|George Linn First Day Cover|
First day covers (FDCs) as their name indicates are covers (envelopes) that are cancelled with a cancel that has the same date as the first day of issue of the stamp. There is a significant group of individuals who are first day cover collectors. Many, including me, belong to the American First Day Cover Society (AFDCS). The website of the AFDCS is a wonderful source of information about collecting FDCs. I primarily collect first day covers that have been created for postage stamps featuring libraries or archives. I have been collecting library and archive related first day covers since 1995 and have accumulated a large collection. Most of my FDCs are for U.S. postage stamps, but I also have FDCs for stamps issued by other countries. I also exhibit first day covers in national level stamp shows sanctioned by the American Philatelic Society. Many of the blog posts on this site feature first day covers which are indexed with the label "First Day Cover".
A large part of the attraction of FDCs for collectors is their cachets or illustrations. A cachet can be any be any printed or hand created design or inscription other than the postage, postal cancellation, or address on an envelope or postal card. The envelope considered to be the first first day cover with a cachet in the U.S. is the George Linn created first day cover for the Warren G. Harding stamp issued by the United States Post Office Department on September 1, 1923. It is shown above. I have a blog post about "America's First First Day Covers". Starting with the Linn first day cover the number of people or entities that produce FDCs with cachets has increased dramatically. These people are referred to as cachetmakers and it is not unusual for dozens of cachetmakers to produce covers for a particular stamp. Some collectors of first day covers seek to collect as many covers with different cachets for a particular stamp or group of stamps as possible. For me the following stamps fall into that category: the 1982 America's Libraries stamp (Scott Catalogue #2015); the 1982 Library of Congress stamp (Scott #2005); the 1984 A Nation of Readers stamp (Scott #2106); the 2000 Library of Congress bicentennial stamp (Scott # 3390); the 2005 Presidential Libraries stamp (Scott #3930); and the 2000 New York Public Library Lion stamp (Scott #3447). I collect multiple first day covers for additional library stamps.
The methods that cachetmakers use to illustrate and produce cachets on FDCs varies significantly. Techniques include among others: drawing or painting directly onto the envelope, offset lithography, engraving, letterpress printing, laser and ink jet printing, For those exhibiting first day covers it is important to know and describe the method used to produce the cachet. The most desirable FDCs are those that have a cachet that is hand created such as the one by Judith Fogt shown below. These are usually produced in limited numbers.
Some collectors of first day covers try to collect all of the covers for a particular cachetmaker or group of cachemakers. Some cachetmakers market their first day covers through subscription. This especially true for mass market cachetmakers who try to create a cachet for almost every stamp issued by the United State Postal Service. Some of the more prominent of these include: ArtCraft (1939-2015), Artmaster, Fleetwood, and Colorano.
The United States Postal Service does not produce its own first day covers with a cachet (illustration). It does sell covers with first day of issue cancellations, however. Recently it offers a simple cancel and a more elaborate cancel. Cachetmakers who produce original art on covers can purchase the covers with only a cancellation and add their own art. Other countries often create an illustrated first day cover for each stamp issued. Canada is one country that does this. The United States probably has the largest number of independent cachetmakers, but some other countries also have multiple independent cachetmakers. Great Britain is one of those countries. The British Library has issued multiple illustrated covers. One is shown below.
I add to my collections of first day covers primarily using online sources such as eBay and directly at local, regional, and national stamp shows. Mass produced first day covers can be obtained at a relatively low cost. Hand created first day covers can be expensive.
National level stamp shows host philatelic exhibits which are judged by rules established by the American Philatelic Society. These rules or provided in the publication APS Manual of Philatelic Judging and Exhibiting 7th edition, 2016 . The manual provides this description of a first day cover exhibit: "A first-day cover (FDC) exhibit focuses on the creation and earliest date of use, usually the official first day according to the postal administration, of a stamp or series of stamps or postal stationery. A FDC exhibit treatment mirrors a traditional exhibit, generally developing the story from initial design and production, to the post office announcement and related supporting documentation, the cancellation and cachet studies associated with the first day of issue and, finally, commercial uses."
Most philatelic exhibitors belong to the American Association of Philatelic Exhibitors (AAPE). The AAPE website hosts many examples award winning exhibits including first day cover exhibits. An exceptional example is "The 3¢ Connecticut Tercentenary Issue Of 1935 And Its First Days" by Tony Dewey.