Definitive and commemorative stamps



Stamps used to come to us stuck on letters and that is how many of us started collecting them.


Now that the snail mail is becoming extinct, stamp collecting is waning too, a victim of the rise of digital technology.


Although affected by changing mores, philately is not dead. Thanks to post offices around the world that are continuously issuing new stamps, we have stamps to collect.



The post offices produce two types of stamps, definitive and commemorative.



stamps-norwayDefinitive stamps are the regular stamps. They are printed in large numbers and are meant to be used for long periods of time. Sometimes definitive stamps are reprinted to replenish supplies and their design can vary with reprints. The longest-running definitive stamp series in the world is Norway’s 1872 design with the numerals of the stamp value within the loop of a crowned post horn.


Definitive stamps account for about 99,9% of the post office’s stamps.


Commemorative stamps are printed in smaller quantities to honour an important person, event, or anniversary. They are usually sold for a limited time and are sometimes created primarily for sale to the collector market.


Commemorative stamps derive their value from scarcity, their artwork, as well as from the fact that they tell a story about a specific country.


In South Africa, definitive stamps are issued every five or more years. As SAPO puts it, these stamps “comprise a set of designs in a full range of face values to provide for the country’s postal needs”. The imagery on definitive stamps is usually based on a particular theme. For example, the seventh definitive series, colourful South Africa, depicts fish, flowers, birds and butterflies, while the eight one featured images of beadwork.


Here are the highest-value representatives of the eight definitive sets issued in South Africa between 1961 and 2010:


South African stamps

South African Post Office (SAPO) issues several commemorative stamp series per year, usually 12 to 15. The themes and people featured are relevant to South Africa. The post office accepts proposals from the public for the issue of such stamps. The Stamp Advisory Committee, which consists of non-post office members appointed by the Minister of Communications, draws up a short from these proposals, which is then submitted to the minister and cabinet for approval.


Some of the commemorative issues printed in 2104 include the Nelson Mandela Commemorative Folder, Big Five, Twenty Years of Freedom and Democracy and South African Light Houses; in 2015 South African Aviation Corps Centenary and Animal Poaching Awareness were among the event featured, while the 2016 commemorative stamps issued so far include Oxford University Press South Africa and South African Geology.




SAPO also issues other products such as miniature sheets, commemorative envelopes, temporary date stamps, souvenir booklets, year packs, full sheets and single stamps.