Guide to the Stamps of Ireland
It is impossible to talk about any aspect of modern Ireland without talking at some point about Great Britain. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of Irish philately, where British stamps were used as Irish stamps until 1922. Indeed, some of the most collectible Irish stamps are actually British stamps used in Ireland from the pre-independence era.
Stamps of Great Britain used in Ireland
It is odd to think of the Penny Black as the earliest Irish stamp, yet this is precisely the case – of course, it was the earliest British stamp as well. During the pre-independence period, British stamps are recognized as Irish by their cancellation marks. From 1840 to 1844, Maltese cross cancels were used in Ireland (and elsewhere). Some of these cancels are specific to Irish towns. From 1844 onward, the cancels also included numerals or text denoting the town of use.
Stamp-like labels with no legal postal value were produced in 1865-67 by Irish veterans of the American Civil War, in four denominations. Undenominated propaganda issues were also issued both by the Republican Sinn Fein and by unionist sympathizers in the years leading up to the 1916 Easter Uprising. In the wake of the uprising, sympathizers with the Republican cause issued stamp-like labels with the misspelling Erie Puist, depicting Republican heroes and emblems. Some of these forerunners can be quite valuable; a split set of Erie Puist labels brought £340 at auction in 1999. It was estimated that had the set not been split, it might have fetched more than £500.
Popular and Collectible Stamps of Ireland
Since 1922 there have been six definitive series of Irish stamps. The first issue, printed in 1922-1923, featured maps of Ireland and Republican icons, such as the harp and star. The series is quite popular with collectors today for its association with the founding of the Irish Free State.
Ironically, because stamps were not yet available in sufficient numbers at the founding of the Free State, British stamps were overprinted with Gaelic text to serve as definitives until the first Irish stamps were in wide use. Collectors who happen upon them often take some wry pleasure in these stamps, and overprints are a topic in their own right in Irish philately.
Rare Irish Stamps
The 2d coil of 1935 was of a familiar definitive design, a map of Ireland set within an arch bearing Celtic decorations. The stamp has perforations on the upper and lower edges, because of the coil configuration in which it was sold, and no perforations on the sides. The estimated value of a mint-condition specimen is £9,000.
Rarities are not unheard of even in stamps from comparatively recent times. In 1976, the Irish Post Office printed a 15p stamp commemorating the American Bicentennial; some were missing the silver ink used to print Eire and 15p, and have sold for £500.
Buying Irish Stamps
The hobby of philately is alive and well in Ireland herself, and the corner stamp shop has made its way online. A leading presence is Raven Stamp Ireland. Raven Stamp is a serious shop as well as a resource for the curious philatelist.
If you live in Ireland, you can find brick-and-mortar shops specializing in Irish stamps through the Irish Philatelic Traders Association
Irishstamps.net is an Irish stamp collectors’ club, rather than a pure stamp shop, but offers all types of Irish stamps for sale. Irelandstamps.com has a good range of choices for the collector, from serious auction items to “junior starter packs” at 20 euros. For the casual collector, assorted stamp packs and higher quality prints are available at Irishnation.com
Among general stamp sites, Herrickstamp.com offers items for sale as well as auction pages, with a robust Ireland section. Delcampe.net also has fine offerings both for sale and auction.
To see more general websites selling stamps online please visit my stamp collecting home page.
What are Your Irish Stamps Worth?
The way to learn the true value of your stamps is to put them up for auction. Perhaps second-best is to search auction sites for as comparable an item as possible. Or check the Scott Stamp Catalogue or Stanley-Gibbons Stamp Catalogue. Remember, value realized at auction is rarely as high as catalog value, and professional appraisal is not worth the fuss for lower-value common stamps. But if you think your collection may include some high-value items, consider professional appraisal. Many auction galleries online offer appraisal services, whether billed by the hour, or as a prelude to an auction. Heritage Auction Galleries has an informative page on getting stamps appraised.
Clubs and Societies:
The Eire Philatelic Association is a non-profit philatelic organization specializing in the collecting, study, and enjoyment of stamps and other postal items of Ireland. Visit their website for an application form.
The Irish Philatelic Circle works to further the study of the Stamps, Philately and Postal History of Ireland. They cover a wide range of philatelic topics of interest to collectors and provide regular updates of events on their website.