What are First Day Covers?
This page aims to give some background on covers, producers, cancellations, postmarks and all of the other jargon that will help you navigate your way through the site. (Note as we focus on British First Day Covers, this information is aimed towards those covers)
1) First Day Cover ("FDC"). This is a cover bearing postage stamps which has been sent through the postal system on the First Day of Issue ("FDI") of those postage stamps. So there are 3 elements, namely the cover/envelope, the stamps and the postmark/cancellation to show that the cover was posted on the date of issuance of the stamps. For example, on the below cover, the Cover was produced by cover producer Philart (Philart Deluxe Range), the 4 stamps were released by the Royal Mail on 16 Jan 1980, and the postmark/cancellation was applied on the date of issue of the stamps.
2) Commemorative/Souvenir Covers. This is a cover which is issued to commemorate an event, and as such it is posted on the date of that event and not the date of issuance of the stamps. These covers may show a full set of commemorative stamps, but it is not a First Day Cover as it was posted on a different date to the Stamp Issuance. For example, on 9th Oct 1974 a set of stamps was issued by the Royal Mail to celebrate the Centenary of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill, so a cover bearing these commemorative stamps and posted on 9th Oct 1974 would make up a First Day Cover as per the below:
However the actual Centenary date of the birth of Sir Winston Churchill was 30th November 1974, so numerous covers were produced and posted on that date, bearing the same stamps as the First Day Cover, but these covers are considered Commemorative/Souvenir covers as they are not postmarked on the same date as the stamps were issued, as per the below:
Ordinary Covers. Covers are produced by a number of organisations, with the Royal Mail in the UK being the main producer. These covers are produced with an illustration in some way related to the topic of the FDI stamps, and are considered as "Ordinary Covers". Numerous other producers also create Ordinary Covers, with Stuart and Cotswold being primary among them, as per the below:
Official Covers. Certain covers are privately sponsored by organisations to commemorate specific events, and as such can be deemed to be "Official Covers" to that event. For example, on 2nd March 1977, Royal Mail produced an Ordinary Cover of the Centenary of The Royal Institute of Chemistry FDC as shown below:
Simultaneously, the Royal Institute of Chemistry produced their own Official Cover as per the below:
Even with the same stamps and the same postmark/postmark date, the Official Cover is generally (though not always) more valuable than the Ordinary Cover.
Effectively a postmark/cancellation is the ink stamp which is applied to the stamp(s) to indicate that it has been used to send a letter, and to make sure that the stamp(s) cannot be re-used to send another item. There are numerous forms of Postmarks/Cancellations, including:
1) Counter Date Stamps/Circular Date Stamps. ("CDS"). These are the standard circular handstamps that a Post Office clerk would have manually applied to a letter in pre-mechanisation times. The stamp was circular in shape, and contained the name of the Post Office and the date the Stamps were cancelled. The CDS rarely had any relevance to the cover or the stamps, though it has now been recognised by collectors that an old cover with a CDS that is somehow relevant to the cover is very collectible. For example the below cover has a theme of Essex Scouts Jamboree in Hockley, Essex, and the cover has a Hockley, Essex Counter Date Stamp, so is more sought after than the same cover with (for example) a Manchester postmark.
Other sought after locations for Counter Date Stamps are The House of Commons and The House of Lords as these are not available to the general public, and The Royal Households (Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Clarence House etc) as again these are not generally available. Examples of these are shown below:
Slogan Postmarks. Slogans were first commercially used in Britain in 1917 to advertise War Bonds. A Slogan Postmark is effectively a CDS and Slogan which are tied together as part of the stamping process, where the CDS element is as above, and the Slogan element is used to advertise a product or similar, although one of the more common slogans is a basic "wavy line". Examples below:
Ordinary First Day of Issue Postmarks. These are similar to Counter Date Stamps, but have the words "First Day of Issue" included in the text, along with the Town/Post Office Name and the Date. These Postmarks came into being in 1964 and were withdrawn at the end of 1998. Below is an example of a First Day of Issue postmark, where you can see "First Day of Issue" enclosed within the postmark:
Special Handstamps. These generally tend to be specific to the FDI Stamps or the "theme" of those stamps, and can be produced by the Royal Mail or indeed anyone else who may wish to sponsor a handstamp of their own or to supplement their own cover designs. Special Handstamps are applied to the covers be trained Royal Mail at one of their (ever diminishing number of) Special Handstamp centres. Special Handstamps are probably the most popular amongst collectors, and are becoming more numerous, complicated and indeed cunning in their design and logic. Examples below:
Aside from these, there are numerous other Postmark types which are collectible, such as Travelling Post Offices (normally associated with trains), Forces Post Office (BFPO etc), Marine Mail and Paquebots (Posted at Sea). Examples below:
The following are the more common and collected cover producers in the UK. If you click into the Producer you will be taken to a little more background related to that producer.
- Abbey. Abbey covers were only produced between the 28th May 1969 "British Cathedrals" series, and the 13th October 1982 "British Motor Cars" series, so had a fairly short lifespan. Covers are numbered limited editions, all bearing the same stamps and postmarks/cancels.
- Arlington. Arlington are generally a producer of Official Covers and are somewhat difficult to find, so as such can be very expensive.
- Art Craft. US based Art Craft has produced a number of covers for the UK market, and tends to produce sets of covers each of which will hold a different stamp from a First Day of Issue series, as can be seen with our 11 May 1977 "Silver Jubilee of the Queen's Accession", where there are 5 covers, each bearing a different stamp and a different Cancel. These covers are somewhat uncommon. Click on Art Stamp to visit the producers homepage
- Cotswold. Cotswold covers began life in 1970 with the 25th November Christmas cover. Since then they have produced covers for all new commemorative stamps, as well as numerous Commemorative Covers. They can generally be identified by a large "C" shaped logo on the left hand side of the cover, though this is not always the case. Definitely one of the more attractive and collectable covers available to the UK market
- Light Railways. A number of the UKs Light Railways produce their own First Day Covers and Commemorative Covers, often to help fund the running of these often volunteer run organisations. Covers are often adorned with "Railway Letter" stamps, various "Cachets", multiple Handstamps etc, so can be real works of art. Regularly produced in very small number, these items appeal to cover collectors and train enthusiasts alike. The following links will take you to the homepages of a number of these railways, and if you would like us to include your organisation amongst them, please contact us.
- Mercury. Mercury produced their first cover for the 16 May 1973 "Centenary of County Cricket" series, and continued producing until 1993 with their final cover being the 14 Sept 1993 "Autumn" series. Always neatly produced with lovely illustrations, these are a real favourite with collectors - especially the earlier covers. The Mercury logo can be found in or around the cover illustration, and shows the Roman god Mercury standing atop the world, clutching the Cadaceus staff. Mercury also produced a "Deluxe" version or a number of their covers, but these did not always include the logo so are a little trickier to identify.
- Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI).
- Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers are amongst a number of arms of the forces who produce both First Day Covers and Commemorative Covers to celebrate events in their history. Often these covers have been carried on shops, aircraft and other means of transport, and may on occasions be signed by Pilots, Captains or other relevant persons. Many of these covers are very hard to find, and as such are extremely sought after and thus valuable. Click on Royal Engineers to visit their own official site recording the covers issued thus far.
- Royal Mail. The Royal Mail has produced covers under the names of GPO, Post Office and The Royal Mail since the "Shakespeare Festival" edition of 23rd April 1964. These are known as "Ordinary Covers", which indicates that they are not produced by any particular organisation or company to commemorate an event. Click on Royal Mail to visit the Royal Mail homepage and see current and future covers which they have for sale.
- Royal Marines. The Royal Marines are amongst a number of arms of the forces who produce both First Day Covers and Commemorative Covers to celebrate significant events in their history. There are a number of different series' in existence, produced by The Royal Marines Association (RMA) and The Royal Marines Museum (RMM). If you are feeling really brave you can click Royal Marines to investigate signing up for this legendary fighting force!
- Stuart. Stuart covers began life in 1965 with the 8th July "Sir Winston Churchill" series. They can generally be identified by a thistle logo embedded within or around the cover design (it can sometimes be very well hidden and takes a bit of tracking down!). They are definitely up there with Cotswold as one of the more attractive and collectable covers available to the UK market.
- Wessex. Wessex Covers produced their first issue for the 20th Feb 1967 "European Free Trade Agreement" (EFTA) issue, and have continued producing covers ever since - although they no longer produce covers for all new commemorative stamps. The logo is the mythical "Wyvern" dragon-like creature, which in itself has a very interesting history having been raised in battle against the Mercians, the Vikings, the Normans to name but a few.
I will add to this information over time, but if you have any questions or would like further information on anything, please don't hesitate to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org