The system of prepaying postage by means of small adhesive labels, to be sold to the public and received by the post office in evidence of payment when attached to letters, was first advocated by Rowland Hill in 1837, and was adopted by the British post office in 1840, the stamps being first used on May 6 of that year. They were introduced into the United States in 1847. The designs on postage stamps vary greatly with the time of issuing and the different nations that employ them. The first adhesive stamp issued by Great Britain consisted of a profile of the queen, with the word "Postage" above and the value below; but this design was objected to by many governments on account of the seeming disloyalty of the blackening (in cancellation) of the portrait of their sovereign. Brazil, the second country which adopted the system, used a simple figure of value, rather large, which was eventually superseded by a portrait of the emperor. The various German states seem to have a preference for numerals of value surrounded by inscriptions, which were at first printed in black on colored paper; but this style of printing soon gave way to the more secure plan of printing with colored ink on white paper.

Many countries have adopted the national arms as the principal design of their postage stamps, and most of the stamps printed in Europe are impressed on paper watermarked with some appropriate design as an additional protection against counterfeiting. The invention of the perforating machine in England, which enabled the stamps to be more readily separated from each other, was soon adopted universally. More varieties of postage stamps have been issued, and a greater number have been in use at one time, in the United States than in any other country. Thus the total number of varieties issued is 162, while 127 have been in use at one time. Only 32 varieties have been issued by Great Britain, and 60 by France. Postage-stamp collecting, or "philately" (Gr. Postage Stamps 1300662 , loving, and Postage Stamps 1300663 tax-free), as it is now called, began as soon as stamps were in use in half a dozen countries, and many volumes have been published on the subject. There are also special periodicals de>voted to it, among which are the " American Journal of Philately," now (1875) in its 11th volume; Le timbre poste (Brussels); the Brief-marlcen-Anzeiger (Berlin); and " The Philatelist" (Brighton, Eng.). For a description of all postage stamps issued, see J. W. Scott's "Postage Stamp Catalogue" (New York).