About two centuries ago, sending mail was free for the sender because in order to receive the mail, the receiver had to pay a small amount of money. However, this practice led to serious problems in post offices because there were many recipients that didn’t want to take their mail. That’s why, Rowland Hill, an English schoolmaster, suggested the use of stamps.
The first stamps became available in 1840. There were actually two types of stamps – the blue stamps that were worth two pence and the black stamp worth one penny. They both featured Queen Victoria. Thirty years later, the British Post Office introduced the half penny stamp used exclusively for sending cards (Christmas cards were invented in 1843). What is interesting to point out is that people had to use scissors in the postal office in order to separate stamps in case they needed one or two stamps (they didn’t have to buy a whole stamp sheet). In 1854, the British Post Office introduced perforated stamps which simplified the process considerably.
Who issued the first Christmas stamps is a bit of a debate. Canada issued a stamp with ‘Xmas 1898’ printed on it but experts don’t believe that this was issued at Christmas.
Denmark has staked a claim on issuing the first Christmas stamp in 1904 but it has been argued that these were labels rather than stamps because they were not officially used for postage.
Austria issued two stamps in 1937 for use on Christmas Mail and New Year greeting cards and Hungary was the first country to use religious imagery on stamps in 1943.
The debate still goes on and all the above countries like to stake their claim on this bit of philately history!
In the past, some post offices used a special Christmas seal on Christmas stamps. This idea was shared by a Danish postal worker in 1904 who wanted to get donations for people suffering from tuberculosis. This idea was followed by Emily Bissell, an American Red Cross employee in 1907. For more than 30 years, the American Lung Association have been using special Christmas seal campaigns each year.
Another interesting fact about Christmas is that there are several towns in the USA that contain the word Christmas or have some other Christmas-related words. Some of these towns and places include: Christmas Gift Mine, Merrie Christmas Park, Merry Christmas Creek and more than ten towns that bear the name Santa Claus. It must be a fun time if you’re an American post man!