Phil Ward

US First day Covers began in earnest about 1909 and, more than anything, were the brain child of a young Philadelphia collector named Philip Ward. Ward went on to become a major US collector and dealer (in those days of the turn of the last Century, poor liquidity in the stamp market forced many prominent collectors to engage in levels of stamp dealing that would be unusual today) owning a collection and stock that were sold to the Weill Brothers in the early 1960’s and which would be worth many millions of dollars today. In his youth, Ward developed a passionate interest in stamps and was one of the earliest collectors to service First day Covers.
There are two main types of First day Covers— accidentals and intentionals. Every stamp has a first day of use, and thus any cover that was used on the first day of use is a FDC. The Penny Black of Great Britain, the world’s first stamp, was issued on May 6 1840. Like many of the earliest issues of postage stamps, the issuing of the Penny Black was concurrent with large reductions in postal rates; so many of these stamps were used on the first day, especially since many people held off mailing some of their letters in anticipation of the postal rate decrease (in US philately, this was true with the July 11, 1851 issuing of Scott #11, which lowered the postage rate from 5¢ to 3¢). Although FDC’s had always existed, few collectors sought them until the creating of intentional FDC’s by Ward began to publicize this area of the hobby.
Intentional FDC’s can only exist in a structured, popular, and well organized hobby. Accidental FDC’s occur when someone buys a stamp and sends a letter on the right day. But intentionals take planning and a steady stream of philatelic information. In the earliest days of stamps, the Post Office never publicized which Post Offices were going to get the newest stamps and when. It was only with the Bureau of Printing, beginning in 1894, that this information became available. So intentional FDC’s were  a product of the increasing popularity of our hobby.
Ward was a precocious philatelist. He made First day Covers before there was any market for them. I once found a 2¢ Lincoln #367 addressed to Ward (and serviced by him) which was one of the earliest intentional FDC’s. Ward was also a very early plate number guy putting away many of the earliest sheets and plate blocks. He had a real career too, as owner of a large Philadelphia electrical contractor; so in a sense Ward was a modern day Bill Gates taking advantage of the newest technology (electricity) and the newest popular hobby to make his considerable fortune.
Though Ward was one of the originators of intentional First Day Covers, it wasn’t until the 1920’s when FDC servicers like Nicklin and Worden appeared that FDC collecting really began to be popular. The real push that moved FDC collecting into the philatelic mainstream was the invention of cachets in the late 1920’s. Cachets are printed information about the stamp that is on the First Day Cover, and it means that the cover needed to have been specially prepared and preprinted for collectors. It is ironic that FDC’s really took off when the collecting of accidental FDC’s began to have no interest to philatelists.
It was US FDC collecting that stimulated First Day collecting worldwide. Beginning in the 1930’s, FDC collecting, with cacheted covers, was popular in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. FDC collecting always had a strong American skew though, never really catching on with mainstream European collectors. I think our tradition of Civil War Patriotics and Advertising covers gave Americans a tradition of collecting envelopes with interesting printing so that cacheted FDC’s were more readily accepted here than elsewhere. First day Cover collecting has languished in the US and worldwide over the last twenty years. There are now enough new issues annually to satisfy even the most avid new stamp nut, and large FDC collections take up an enormous amount of space in our increasingly downsized world.
Share on:
Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top