


Moscow Artistamp Collective


Artistamp Artists

International Directory of Artistamp Creators

This is the directory’s artist page with an a-z list of international producers and links to pages decribing the work of each artist, these pages also have links to the artist’s individual websites on occaision as well as links to further pages in the directory showing examples of the artist’s work. The directory’s main home page also has a “producers” page.

A few links to individual artistamp makers:

Michael Hernandez de Luna


Michael Thompson


Jas Felter


Anna Banana



John Held


Ray Johnson

See links listed in Mail Art section

T. Micheal Bidner


buZ blurr


Dana Atchley


Alyce Cornyn-Selby


Bugpost (aka Dominique Johns)


Donald Evans



Jas W. Felter


William “Picasso” Gaglione


Michel Hosszu


Sandy Jackson


Denis P. Jordan


Clemente Padin


Steve Smith/Art Gone Postal


Carolyn Substitute


Dragonfly Dream


Carl T. Chew


Red Ant


Natalie Lamanova


Artistsamp Shows

"Motherland/Fatherland" Artistamp Exhibition

The Moscow International Forum of Art Initiatives, Moscow State Exhibition Hall "Novy Manege" July 11-21, 2002 co-curators of artistamp exhibition: Natalie Lamanova, Russia, Alexander Kholopov, Russia, James Felter, Canada http://sewers.artinfo.ru/cv/mafa.htm

Consciousness Unfolded: Mail Art for the 21st Century

This dynamic exhibition invites artist to submit work via the postal service creating a network of communication that provides an insightful dialogue that investigates the direction the book/codex/scroll/card is taking form and purpose in the 21st millennium.


Artpool’s List of Events 1979-1991

Artpool’s list of multiple shows and events from that era, with some links


Post Modern Post

A show of artistamps from 2003 at the Sonoma County Museum in California


ParaStamp: From Fluxus to the Internet

A show of four decades of artistamps, held in Budapest from March 23-June2, 2007.



Large retrospective of artistamp archives. SOMArts San Francisco, July 2007.


Artistamp Literature

Herbert, Martin. "Post War", Artforum International, May 2007: Article on Steve McQueen's Queen and Country comminssioned by London's Imperial War Museum. Example of: Political Art

Crane, Michael and Soffle, Mary ed., Correspondence Art: Source Book for the Network of International Postal Art Activity, Contemporary Arts Press, San Francisco, 1984.

Artistamp Production Techniques

How to make Artistamps

So you want to make artistamps?

A helpful page of links to many artmaking tutorials


Mail Art and Artistamps

The articles at this website were previously at Aisling.net. They include how-to tips and instructions, as well as free downloads, samples of mail art, and links.



A very good introduction to Artistamps. A must read for those who are new to the list and just starting out in the field.


Create an essay stamp design appropriate for a specific country. Use correct text based on your knowledge of the country's language and postal conventions.

Create a sheet format of whimsical artistamps from a fantasy country or no country at all. Create several designs for a multiple design sheet.