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What are Postage Due Stamps?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Postage due stamps are stamps which are affixed to mail by postal employees to indicate that postage is due. Most nations today use a rubber stamp which reads “postage due” with a line to fill in the amount of postage due, rather than using specialty stamps. When someone receives mail which has been marked “postage due,” they must pay the postage due before they can collect the mail. This is often done by putting a notice in someone's post box to indicate that mail with postage due is waiting at the post office.

In the early days of organized mails, when letters were sent without sufficient postage, they were often returned to the sender, with the sender being expected to remedy the situation before mailing it again. Insufficient postage could happen because someone didn't know how much to pay, or because someone was hoping to sneak a letter past the postal officials; either way, returning it to sender was the approach taken to deal with it.

Eventually, post offices developed an alternative. Instead of returning to sender, they would deliver the letter, but note how much postage was due, with the recipient being expected to pay on the other end. However, some people feared that unscrupulous mail carriers were taking advantage of this practice by marking mail “postage due” and pocketing the funds. As a result, the postage due stamp was introduced, with the stamps being pasted onto the letter or bundled onto a stack of mail, and the consumer paying the postage indicated on the stamps.

France appears to have been the first nation to introduce the postage due stamp, and it caught on quickly. By being held at the post office, the stamps could be secured, so that people trying to generate some extra funds from their mail routes would not be able to pocket postage due. These stamps were also sometimes used to charge people for magazine subscriptions and certain other mail order items.

Some stamp collectors are interested in postage due stamps, although they are generally less valuable than regular postage stamps. They also tend to be less visually interesting. Guides to value are available for people who wish to collect them, and photographs of some notable postage due stamps can also be seen in guidebooks. Stamp collectors are also often happy to show off their collections to people who are curious, so those with philatelists in their acquaintance may ask to see some real-life examples.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Mae82 — On Oct 14, 2011

Does anyone know if postage due stamps would apply if you are sending something into another country? Worldwide stamps seem to differ so much, it makes me wonder if a lot of countries use the postage due stamps to solve delivery fee issues.

I am often sending parcels to my relatives in England, and occasionally I guess at the price of sending a letter if I am too lazy to go down to the post office to mail it. I figure if I just paste a bunch of stamps on the letter it will get there in due time. I really hope I've never put any of them in the position where they need to pay a fee to get what I mailed them.

By letshearit — On Oct 13, 2011

I would be really interested in seeing some of the USPS stamps that say postage due on them. I've never heard of this process before and it seems that postage due stamps would be considering pretty rare stamps. While I am not saying that this would make they valuable stamps, I still think it would be interesting to keep one if you ever got it.

I suppose since I always go directly to the post office and mail everything from there that there is no chance of me making a postage error. As far as I know, all of my relatives send things by courier and just pay them whatever fee needed. I think the margin for error is so small these days they must not use a lot of postage due stamps.

By Saraq90 — On Oct 13, 2011

I rarely send mail to anyone, but if I did, I would use a forever stamp so that I wouldn't have to go to the post office or pay for different stamps to reach the appropriate postage due. I only go into the post office if I need stamps, or to send off a large piece of mail, during tax season mostly.

I do not think it is right that the recipient has to pay the postage due amount sometimes, when it is clearly not their mistake in the first place. I know it is only so many cents, but every cent counts, especially these days. I think it should mandatory that the mail go back to the person who made the mistake in the first place, unless the recipient states otherwise.

By panda2006 — On Oct 13, 2011

When I was in college, my mom always sent me packages that were covered in a ridiculous number of stamps. For awhile I was worried that she didn't know the stamps' value or the postage cost and was just throwing on stamps, but then she told me the post office had actually been doing it.

This struck me as odd, since most post offices I've used just write a price tag and put it next to their postage marker, rather than putting on multiple stamps, especially for things costing several dollars to mail. At least she went to the post offce, though, to make sure she got the right price and I never had to pay postage due when I got things.

By recapitulate — On Oct 12, 2011

These days I think that forever stamps make insufficient postage less of a problem. Because stamps' values keep going up, it can be easy to forget to add a few penny stamps to your letter, but with a forever stamp you don't have to constantly worry about replacing them. They might cost more, but I forget, since I don't write letters much.

By SarahSon — On Oct 12, 2011

We live in the country and I rarely make a trip to the post office. We are supposed to even be able to buy stamps from our rural mail carrier.

If we need stamps, we can leave a check in an envelope and tell him how many stamps we want and he will deliver them to us.

Even though this service is available to us, I have never used it. There have been a few times when I didn't have enough postage on an item and he leaves it in the mailbox with a note saying how much extra postage is due.

I am so glad he does this instead of sending it anyway. I would much rather put the extra postage on it myself than rely on someone else to pay to receive the mail I am sending them.

I don't usually have anything on hand except for first class stamps, so instead of using the exact amount, I will just put on enough first class stamps to make sure the postage due is covered.

By golf07 — On Oct 11, 2011

If I have any doubt that extra postage may be needed for an envelope, I always make an extra trip to the post office to make sure.

I would be embarrassed if I sent a letter or card to someone and there was not enough postage on it. If they had to make an extra trip to the post office to collect the letter and pay the postage that was due, I would feel awful.

I find it so interesting that the recipient used to pay for the postage. That is such an interesting concept to me.

I have seen a few US postage due stamps on letters and wonder why they are of interest to stamp collectors. The ones I have seen don't seem very colorful or interesting, but maybe it is because there aren't as many of them that they want to add them to their collection.

By ElizaBennett — On Oct 11, 2011

@MissDaphne - I have no idea about postage due! Maybe it depends on whether or not the mail carrier happens to be able to reach the recipient, and what kind of mail it is. I mean, if the recipient isn't home to pay for the letter, then presumably it has to be sent back.

In the US, members of Congress still enjoy the franking privilege, as it's called. They can basically put their signature in the corner of the envelope instead of a stamp!

By MissDaphne — On Oct 10, 2011

I wonder who decides today whether a letter with not enough postage is returned to the sender or marked "postage due." I've seen both.

Not everyone knows this, but in the early days of mail, at least in England, the postage on letters was always paid by the recipient. The exception was if a member of Parliament "franked" the letter, which allowed it to travel for free. There's a bit in a Jane Austen novel - Mansfield Park, I think - where a little girl wants to write to her brother and a kindly cousin is helping her. He assured her that her uncle will frank the letter so that it won't cost her brother anything to receive it.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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