Are First-Day-of-Issue Stamps Worthless?

FDCs that don't meet requirements are little valued

Air Mail Cover
Matt Knannlein / Getty Images

Many stamp collectors spend a lot of time and money over the years going to the post office and buying new stamps. They put them on clean white blank envelopes and send them away for a first-day-of-issue cancellation. This is common with first-day-of-issue stamps.

However, if you try to sell the collection to a dealer who says the covers are worthless, what’s the reasoning behind this decision?

Value of First Day Covers

Over the years, collectors have made it clear that they prefer their first day covers (FDC) with cachets, the informative illustration usually on the left-hand side of the envelope.

Overall cachets covering all or most of the envelope have become popular. These include the artist hand-painted covers which usually command a premium over such mass-produced fare as that marketed by Artcraft, Artmaster, Fleetwood, and other popular brands.

As supply and demand dictate the price, the limited edition independent artist-produced cover—almost without exception—sells for more than their numerous commercial counterparts. In any event, the one certainty in the world of FDC collecting is that blank first day covers with only stamp and cancel are virtually worthless in today's stamp collecting marketplace. In general, only stamps canceled with the first-day date are deemed collectible without a cachet. The First Day of Issue cancellation didn't yet exist before the middle 1920s—prior to the era when the crocheted cover came into vogue.

First Day Covers' Past and Their Collectors' Future

Stamp dealer and publisher George Linn created the first FDC when he developed a simple text cachet for the Harding Memorial stamp issue of 1926.

From those humble beginnings, the collecting of FDCs grew into a market with sales in the millions of dollars. 

But collectors can take heart: If you are of an artistic bent you might consider putting your own stamp-related artwork on a cover. Thanks to the ease of printing with computers we are in the age of the add-on cachet.

If you can draw, print and paint, your first-day cover collection might not come up blank after all. FDC collectors always invite a good artist into the fold and if conditions are right, he or she might become the next cachet star.

Beware though those who use computers to create add-on cachets for earlier (1930s and 1940s) uncached FDCs. While legitimate cachets have been identified and cataloged by Michael Mellone and Earl Planty, the uninformed collector may be fooled into paying high prices for covers that appear to be classics but are modern creations. As printing methods have become more sophisticated in recent years, the approximation of old caches has become easy to accomplish. Most legitimate producers will note when their covers contain an add-on cachet, though the collector of older FDCs should do a bit of research to make sure they are adding the real thing to their collection when they purchase from FDC dealers in the secondary market.

For those who want to learn more about the ins and outs of FDC collecting there is no better resource than the American First Day Cover Society (AFDCS)