eBay Vintage Stamps for My Wedding Invitations

... A suprisingly magical part of wedding planning

by Jennifer Tomscha, Writing Fellow

Bargain Hunting: eBay Vintage Stamps for My Wedding Invitations

The first time I received a wedding invitation covered with vintage stamps, I was living in the woods in New Hampshire and teaching at the New England Literature Program. As a crucial part of their learning, our students gave up their cell phones and turned in their laptops and spent forty days reading Dickinson and Thoreau, connected to their loved ones only through the United States Postal Service. Mail was king. Our letters and packages were arranged on an old wooden table in the dining hall and, each day after a mad rush to that table for mail, the whole hall would grow silent, absorbed in news from home.

Although Dan’s detailed letters from Ann Arbor were always my favorite, I also loved that wedding invitation. It was a gorgeous, physical artifact, a nod to some other time. Dan and I had not yet talked about getting engaged, but I knew I wanted that look for our own wedding invitations.

When it finally came to time to price procuring my own vintage stamps, we experienced the usual wedding sticker shock. I’d been expecting this: Everything about getting married was at least twice as much as we thought it was going to be. On Etsy, several shop owners will design and organize gorgeous displays of postage, made with your own specifications in mind, but these prearranged stamps were going for about three times the price of normal postage. That wouldn’t have mattered so much, but Dan and I had over a hundred invitations to send out, without a hundred-thousand dollar budget.

I mourned. I looked at the current 70-cent stamps on offer. Bemoaned their modernness. Then hunted around the murky world of eBay to see what I could scrounge up. That’s when I realized: I could do this myself! I could do this cheaper than what I could find elsewhere. The DIY-lightening had struck.

Here’s what I learned striking out on my own:

1. Be ready to do this. By this I mean, spend a weekend at the dining room table, arranging tiny pieces of delicate paper, counting their value in cents, and then glue-sticking them onto envelopes. I wasn’t quite ready. Dan—our resident calligrapher—definitely wasn’t ready. He thought addressing 115 invitations would take three or four hours. It took us fifteen.

2. Give yourself over to an evening of Ebay blur. I’m a terrible, terrible shopper. I worry over each purchase, and might return to the same H&M three times before I’m willing to buy the skirt I keep trying on. (Thank god there’s an H&M every six blocks here in Shanghai.) But I was a damn good stamp purchaser. Choosing stamps was nothing like selecting flowers or a interviewing DJs or committing to a dress. Each choice was small enough to be fun and a very low commitment. I pored over stamp after stamp, with a kind of shopping glee I haven’t experienced in other aspect of wedding planning. Or, frankly, in most aspects of my consumer life.

3. Get to know your stamps. Stamp collecting is the go-to hobby (or used to be), so cliché now as to be a joke. We all know the stamp collector is the epitome of fussiness and obsession, right? Well. Much to my surprise, I freaking loved all the stamps. I loved the satisfying feeling of carefully tearing the perforated edges. I loved all the details, the history. The 1950s and early 60s were the heyday of U.S. postal stamp design. The images are elegant, subtle, sketched. They’re printed in single-color ink, so the stamp is a block of color. They lack the Schoolhouse Rock-ness of the mid-70s stamps (although sometimes you want that mustard and citrus color palate, right?). And they don’t remind me of illustrations my third-grade Elements of Mathematics textbook, like most of the 1980s stamps do. An obvious aspect of these historical artifacts is that they reflect the centralized values of their time period. What did USPS find appropriate to honor? Who was worthy of the stamp? I googled the names of many celebrated (usually white) men. I read about many hard-won battles. I avoided these stamps.

4. To save money, look for sheets of stamps on Ebay marked “@FV +$1” or full value plus one dollar. These are the stamps that are going to allow you to do the vintage look in a lower budget. Essentially, you pay only $1 extra for a full sheet (usually fifty stamps), plus roughly two dollars more for shipping. Say you have fifty invitations to mail, and you choose five different FV+1 stamps. You’ll pay only fifteen dollars more for the vintage stamp look, rather than up to seventy dollars (or more) for the pricier packaged or pre-designed vintage stamp collections. Our own face-value stamps included a 20-cent Martin Luther in his black robe (because I went to Luther College), another “America’s Libraries” stamp with a sheet of text in red and black (because libraries), and a gorgeous three-cent light purple in honor of Joseph Pulitzer (so we could also honor Dan’s time working for the AP). 

5. But the stamps you love most might cost you. Emily Dickinson, for example, was a splurge. So were the scarce Mt. Rushmore stamps we bought in honor of its proximity to our venue. Like everything wedding, the more particular you are, the more you’ll probably have to pay. Stores like myvintagepostoffice have stunning collections, but you might pay ten times the value (or more) per stamp. You might also find yourself tempted to splurge. We spent an extra fifteen bucks on a full sheet of four cent 1962 New Mexico stamps, just so we could—one day, if we ever get around to it—frame them and look at them forever, because both Dan and I agreed that they were stunning.

6. You don’t need many. On a regular 5 by 7-inch envelope, you only need four stamps to create the colored mosaic look. The envelope doesn’t need to be plagued with stamps. While we liked the look of six or seven crowded together, I arranged collections of only four stamps that looked perfect, at least to me.

7. Only you care. And that’s OKay. For the first half of our list, I considered each guest and chose stamps in a secret code, a kind of message sent to the receiver. This guest and I met in Michigan, I thought as I affixed a 22-cent Michigan stamp with the silhouette of a pine tree against a sunset. She likes South Dakota and the progress of women. Done. By the end, though, I’d mainly given up on personalization. Gluestick glue had long gathered under all my fingernails. I had become like the previously blind patients Annie Dillard describes in her essay “Seeing.” I now perceived “the world in a dazzle of color patches.”

Late Sunday evening, when my resident calligrapher bewailed the slip of his pen that created “Mew York,” we reminded ourselves—for the tenth time—that no one actually cared one bit about our damn invitations. They’d glance for roughly three seconds at the envelope; they’d miss the secret acknowledgement I’d sent them through my careful stamp arrangement; then they’d read the invitation and toss the thing on their table, where they would find it between two to six weeks later, depending on their housekeeping habits.

8. You don’t have to do any of this. You don’t have to glue a single extra thing if you don’t want to. Just stick a Forever stamp on the envelope and call it a wedding invitation (because it is a wedding invitation). After all, nothing evokes eternal commitment more than a stamp that promises to work until forever or until the USPS crumbles, whichever comes first.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

Bonus: The Best Stamps I Didn’t Buy

… But if you do decide that you want to invest your time and energy into a project like this, there’s lots to be excited about. In doing research for this article, I found a banquet of FV+$1 stamps that include the following: a ghostly blue three-cent celebrating the Anapolis Territory Tercentary; another (5-cent) celebrating the same for New Jersey; others honoring collective bargaining, architecture, and the progress of women. If you love Eleanor Roosevelt, you can get Eleanor Roosevelt in a vivid magenta. You can even buy a stamp honoring the pap test. (This displays, unfortunately, not an orchid, but Dr. Papanicolaou with his microscope.) Seriously, what about these Aging Together stamps for your autumn celebration? Because isn’t that point of the whole thing anyway? With luck, you’ll be doing just that.

Jennifer Tomscha

Jennifer Tomscha is a native of the Great Plains now living in the neon future of Shanghai, where she teaches in the Writing Program at New York University’s newest campus. In 2010, she met her now-fiancé Dan in a fiction workshop at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), where they first fought about the proper spelling of the word “koozie.” They’ll be married this summer in the Black Hills of South Dakota, beside a lake with paddleboats. Her email is currently monitored by both the NSA and the CCP, and she is at work on a novel about love, surveillance, and the multitude of Jennys.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • lady brett

    this is amazing. i really need to get some letters written (on which i will use the stamps we used on our wedding invitations – forever stamps that i purposely bought way too many of so i could keep using them for ages).

    • Sarah E

      I bought the most unrelated stamps I could get away with for our invitations (or, at least two out of three designs were). I never cared about them before– they all just go in the recycling, right?– but since then, I have made sure to go in to the post office and request the same War of 1812 Battle of New Orleans stamps we used for a third of our invites, because they are awesome, and look great whether I send a thank you note or my electric bill.

      • Alyssa M

        I stamped our save he
        the dates with those ones that come out of the vending machine. You know, no pictures, just like a big ugly barcode… nobody cared. But then for my invitations I bought some with flowers on them and have enough leftovers that it makes me happy to use them on the rare occasion I mail something.

        • Sarah E

          I love the convenience of the vending machine and I hate that dumb code on it. I picked what weird stamps I could at the counter for our invites (no STDs here) just for the hell of it, but also because I was buying in February, and when I had used the machine in January, it was still spitting out Rudolphs.

  • SLG

    This is amazing. I had no idea this was a thing. I could never have done it for my own wedding — it would have totally stressed me out. But I love that it’s doable for people who want to.

    • Eenie

      As someone who loves mail, I would love to get an invitation like this. I had no idea this was a thing though. Makes me kind of wish I didn’t buy the American flag forever stamps from Costco which will last for a very long time.

  • MABie

    Thank you so much for these tips! We wanted to do this for our STDs, but when I checked the prices on Etsy, I was immediately like, “Nope, not for us!”

    We ended up using two modern stamps for our STDs: Harvey Milk and Abraham Lincoln. Even though our STDs were (in my opinion) absolutely hilarious, the stamps were the thing people commented on most often. People do notice, yall!

    I’m so glad to know that this idea may be in my grasp after all, thanks to these great cost-saving tips! Thanks!

    Also, in case anyone is interested, USPS has a collection of old-timey Barnum & Bailey poster stamps right now that are pretty cool: https://store.usps.com/store/browse/productDetailSingleSku.jsp?productId=S_472104

  • Elizabeth

    I totally feel this. And even if nobody really notices at the time, at least you have those swoon-worthy pictures and all this super neat knowledge on the subject.

    I never even thought about getting vintage stamps, but I did pick the “March on Washington” stamps over the swirly “I do” or white rose stamps because I liked the design so much in addition to appreciating the historical significance and wanting to use my wedding as an excuse to remind people of it.

    • Laura C

      Like you, I never considered doing anything like this (never knew it was a thing!) but carefully considered the implications of the regular old stamps we used. Which is to say, our wedding mailings all had Rosa Parks or Harvey Milk stamps.

  • Leah

    These are surprisingly beautiful, and make me think of a co-worker who inherited a stamp collection and is now using them to mail Everything (and finding the math fun). I could see it being maddening, fiddly, and totally worth it for your own pleasure more than anything else.

    But mostly I had to comment because NELP! It’s always delightful to find another NELPer out in the world, even when we had different experiences decades apart. Especially now that it’s Spring in New England, the poets call, and I may have to sit down with Emily Dickinson under a budding beach tree soon.

    • allthejennys

      NELP love to you! I taught there NELPs 37 & 38 (2012 and 2013). Once on Lake Sebago and then the first year NELP returned to Kaybeyun. I miss it a lot, especially in these urban Shanghai Mays. A little Madness in the Spring/ Is wholesome even for the King…

  • AP

    Whoa. I had no idea. Now I just want some vintage stamps to frame.

  • CP

    When I realized I cared what our stamps looked like, I had a little bit of a panic attack, but was SO RELIEVED when I found these online at USPS. Good job, post office! For anyone who wants to have attractive stamps, but doesn’t have the patience/fine motor skills to accomplish the beautiful mutli vintage stamp deal shown here, there are some great stamps at USPS right now.

    • Eh

      Those are pretty! I didn’t care much about our stamps for our wedding invitations but my husband decided that he did care when we picked out stamps for our thank you notes. We live in Canada and that year there were special addition Super Man stamps. He really wanted those stamps so we bought them.

      • Those stamps are still in production, and we’re using them for our thank you cards! :)

        • Eh

          That collection is great. I actually bought a set for my husband’s bday just before our wedding and that’s why he wanted them for our thank you cards. (We splattered things we both like, including movies and games throughout our wedding – my husband wore Batman cufflinks.)

          Preggo brain. I just realized that I need to look for stamps for our thank you notes for my upcoming babyshowers. Maybe the dinosaur collection; though my favourite is still the superman collection.

    • macrain

      I used these, and also some bird stamps from USPS. I loved them!

    • Angela

      I used these as the basis for our wedding colors–peach and green! We used them on all our invitations. They were lovely and easy.

    • SuperJ

      I love those stamps so much! They came out too late for our wedding (we used the bonsai forever stamps), but I keep buying them every time I go to the post office so I can use them for a long time.

    • Ashlah

      These are the stamps we used too! We didn’t care that much about the look of our envelopes, but it was nice to have pretty little stamps in the corner.

  • jubeee

    Any tips for bargain hunting vintage post cards? I want to use them for my seating.

    • kate

      if you’re not set on 100% authenticity, you can find a lot of designs on zazzle! some are a lot better than others, but i found a handful of really fun ones to use for our table numbers and they printed great. i am too lazy to search for authentic…

      • CP2011

        Upvote for zazzle! I accidentally bought a free shipping membership for the year when I ordered save the dates and I’m so glad I did! I’ve used them so much and have been really happy with everything.

    • marina26

      If you can find a local vintage paper fair, there are usually some good deals at those. Here’s one that I have enjoyed in California: http://www.vintagepaperfair.com/ , or you can google “vintage paper fair” with where you live to find one. Antique stores sometimes have them, but usually priced far higher. A flea market with actual antique sellers would probably have some, but can be unpredictable. Good luck!

      • doublegus

        This exists?! Thank you, marina26. Just got lost online looking up vintage paper fairs! God, I love this community.

    • MC

      In one of my favorite used bookstores they have a couple boxes of “ephemera” – postcards, photos, etc. that they’ve found in books and collected over the years. They sell each piece for like 50 cents or 3/$1. I don’t know if this is a common thing in used bookstores but it might be worth calling around if you have some good ones in your area!

  • guest

    and I thought I was the only person that thought picking stamps was the best part of the whole wedding lead-up. We didn’t go for vintage stamps, but I did order basically one book of every interesting set of stamps the post office had and then had a great time choosing who got what stamps. . . Do we put the Harvey Milk Stamp on the invitation to my Sarah Palin-obsessed aunt? Who gets the coveted Lady Bird Johnson portrait stamp?? It was the best two hours of wedding chores ever.

  • Vanessa

    I don’t have the patience to do this for invitations, but this did make me decide that for Christmas/birthdays this year everyone I love is getting a tiny framed set of meaningful-to-them stamps.

    • Meg Keene

      Aw. I love that. It seems more manageable to me for a project where I’m not also planning a wedding. Baby announcements? (JUST KIDDING OBVIOUSLY NOT.)

  • Kelly

    This is so cool! Currently resisting the urge to spend the morning looking at awesome stamps…

  • laurasmash

    It’s really funny to me that this is so fashionable! My mom got boxes of old stamps when they cleaned out my grandfathers house, and this is how she has been mailing everything from bills to birthday cards, covering half the envelope with vintage stamps in tiny postage amounts to get up to the right postage, because, saving money. I didn’t even think about it for wedding invites, maybe I should start an etsy shop with her stamp collection…

  • I wanted to do this SO BADLY, but our budget was already getting ridiculous. And then I wanted to do it for our thank you cards, but then I found some awesome stamps in current production that are perfect. So, now, I think I will start collecting vintage stamps for our Christmas cards. Yes, I know it’s only May, and my fiancé will likely think I’ve gone off my rocker, but stamps are just so awesome.

    Thank you for publishing this guide! :)

  • CP2011

    I sent my invites out around the same time as the Harvey milk stamps came out with little rainbow flags on them. we had been trying to include little things (and big things too, I guess — we refused to get married in a state that didn’t have marriage equality) in our wedding to voice our support for equal rights, so I bought a bunch of those.

  • Eve Sturges

    I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. I feel irrationally excited– I love handwriting letters and postcards and STAMPS. I never considered going vintage with stamps. GUH I’m losing my mind. Thank you, Jennifer!

  • mackenzie

    We did this too! I loved loved loved it! My husband thought it looked
    like fun, and then started sticking them on the envelopes all willy
    nilly and not worrying if they added up to the exact amount or not. He
    was demoted. But seriously, this was one of my favorite DIY wedding
    treats. Also, if anyone is in NYC, there is a vintage stamp store
    (http://www.stamps.net/) that is open late one night/week. If you go
    that night, you end up at a table of brides thumbing through stamp books
    and talking weddings. It’s pretty nice. Some of the best advice I read
    when beginning my search was to focus in on the 20-cent and over stamps.
    There are countless cute stamps for under 5 cents, but it takes far too
    many of these to send a modern day wedding invitation. Even if you
    don’t looooove the higher value stamps, grab them anyway. You will thank
    yourself later.

  • Kol

    Your No.7 was Awesome! I found this seller to be a good source. And yes, if you’re looking for specifics through someone like this, you have to have your Scott numbers. http://www.cruzcreate.com/ink/interview-with-murphs-stamps

  • Maresa Giovannini

    Thank you so much for writing this! It was so nice to read my thoughts through your eloquent article! Brava! ?

  • Molly

    We have been doing this for our wedding invitations and it’s been my favorite part of planning. I over-bought postage (there is nothing more dangerous in this world than a bottle of wine and an eBay password), but the best thing about it is that any leftovers are still usable for thank you notes or reply envelopes, or even if it’s just for mailing the electric bill. We also decided to use the lowest denominations for our placecards – table 3’s placecards, for example, all have 3 cent stamps on them.

  • Riot

    I’m in the process of doing this – so much fun! (And, like you say, hard work). Thanks for the tips.