As an auxiliary collection to my heraldic library, I have a collection of about 4300 philatelic covers illustrated with heraldic designs. Here’s an example.
The study and collection of postage stamps is called philately. The philatelic term cover means an envelope that has passed through the mail. Some covers are specifically prepared for use on a stamp’s first day of issue – these are called first-day covers. They often have a special design on the left-hand side of the envelope (the side opposite where the stamp goes), associated with the subject of the stamp. This design is called a cachet. Sometimes the cover is designed not for a first day of issue, but for some other commemorative purpose, for example an anniversary or a conference. These are called commemorative covers.
Philatelic covers are issued by a variety of sponsors. Some are official post office covers; others are issued by philatelic societies, or by organizations connected to the subject of the stamp or cover. Stamp companies have them sent through the mail to collectors who order them, often by subscription and addressed with removable labels. First-day and commemorative covers can have any kind of design, but I collect only those showing heraldry or related symbolic imagery.
Above is a typical heraldic first day cover, franked with a block of four Canadian stamps issued to mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of Halifax, Nova Scotia. A premium postal rate was paid for the registration indicated at the left side. That this is a first-day cover can be seen by the date of the postmark, and by the first day of issue marking that can barely be made out on the upper stamps. The sponsor was the philatelic society noted at the top left.
The cachet – the reason I have this cover at all – shows the arms of the City of Halifax. It is likely that this rendition of the arms was commissioned specifically for this cover. Commissions of this kind make philatelic covers an excellent source of heraldic art – indeed, outside the military, philatelic covers are the most important and varied source of new heraldic art still existing. These covers are also useful resources because of the range of artistic style they offer – some exquisitely good, some astoundingly bad, but almost all interesting to the connoisseur.
Note that the stamps are not the main item of interest. I have covers in my collection with no stamps at all. If I were collecting for philatelic purposes this might be a problem, but my focus is on the imagery of the cachet. I buy covers at stamp shows, usually for a dollar or two. If they cost more than that, the increment is for philatelic value I am not interested in, and I pass.
My collection contains examples not only of heraldry, but of flags, insignia, medals, regalia, seals, emblems, royal monograms (called cyphers), and many other classes of imagery. They are especially useful for documenting foreign arms and devices, such as those of cities, provinces and colleges, little known and rarely seen in the United States and Europe. My article Flag Imagery on Philatelic Covers gives many examples of flag covers. The attached gallery shows a selection of images from my collection.