A curious society arose in the late 19th century that had stamp collectors all in a tizzy. Some collectors were upset that the price of special stamps (namely commemorative stamps) were hiked to high prices and printed only with collectors in mind, rather than the general public.
It was a somewhat ridiculous complaint. This is the notice that the SSSS put out about the reason for its formation: “The Society, in conjunction with the Special Committee appointed by the London Philatelic Society, having taken into consideration the Stamps mentioned below, are of the opinion that they are not worth the attention of Philatelists, and appeal to all Collectors and Dealers to discountenance collecting or dealing in the same.”
The complaint received recognition, but it did not get anything to pass. Most philatelists dismissed it as hogwash. The SSSS was fairly small in number, and therefore did not have the ability to properly assert itself.
The SSSS’s eagerness to stop the issue of unnecessary stamps was perhaps a bit too eager, and as the Postal Service and most collectors did not see the point of the argument against such stamps, the society only lasted from May 1895 to their break up in 1897.
However, during the SSSS’s short lifetime, the Royal Philatelic Society London and the American Philatelic Society did support its cause.
This shortlived, and somewhat hilarious endeavor by a number of stamp zealots ended up with no other purpose than to keep its members occupied for a couple of years.
What is a commemorative stamp? It’s a stamp specifically issued to celebrate a special event, or sometimes a place or person. Whatever subject is celebrated on the stamp, it has to be something special.
The first-ever commemorative stamps emerged from the Columbian Exposition. The exposition celebrated Christopher Columbus discovering the New World, and the stamps reflected that theme. Sixteen stamp designs were printed for the series in 1893.
Observant collectors noted that these stamps had discrepancies among them; different artists designed them and therefore the stamps did not have consistent details.
The denominations of the stamps came under criticism as well. Some came in $2, $3, $4 and $5 denominations – but the most one could spend on a first class postage was $1.36. It would have to be a pretty large, heavy package to use the $5 Columbian.
Some stamp collectors protested against commemorative stamps after the release of the series, criticizing the raised prices. To affirm their stance they formed the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps (S.S.S.S.). The Society fought against unnecessary stamps made specifically for collectors. Needless to say, the S.S.S.S. did not get very far in its cause, and broke up in 1897, two years after its formation.
Another stamp possibly considered one of the first commemorative stamps was a 15 cent black stamp featuring Abraham Lincoln. It was printed after Lincoln’s assassination, but as the stamp was not proclaimed to be an official memorial, it’s difficult to say whether it was really a ‘commemorative’ stamp.
Of course, many commemorative stamps followed after the Columbian series.