Top of page

Two men hold up the framed artwork of an enlarged postage stamp with the Library of Congress main reading room dome
[Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Deputy Librarian Donald Scott, standing on the balcony of the Main Reading Room of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress with a large replica of the Library of Congress bicentennial stamp.] [2000]. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.10211

Commemorating American History with Commemorative Postage Stamps

Share this post:

Since the federal government issued the first postage stamps in 1847, stamp collecting has become a popular American pastime. The advent of commemorative stamps has helped to increase interest in this hobby, as collectors can buy special limited-edition stamps that celebrate a wide variety of subjects related to American history and culture.

Two man are standing next to President Franklin Roosevelt, who is seated at his desk, and one man is holding up a sheet of stamps that says "National Wildlife Restoration Week" at the top.
PRESIDENT RECEIVES WILD LIFE STAMPS. WASHINGTON, D.C. FEBRUARY 24. PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT TODAY ADDED FURTHER TO HIS STAMP COLLECTION WHEN HE WAS PRESENTED WITH A BLOCK OF WILD LIFE STAMPS IN COMMEMORATION OF WILD LIFE RESTORATION WEEK. IN THE PHOTOGRAPH, L TO R: PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT; FRED F. JORDAN, DIRECTOR OF WILD LIFE RESTORATION WEEK; AND MINOR HUDSON, U.S. JUNIOR CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. Harris & Ewing. [1938]. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.10211
A commemorative stamp is “a stamp printed in a limited quantity and available for purchase for a limited time. The design might note an anniversary associated with an individual, an historic event, or a national landmark.” The first commemorative stamps were issued by the Post Office Department in 1893 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage. Over 3,000 commemorative stamps have been released, including two depicting the Library of Congress in 1982 and 2000.

The United States Postal Service has statutory discretion to issue commemorative stamps under 39 U.S.C. §404(a)(4-5). The U.S. Postal Service’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) was established in 1957 to recommend new commemorative stamp designs. Members of the public can submit suggestions for future stamps, but the subject must fit within the CSAC selection criteria. When a subject meets the selection criteria, the CSAC researches the subject matter and proposes new stamps, which receive final approval from the Postmaster General.

Photo of two identical postage stamps with pictures of a bearded man wearing a hat in blue ink against a beige background. The top of the stamp says "United States Postage" and the bottom of the stamp says "5 Cents" and "Walt Whitman."
[Walt Whitman commemorative 5 cent postage stamps.] [1940]. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.58227
Members of Congress sometimes propose resolutions in support of the creation of commemorative stamps. The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability rules disfavor legislation related to commemorative stamps, with Rule 13 stating that “[t]he determination of the subject matter of commemorative stamps and new semi-postal issues is properly for consideration by the Postmaster General, and the Committee will not give consideration to legislative proposals specifying the subject matter of commemorative stamps and new semi-postal issues.” The CSAC receives over 50,000 nominations for commemorative stamps each year and it “gives no special attention to those submitted by Congress or other legislative bodies.” Although members of Congress can submit nominations directly to the CSAC for new commemorative stamp subjects, their suggestions receive the same consideration as nominations submitted by members of the public.

For more information about commemorative postage stamps, the Congressional Research Service has published several reports discussing the topic:


Subscribe to In Custodia Legis – it’s free! – to receive interesting posts drawn from the Law Library of Congress’s vast collections and our staff’s expertise in U.S., foreign, and international law.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.


Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.