How to Find and Buy Vintage Stamps
One of my favorite parts of wedding planning has been designing and putting together our Save-the-Dates. Our whole philosophy about throwing this big fete was to make sure our friends and family have a good time. It’s why we decided to allocate most of our budget to a cool venue and great food. It’s also how we’ve justified spending more time or effort in certain areas of planning over others. From start to finish, Mr. Rooster and I want to make sure our guests are excited about the wedding and know we’re stoked to have them there. It was important their first introduction to our bash, our Save-the-Dates, to feel fun and totally capture the feel for the day. Plus, who doesn’t love getting happy mail?
Photos of invitations on wedding blogs and Pinterest were a huge inspiration in designing our Save-the-Dates. Composite photos of an entire suite laid out together really prove how powerful little details can be when you tie them together with a big picture. Beautiful wedding stationery is thoughtfully curated and made personal with the finest details, down to the stamps on the envelope. An assortment of vintage stamps chosen to represent your lives and shared interests is a great way to weave your personal story into your wedding stationery.
That said, going the vintage stamp route can be really expensive. A vintage stamp dealer, like the type recommended by Martha Stewart, will charge several times the face value of stamps. It eats up a huge chunk of your stationery budget, not to mention that it’s just plain annoying. I mean, we’re essentially dealing with currency here. It’s totally aggravating to pay $1 for a 15¢ stamp.
There’s ways around spending a fortune, of course. The best vintage-stamp-buying advice in the history of ever came from Miss Cowboy Boot, courtesy of her stationer, Sarah Parrott: Use dealers and stamp catalogs to decide which stamps you’d like for your envelopes, then seek them out on eBay. Assuming you’re not looking for something incredibly rare and valuable, you can locate a ton of vintage stamps on eBay at or near face value.
I say “near” face value, because going the vintage stamp route will definitely have a bigger bottom line than just buying a book of Forever stamps from the Post Office. Most sellers want to turn a profit and sell sheets of stamps for a little over face value, but even if you find a sheet undervalued, you’ll still need to account for shipping costs. And unless you really plan ahead to ensure that you have the perfect mix of vintage stamps adding up to exactly 49¢, you’ll likely end up sending out a few envelopes with 50¢ or 51¢.
If you’re willing to do a little leg work, the vintage stamp route doesn’t have to cost a lot more than basic stamps. I bought enough postage for 50 save-the-dates and 50 wedding invitations for just under $90, or $40 over the cost of traditional postage. Decide if $40 is worth it to you to send mail to your guests with quirky personal stamps. If it is, here’s some advice and strategy for getting it done:
- Stamps are identified with “Scott numbers.” When you find a stamp you like, use its Scott number to find more like it on eBay. I found a great deal on Florida stamps because the seller had misspelled it as “Forida” in the listing; searching by the Scott number let me find exactly what I needed no matter what it was called.
- Know your terms. A block is a group of at least four un-separated stamps. A sheet is a full unit of printed stamps, but the amount varies; small stamps are usually printed in sheets of 100, while larger stamps are printed in sheets of 50, 25 or 20. “FV” refers to face value, and “MNH” stands for “Minted Never Hinged,” an indication that the stamps are like new and have never been canceled (so they can be used as postage).
- Buy different stamps from the same seller to save on shipping. Shipping cost can make this project unmanageable, if you let it. But many eBay sellers will discount shipping if you buy more than one of their products. Be smart about where you buy your stamps and there’s huge savings to be made. After deciding on a certain stamp, I always located more than one well-priced sheet from different sellers. Then I’d look through those sellers’ other inventory to find other stamps I was interested in to help decide who to buy from.
- Don’t get caught up in auctions. It’s easy to get attached to a certain stamp once you’ve put in a bid. You can quickly go way over value and over budget if you keep bidding to win an auction. Decide on a limit before you bid and stick to it. If you don’t win that sheet or block, search for another. There’s also plenty of stamp sellers who offer “Buy it Now” prices, making it easy to stick to a budget.
We got a bunch of different designs for different reasons, but we tried to buy stamps that all shared the same feel. That is, they were modern, bright, bold and shared some of our wedding colors (like green, black, radiant orchid or coral). Here’s what we picked out and why:
- Florida Statehood (Scott 2950, 32¢) because I’m from Florida, myself and many of my family are Gator alumni of the University of Florida, and because it had green, purple and coral in it.
- American Music (Scott 1252, 5¢) because we both love music and I liked the simple design with black and red.
- Georgia O’Keefe Poppys (Scott 3069, 32¢) because it added a feminine touch and shared our colors.
- Project Mercury (Scott 1193, 4¢) because… well, I just really liked it. Although I wouldn’t call it one of “our colors,” I do want to work some sort of cobalt-y blue into the wedding in a few places. So this is one of them. Deal with it.
- Canada (Scott 1324, 5¢) because Roo grew up close to Canada, and has an absurd knowledge of Canadian geography and history that I love to quiz him about. Plus the green graphic hills on this stamp are beautiful. My bridesmaid and fellow graphic designer fell in love with these at first sight, too.
- Sugar Ray Robinson (Scott 4020, 39¢) because both of us and so many of our friends are huge sports fans, and I really loved the design on this one, inspired by vintage boxing posters (even though the stamp is only six years old).
- Plan for Better Cities (Scott 1333, 5¢) because it’s blue. And has a cool design. And says “city.” Just another way to inject the urban vibe of our wedding weekend wherever we can.
- Professional Baseball Centennial (Scott 1381, 6¢), again, for the sports thing.
- Freedom of The Press (Scott 1119, 4¢) because I love how bold it is in black and white. Plus I’m a writer and majored in journalism, so it fits.
- Flowers of America (Scott 1876-79, 18¢) because pretty.
- Mineral Heritage (Scott 1538-41, 10¢) because so so pretty.
So, no, they don’t all make perfect sense, but I think they look good together. And they’re definitely an upgrade over the Liberty Bell, am I right?
Getting them onto the save-the-date envelopes was an easy afternoon. I cleared the coffee table and separated the stamps into piles. Then, I grouped them based on what looked good together and what added up to at least 49¢.
Then using a glue stick, I stuck them on. When I started stamping our envelopes, I found the gum on these old stamps to be unreliable (and it tasted really bad), so I turned to the glue stick for a way to get them on the envelopes without continuing to lick 100-year old glue. (I did lick the first few; I’m not proud.) The glue stick was the perfect solution!
Because I ordered stamps for both our save-the-dates and our invites, I stashed the remaining stamps into a cheap photo album. Each 49¢+ grouping of stamps got its own pocket.
Do I love the outcome? Yes, absolutely. Was it worth the little extra cost? I think so. I hope our guests are excited to get these envelopes in the mail, and I hope it gets them excited for what’s to come.