Since the appearance of Penny Black in the 19th century, stamps have become one of the most desired objects of collectors' passion. Small pieces of faded paper commemorating historic faces and epic events that used to adorn crispy yellow envelopes received by our far ancestors are now worth a fortune. If you are a lucky owner of a rare stamp, we will be glad to help you calculate its precise value.
Below, you can see the list of rarest and most valuable stamps issued in the U.S. and all over the world.
MOST VALUABLE U.S. STAMPS
ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 1867
In the heat of the Civil War, the US government annulled the existing stamps and adopted revamped designs. The ‘60s issue added two new political leaders – Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. These are actually the oldest US stamps that can still be used to send letters.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th US president who took office in 1861, just one month before the Confederate forces went into the assault on Fort Sumter. Known as a strong and decisive governor, he led the nation through the bloodiest war in its history into a free and fair world. His political achievements include the abolition of slavery, economy modernization and consolidation of government. No wonder the 1897 stamp depicting Abraham Lincoln in black color was one of the most important and expensive in the country. It cost as much as 15 cents, five times the value of most other US stamps of that period.
What differentiated the ‘60s series from earlier samples was the process known as grilling. The use of grills made it harder to wash off cancellations, which prevented dishonest senders from reusing stamps. Depending on the number of points in the grill and the size of the covered area, grills were given Latin letters from A to Z. The 1867 Abraham Lincoln stamp features a very rare “Z” grill that has horizontal ridges rather than vertical ones used in other grill types.
Given the extreme rarity of the stamp and its significance during the Civil War period, it is now valued at $200,000.
SHIELD, EAGLE AND FLAGS, 1869
The Shield, Eagle and Flags stamp belongs to the 1869 pictorial issue that included ten stamps worth between 1 and 90 cents. The series was the first to feature something other than national leader portraits. It also marked the first use of bicolor printing. Spelled out in red letters, the denomination number flows over into the blue-framed flags through the red shield. Due to the oddly placed denomination and the confusing arrangement of colors, the stamp was often criticized as an example of a bad design.
The new technique required double pressing: to print the center design also known as vignette and to print the frame. Negligence in merging the two processes led to the emergence of rare inverts. Because of that some stamps of the issue have an inverted frame rather than an inverted vignette. The 30 cent worth Shield and Flag piece with inverted flags is considered to be the rarest of the 1869 inverts, which explains the high price of the stamp.
Incredibly popular nowadays, the 1869 pictorial series was ignored by the 19th century public and soon withdrawn from production. Since the stamps were only in use for a year, they are almost impossible to find. The Shield and Flag design features the G grill and is available in several variations, including split grill, double grill and gum only. While an unused sample with inverted flags is valued at $210,000, a used example costs $65,000.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1867
Another popular stamp associated with the Civil War issue contains the portrait Benjamin Franklin, a famous political theorist, diplomat, author, scientist and the president of Pennsylvania. Dubbed “the First American” for his extensive political campaign in support of colonial unity, Franklin played a key part in shaping the American mentality as the union of practical values and social tolerance. The Post Office Department used his profile taken from Houdon’s bust for multiple stamp designs starting from 1847.
The 1c Benjamin Franklin stamp issued in 1867 features a rare Z-grill with horizontal ridges, just like two other designs from the series depicting Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. At present, there are only two existing samples valued at a whopping $935,000 apiece.
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, 1869
This stamp commemorating the historic proclamation of the United States independence is one of the finest examples of the 1969 pictorial issue. On July 4th, 1776, thirteen American colonies that were involved in a bloody war with Great Britain proclaimed themselves independent states and refused to recognize the rule of the British Empire. Numerous nations all over the world followed the example of the U.S. by creating their own independence declarations, which laid the foundations of global democracy and fair international relationship.
Like other stamps of the issue, the Declaration of Independence is printed in two colors, green and violet, and can be rightfully called a miniature masterpiece. Artist John Smillie made an exquisite and highly precise copy of the similarly named painting by John Trumbull, having engraved 42 persons with six principal figures recognizable only through a magnifying glass.
The 24 cent stamp uses a G grill and comes with split grill, double grill or basic gum. An unused sample with an inverted center is currently valued at $275,000.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, 1867
The first president of the U.S., or rather his portrait, was extensively involved in the history of American postal printing. His profile crowned the 1867 stamp series and was available in several variations. However, our main interest lies with the three cent B grill stamp in rose printing.
George Washington is one of the key figures in the history of the United States. He practically carried the nation on his shoulders through the Revolutionary War and oversaw the creation of the first American Constitution. Without him, the U.S. would have never become the strong, prosperous and influential country it is now.
Although the issue was quite sizeable and numbered over 1000 samples, there are only four known pieces preserved, each priced at $160,000.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1908
Following severe critical attacks on the previous ornate issue, the Post Office Department released a series of stamps with a simple and cleaner design in 1908-1909. It is widely known as the Washington-Franklin issue, since it mainly focused on these two politicians. All stamps came with identical frames, which minimized production expenses and allowed for more effective use of steel printing plates.
Let’s look at the pair of stamps depicting Benjamin Franklin in blue and green colors with a one cent denomination. What differs this stamp from previous designs is the use of double line paper covered with the USPS (U.S. Postal Service) watermark. Since the letters were printed across the entire sheet, very often only a portion of the watermark would appear on a stamp, usually in a backwards, sideways or topside position. That’s why there is no universal rule as to the placement of the watermark on the stamp and each individual variation is eligible for sale.
An unused pair of the 1908 Benjamin Franklin stamp is currently valued at $100,000.
LANDING OF COLUMBUS, 1869
Like the Declaration of Independence, the Landing of Columbus is a copy of a famous painting by John Vanderlyn that depicts the historical arrival of the Italian expedition to the shores of the New World. Columbus and his crew reached the previously unknown land in 1492 and thus put America on the map for the entire Europe. If not for that, the U.S. wouldn’t have existed at all.
Designed in blue and brown, the stamp features an unusual double-printed vignette, with both normal and inverted printing applied. The Landing of Columbus has a G grill common for the 1869 pictorial issue and is available with double grill and split grill. Over a century ago, people could buy it for just 15 cents. Nowadays, an unused inverted sample goes for $275,000.
CURTISS JENNY, 1918
Curtiss Jenny is one of the three Airmail postage stamps released in the U.S. in 1918. The 24 cent rose and blue variety was the first to see the light of the day, although later in the year the postal office also issued two cheaper versions in other colors to reflect reduced postage rates.
Curtiss JN-4, dubbed simply “Jenny,” was a training military biplane later used as a civil aircraft. Often referred to as “the backbone of American post-war aviation,” the plane played a key role in reviving civil aviation in the U.S. in 1920’s. The 24 cent Curtiss Jenny design is now valued between $105 and $150.
The interesting thing about this stamp is that it comes in two variations. Due to a printing mistake, the image of the airplane appeared upside down on no less than one hundred samples that got into circulation. Since only one pane of all Inverted Jennies was ever discovered, the design became highly valuable for philatelists, bringing the price up to $200,000.
In October 2014, the plate block of four Inverted Jenny stamps sold for $2.97 million at a New York action to U.S. collector Bill Gross. This was the highest price ever offered for any American stamp item of any period. It nearly trebled the price paid for the same block in 1989 that was auctioned for $1.1 million.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, 1851
Finally, we get to learn about one of the oldest U.S. stamps existing, the 1851 Benjamin Franklin in blue color with an imperforate frame. Because the plates were laid by hand and stamps often required re-cutting to adjust their position, individual designs came with various impressions, which led to the recognition of eight basic types.
The stamp we are talking about relates to the Ib type. Basically, it is the same as the I type that takes advantage of a specially calculated position on the steel plate to achieve the original, unaltered die impression. In the b variation, though, the balls under the bottom label look more blurred.
Today, only two mint samples and an estimated 100 used Benjamin Franklin stamps are believed to exist. Once denominated in one cent, the design now costs $5,000 to $12,000 apiece, with a huge price of $120,000 offered for used first-day cover examples.