Cover (philately)
In philately
Philately is the study of stamps and postal history and other related items. Philately involves more than just stamp collecting, which does not necessarily involve the study of stamps. It is possible to be a philatelist without owning any stamps...

, the term cover pertains to the outside of an envelope
An envelope is a common packaging item, usually made of thin flat material. It is designed to contain a flat object, such as a letter or card....

 or package
Package can refer to:* Packaging and labeling* Package testing* Mail item larger than a letter* Chip package or chip carrier, in electronics, the material added around a component or integrated circuit to allow it to be handled without damage and incorporated into a circuit* Automotive package, in...

 with an address, typically with postage stamp
Postage stamp
A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

s that have been cancelled and is a term generally used among stamp and postal history collectors. The term does not include the contents of the letter or package, although they may add interest to the item if still present. Cover collecting plays an important role in Postal History as many covers bear stamps, postmarks and other markings along with names and addresses all of which help to place a cover at a given time and place in history.


The term originates from the practice of covering a letter by folding a separate sheet about it to physically protect it and prevent infringement of confidentiality. In the first half of the 19th century it became the fashion to cut the cover into a diamond or lozenge shape. This was the precursor of the version of the envelope known today. Its convenience and popularity led to the lozenge design being adopted for the special pre-paid postage envelopes and covers issued in 1840 after postal reforms were introduced by Rowland Hill
Rowland Hill (postal reformer)
Sir Rowland Hill KCB, FRS was an English teacher, inventor and social reformer. He campaigned for a comprehensive reform of the postal system, based on the concept of penny postage and his solution of prepayment, facilitating the safe, speedy and cheap transfer of letters...

 and others.


There are several different basic categories for covers. Names for cover types is also terminology usually used by collectors of stamps and postal history. There exist a wide variety of covers that can fit into several basic categories. The categories begin with the most common types of collectible covers, such as first day covers or first flight covers. Sometimes there will be an area of overlap in the subject of categories. For example there are First day covers that were also sent with mail aboard airplanes on First flight mail runs. Event covers can also include, First flights, or other types of covers. A military cover sent to a head of state can also be referred to as a Historic cover.
  • A first day cover is typically an envelope with a postage stamp
    Postage stamp
    A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Typically, stamps are made from special paper, with a national designation and denomination on the face, and a gum adhesive on the reverse side...

     canceled on its first day of issue. The design or theme of the stamp may be printed on the cover to enhance its appeal to the philatelic community.
  • Stamp on cover. This is a cover that is collected as an example of a given stamp postally used on a cover, however older stamps with recent cancellations are usually philatelic (mailed with the intention of recovering and collecting the item).
  • A pre-stamped cover is a cover that already has an imprinted stamp
    Imprinted stamp
    In philately an imprinted stamp is a stamp printed on to a piece of postal stationery such as a stamped envelope, postal card, letter sheet, letter card, aerogram or wrapper. The printing is flat upon the surface of the paper, as opposed to an embossed stamp which has a raised relief...

  • First flight covers are those carried on an aircraft, usually authorized by a government or postal administration, for the first time on a particular route.
  • commemorative covers can include a wide variety of subjects and usually have a commemorative design and often a special postmark that designates the place and date of the specific event.
  • A stampless cover is an envelope or folded outer sheet bearing an address and manuscript or ink-stamped postal markings without prepaid adhesive postage stamps, normally from the period before adhesive postage stamps became available or common in the mid-to-late 19th Century.
  • Military covers
    Military mail
    A primary feature of military mail systems is that normally they are subsidized to ensure that military mail posted between duty stations abroad and the home country does not cost the sender any more than normal domestic mail traffic...

     can include a wide variety of subjects that may include first flight covers, and prisoner of war covers. Mail sent from a Army Post Office (APO) or a Navy Post Office (Fleet Post Office, FPO) are common types of military covers.
  • Railroad covers
    Railway post office
    In the United States a railway post office, commonly abbreviated as RPO, was a railroad car that was normally operated in passenger service as a means to sort mail en route, in order to speed delivery. The RPO was staffed by highly trained Railway Mail Service postal clerks, and was off-limits to...

     is mail that was processed aboard special rail cars outfitted with an official post office where mail is processed en route to its general destination.
  • Historical covers are those that have special historical significance above and beyond that of the average collectible cover. These can include mail sent by Kings, Presidents or other heads of state. If the historical cover is i.e. to or from a General in an Army the cover then can also be classified as a military cover. Names for cover categories are usually used as general reference in philately. If aspects of a cover (date+postmark, name+address) are referenced in a historical capacity the category of the cover may not even be mentioned.

Other specialty types of covers include Censored covers
Postal censorship
Postal censorship is the inspection or examination of mail, most often by governments. It can include opening, reading and total or selective obliteration of letters and their contents, as well as covers, postcards, parcels and other postal packets. Postal censorship takes place primarily but not...

 along with Blockade mail, Pony Express
Pony Express
The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the High Sierra from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, from April 3, 1860 to October 1861...

covers, Prisoner of war covers and Patriotic covers, among others.


The availability of the different types of covers varies considerably and is something that often adds perspective to the historical and philatelic significance of the cover. For example, First Day covers and First Flight covers are generally common because the events that inspired the creation of these covers were somewhat common. In other examples, various types of military and historical covers are often scarce or rare because the circumstances or events that prompted the creation of these covers were conversely uncommon. While covers sent in recent decades tend to be common, they can also prove to be scarce simply because the circumstance that created these covers were (sometimes very) uncommon, as are the various examples of historical covers i.e. sent by a head of state to another officially prominent individual. At the same time there exist covers that are quite old but are still common and not very difficult to find, as are various types of post cards or commercial covers. Patriot covers are generally common because the practice of sending these was popular, especially during periods of war. Patriotic cover availability here can vary also depending on the country and time period in question. Covers collected for the stamp on cover can vary greatly in availability and generally depends on the availability of the stamp issue itself along with the demand for the use of a particular denomination. The denomination of a stamp often determines the availability of the issue on cover as the use of some, usually higher, denominations was uncommon because of the low demand for a particular postage rate. There are a number of circumstances that can effect the availability of a given cover type and which often contribute to a cover's historical and philatelic value.

See also

  • Airmail
    Airmail is mail that is transported by aircraft. It typically arrives more quickly than surface mail, and usually costs more to send...

  • Crash cover
    Crash cover
    A crash cover is a philatelic term for a type of cover, meaning an envelope or package that has been recovered from a fixed-wing aircraft, airship or aeroplane crash, train wreck, shipwreck or other accident...

  • Philatelic cover
    Philatelic cover
    A philatelic cover is an envelope or post card prepared with a stamp and address and sent through the mail delivery system for the purpose of creating a collectible item. Stamp collectors began to send mail to each other and to themselves early on, and philatelic mail is known from the late 19th...

  • Postal history
    Postal history
    Postal history is the study of postal systems and how they operate and, or, the study of postage stamps and covers and associated material illustrating historical episodes of postal systems...

  • Stampless mail
    Pre-adhesive mail
    Pre-adhesive mail, also called pre-stamp mail, are letters carried in mail systems before the issuance of postage stamps. A stampless cover is another description and generally also refers to any item of mail sent before the issuance of postage stamps but it can also refer to mail sent, after the...

  • Prisoner of war mail

External links

  • History of Envelopes National Postal Museum
    National Postal Museum
    The National Postal Museum, located opposite Union Station in Washington, D.C., USA, was established through joint agreement between the United States Postal Service and the Smithsonian Institution and opened in 1993. The museum is located across the street from Union Station, in the building that...

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.