All about stamps and how to use them

If you have a letter or parcel to send, it can be confusing to know exactly what’s required of you to make sure your items don’t get lost in the post. So if you’re looking for a better understanding of how the shipping process of letters and parcels works, you’ve come to the right place!

Today we’ll take a look at stamps, by far the oldest and most common way of “paying” for postage.

What are stamps even used for?

Stamps effectively serve as the currency of the letter world. They determine how quickly your mail will make it to its final destination. And by having your letter “stamped”, it’s basically a way of letting the post-office know that you’ve paid for the shipping. Simple!

But the thing is, when it comes to sending letters and parcels, stamps are usually the toughest obstacle to tackle. The more you’re willing to pay for a stamp, the quicker your item will turn up. Naturally, the size and weight of a letter or parcel will also determine the type of postage you’ll need to attach.

Stamps classification

When it comes to using stamps, they fall into two distinct classes:

  • First class stamps – these cost slightly more and will be typically delivered the next working day (even on Saturdays)
  • Second class stamps – the cheaper option and, perhaps unsurprisingly, one which takes longer for mail to be delivered. You can expect second class mail to take 2-3 working days t o deliver.

The size and weight of a parcel or letter will also impact the cost of a stamp. The following table breaks down how much you should expect to pay for first and second class variants according to size requirements:


However, keep in mind that these prices might slightly differ.

A brief history of postage stamps in Great Britain

It all began in 1840, when Rowland Hill convinced the Parliament to adopt the Uniform Fourpenny Post where a flat rate would be charged, regardless of distance. This is how the stamp was basically born. The stamp was originally for use only within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and as such was, in effect, a local stamp.

During the Victorian Era, there was an explosion of experimentation when it came to stamps and shipping letters. The inefficiency of using scissors to cut stamps from the sheet inspired trials with rouletting (the Archer Roulette), and then with perforation, which became standard practice.

Stamp design

As you might be well aware, stamps come in a multitude of shapes and designs. These are usually done to commemorate an important person or event.

The graphic element of a stamp design falls into one of four major categories:

  • Portrait bust – profile or full-face
  • Emblem – coat of arms, flag, national symbol, posthorn, etc.
  • Numeric – a design built around the numeral of value
  • Pictorial stamps

The use of portrait busts (of the ruler or other significant person) or emblems was typical of the first stamps. This was an extension from currency, which was the closest model available to the early stamp designers.

Usage pattern has varied considerably. For example, from 1840 to 1900, all British stamps used exactly the same portrait bust of Victoria, enclosed in a dizzying variety of frames. The choice of pictorial designs is governed by a combination of anniversaries, required annual issues (such as Christmas stamps), postal rate changes, exhaustion of existing stamp stocks, and popular demand.

The usual shape of a postage stamp is a rectangle, this being an efficient way to pack stamps on a sheet. A rectangle wider than tall is called a “horizontal design”, while taller than wide is a “vertical design”.

A number of additional shapes have been used, including triangles, rhombuses, octagons or even circles.

To sum up

While the most of us consider stamps just tiny pieces of paper that have to be put on envelopes, some people consider them collectables, and stamp collecting is quite a common hobby. Sometimes it can be annoying that we have to purchase the stamp (or stamps), then having to stick them on envelopes. It all seems like such a chore, but this is the way it worked for hundreds of years.


Because governments issue stamps of different denominations in unequal numbers and routinely discontinue some lines and introduce others, and because of their illustrations and association with the social and political realities of the time of their issue, they are often prized for their beauty and historical significance by stamp collectors.

No matter how you look at them, whether you’re a collector or you consider them a hassle, stamps are a symbol of mail and shipping.