Read an interview with the author of Alphabetilately at Marty Weil's Ephemera Blog

 G is for G Stamp ... OR ALL the nondenominated stamps issued by the USPS

CLICK HERE for an illustrated table of ALL the non-denominated stamps the US has issued
(there have been more than just the alphabet series).

The "G" stamp was the latest when this was first written in the series of non- denominated US alphabet stamps issued to aid the transition to new postal rates in this country - the USPS calls them "contingency stamps". None will win a design competition, but each has served its purpose well. We had A (1978) through H (1999). A through D were triumphs of ugliness, with nothing but the letter and an eagle, while E, a slight improvement, showed the Earth, F was a Flower, G was the flag(Old Glory), and H was Uncle Sam's Hat. Each paid the new first-class rate at the time it was issued (see table). The last three (F, G, H) were accompanied by Make-Up Rate stamps as well, to pay the difference between the old rate and the new. The "F" Make-Up Rate stamp was particularly atrocious, with its bizarre text-only design.

With the rate increase of January, 2001, the USPS abandoned the alphabet, and said it did not plan to continue it. Too bad, I was looking forward to completing the set, and seeing what they did for some of the tougher letters. "X" is for Xylophone? Xerxes? X-rated?

Note also that, while most of these stamps were designated initially as valid for domestic use only (and some are inscribed "Domestic" or "For U.S. addresses only"), the USPS Domestic Mail Manual states explicitly that all nondenominated stamps are valid on international mail except for those with special service inscriptions. See: http://pe.usps.com/text/imm/immc1_005.html.

152.2.d. Nondenominated postage stamps (except for those that bear uniquely domestic markings, such as First-Class Presort, Bulk Rate, Presorted Standard, or Nonprofit Organization) may be affixed to postal items that are sent to foreign countries. The value of such stamps is linked to either a current or a former domestic rate (e.g., the "H" stamp has a postage value of $0.33). Since the international postage rates are always higher than the comparable domestic postage rates, mailers who affix a single nondenominated postage stamp to their outbound mailpieces must add additional postage to comply with the international rate schedule. Note: The nondenominated Breast Cancer Research semipostal stamp, which has a postage value that is equivalent to the domestic rate for a 1-ounce letter, may be used for international mailing purposes.

HOWEVER, many postal clerks are unaware of this ruling, and will tell you that you CANNOT use non-denominated stamps on foreign mail, so unless you carry along a copy of the DMM, and hand in your letters over the counter, it is best to use them on domestic mail only.

To my surprise, this and its companion page listing all the non-denominated U.S. stamps (see link, just below) have turnd out to be the most popular pages of my web site, with over twice as many hits as any other of the letter pages. I guess a lot of people have these non-denominated stamps lying around, and want to know what they are worth.

CLICK HERE for an illustrated table of ALL the non-denominated stamps the US has issued
(there have been more than just the alphabet series).

9/16/2007 - Alain Vailly wrote to tell me about the NVI Club, which is headquartered in France.

NVI stands for No Value Indicated. The Club's members collect stamps such as the USA rate-change stamps from countries all over the world. To learn more about the NVI Club, visit their website, at http://pagesperso.lina.univ-nantes.fr/~vailly-a/NVIClub/Apropos/gbindex.html.


Below is a table of the alphabet stamps and the associated rate changes since the first alphabet stamp was issued - note 1981, in particular - they raised the rates twice in one year! Yes, all of these are still valid as postage, at the rate shown below.

STAMP VALUE DATE of rate change
A 15 cents 5/29/78
B 18 cents 3/22/81
C 20 cents 11/1/81 (!)
D 22 cents 2/17/85
E 25 cents 4/3/88
F 29 cents 2/3/91
... F makeup rate 4 cents  
G 32 cents 1/1/95
... G makeup rate 3 cents  
H 33 cents 1/10/99
... H makeup rate 1 cent  
(no I stamp) 34 cents 1/7/01

Click here for an illustrated table of ALL the non-denominated stamps the US has issued
(there have been more than just the alphabet series).

Click here for a history of USPS first-class rates since 1885 (Source = Postal Rate Commission.


Our story so far - A postal alphabet

Here are all the basic stamps in the rate-change alphabet to date, from A through H, with their values (each is still worth the value shown.)


A = 15¢
1978

B = 18¢
1981

C = 20¢
1981

D = 22¢
1985

E = 25¢
1988

F = 29¢
1991

F makeup = 4¢
1991

F - ATM sheetlet = 29¢
1991

G = 32¢
1994

G makeup = 3¢
1994

H = 33¢
1999

H makeup = 1¢
1999

Here's the text on the F makeup-rate stamp:
This U.S. stamp, along with 25¢ of additional U.S. postage, is equivalent to the "F" stamp rate
A demented wannabe lawyer must have written that - how can a stamp,
with or without additional postage, be equivalent to a rate?

If you've never seen that F ATM sheetlet stamp before, don't worry - it was part of the first experiments with vending postage from ATM machines, and was available to the general public only from the ATMs of Seafirst Bank in the Seattle, Washington area. Collectors could buy it through the USPS Philatelic service, of course.


Why so MANY G's!?

The USPS seemed determined to be prepared for every contingency with this "contingency stamp" issue. They released seventeen different versions, in six different formats, with five different rates, from four different manufacturers - there were six different sheet stamps, six coils, three booklets, and two self-adhesives. I found it an entertaining challenge to acquire them all via postal channels, but many collectors were outraged at the seemingly unnecessary elaboration. Here they all are:





Interested in Flags On Stamps? Collector Bob Hunt has started a study group for that topic - email him at "bh1861(at)att.net" and tell him you want to join.
OR visit his web site to learn more. And don't miss Flags on Stamps by Richard Mallett.


And how have they been received?

It's interesting to look at the FDC's that have been produced to mark the issue of each of the alphabet rate-change stamps. The initial reception was very simple and respectful, but as they proliferated, the public's attitude changed to at best tolerant amusement, at worst open scorn.

Click on any image below to view an enlargement.

The "A" stamp - 15 cents - 1978



"Patriotic and dignified" would describe these "A" covers.


The "B" stamp - 18 cents - March, 1981



More fanciful, and beginning to place these rate changes in their historical context, but still no open disapproval here.


The "C" stamp - 20 cents - October, 1981



Surprising that these covers are not less mundane - this was the second increase in a single year, and brought the total increase for that year to 1/3, from 15 to 20 cents!


The "D" stamp - 22 cents - 1985



Finally! A statement!


The "E" stamp - 25 cents - 1988



By now the public had grown accustomed to an increase every three years, and this one was relatively small, as a percentage of the prior rate. I wonder if that Dodo cover had anything to do with the decision to choose an image to represent the letter, so that people did not make up their own?


The "F" stamp - 29 cents - 1991



With the "F" stamp came the first of the makeup-rate stamps. Do you suppose they made it so ridiculous to distract us from the increase itself?


The "G" stamp - 32 cents - 1994



Apparently they couldn't think of a good "G" word, and had to fall back on Old Glory, obviously another effort to diffuse criticism with an appeal to patriotism. Some cachet- makers chose to ignore or reinterpret the designated theme.


The "H" stamp - 33 cents - 1999



"H" is for "Hat", basically another flag, and more patriotism. I suspect this will be the theme from now on.

And what of "I"? The most patriotic "I" word I can think of is Independence. There's also "Inalienable". And "Inaugurate." But I would prefer Iguana or Icthyosaur.

But alas! They've ended the series (January, 2001) and while we will have many more rate changes, the rate-change alphabet is dead. (There's an amusing rumor that the alphabet was abandoned to avoid jokes about the i-rate stamp. I don't think the postal authorities really care that much what we think - the reason was probably more mundane, but it's unlikely we'll ever know what it was.)


P.S. - despite my lame attempts at satire above, I regard our postal rates as a great bargain. Compared to any other country today we are paying a very reasonable price, especially considering the size of the U. S. Rates in European countries, where the average distance a letter has to travel is much lower than here, are significantly higher.


D - E - A - F

8/29/07 - Ken Rothschild wrote me as follows:

I found your website fascinating....

I'd like to show what Albert Hlibok and I did when the USPS came out with the "F" stamp.

Both Albert and I are Deaf and heavy into philately and this is what we developed!!!

I'm sure you will get the gist when you look at the stamps. :-)

Below is the image he sent, which makes me even sadder that the USPS abandoned their alphabet. Think of all the fun we could have had spelling other things!

So your challenge now is to think of all the words you can spell with just the letters A through H.

And congratulations to Ken and Al on a really clever FDC!


Rate change stamps in other countries

How do other countries handle rate changes? Do they issue alphabet stamps? Well, Canada got as far as an "A" stamp - every bit as ugly as ours - back in 1981, then apparently decided they could plan ahead - no more since.

Great Britain issues non-denominated stamps that simply remain valid forever for whatever class of postage is printed on them (e.g. 1st or 2nd). Below is a booklet pane of "1st" stamps from a recent Christmas issue.

8/11/2004 - Oops! A viewer ( Ian Billings of Norvic Philatelics in the UK) writes:

The block of British stamps are not Christmas stamps - however inane Royal Mail is at producing something appropriate for Christmas this isn't it. These are general greetings stamps, often issued in the spring, in booklets, but now re-branded as 'Occasions' stamps and issued in normal sheet format (and Smilers). They are still 1st class and usually 5-6 in a set, sometimes se-tenant.

Thanks for the correction. And it's nice to know the Brits regard their stamps (which many of us admire) with the same scorn we do our own.

And below is a favorite of mine, a "giveaway" promotion in Boots pharmacies, the one- stamp pane was "free" in a packet of greeting cards, and subsequently sold by the British Philatelic Bureau.

Those are the only ones I know about right now (June, 2000). I suspect most countries just delay implementing a new rate until they can print stamps with the correct denomination. If you know how other countries handle the situation, please email me at .

_____________________________________________________

3/12/2002 - a viewer sent the following information about French non-denominated stamps:

Take a look at the French situation. In my very ad-hoc collection I've got definitives with A, B, D on them. Back in the 1980s they had a Marianne in a liberty cap looking left. Both A and B were green (the latter postmarked 1987). Then they changed to a woman facing front, wearing what looks like a beret with a rosette in it. My D is on that and it's coloured red. Later they seem to have gone for colour coding for particular rates and not bothered to record what they are by letter or number. One of the red I have like this is postmarked 1993.

8/11/2004 - Ian Billings, in the message above about GB Greetings stamps, went on -

Of course non-denominated stamps have swept the globe since you wrote that page. I know somebody who has made a good collection - good enough to display at society nights and enter competitions. He starts with the 'Lady McLeod' (was that Trinidad?) back in the 19th century.

Some non-denoms, or NVI (No value indicated) have a letter, some state a postal service. S Africa, Guernsey & Singapore have wordy ones, for local use, and others for external. Brazil has an 'R' stamp, which is just that, a black R printed on a yellow & green background with a repeated micro-print of 'Brazilian PO' or whatever. This pays the Registration fee and I am pleased to have a couple of these on cover.

Thanks, Ian. Anybody else?

2/15/06 - I did a quick Google for "NVI stamps" and found that there is a collectors' society for the specialty, with an extensive web site at http://www.sciences.univ-nantes.fr/asso/NVIClub/gbindex.php. It seems that countries that have NOT issued non-denominated stamps are now the exception.


Other non-denominated U.S. stamps

The alphabet stamps are not the only ones the USPS has issued without denominations - there have been nine other ordinary First Class rate stamps, one semi-postal, a host of special stamps for Bulk Rate and other high-volume uses, and four lettered Official stamps.

Click here for an illustrated table of ALL the non-denominated stamps the US has issued.



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Created -- 06/18/2000
Revised -- 09/16/2007

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