Definition: A first day cover (FDC) is a stamped envelope, postal card or other postal material that was processed at the post office or off-site, receiving a cancellation that states "First Day of Issue" or something similar. Depending on the postal authority there may be a ceremony to commemorate the first day of issue.
Early FDCs did not have a first day issue slogan cancel as can be seen in the classic FDC for the National Recovery Act stamp of 1933, illustrated nearby. And it was once true that FDCs were canceled on the actual day of issue of the stamp, but this has not been the case for many years. Large quantities of FDCs are routinely now canceled by the post office in bulk, often weeks or more after the first day of issue. Some FDC collectors go to the first day ceremony or post offices to get their covers hand-stamped with the actual first day cancellation.
First Day Cover Collecting has Gained Great Popularity Over the Years
The focus of collectors has moved from stamps to cachets as the hobby evolved. A cachet is the artwork that is added to the envelope, complementing the stamp subject. In addition to numerous commercial artists and firms that produce cachets, individual collectors will often design their own artwork. Certain cachets are sought after and cachets in general will enhance the value and the collectability of the first day cover.
The great popularity of FDCs can be gauged by the large companies that produce them with accompanying albums and fancy pages with write-ups about the stamp subjects. Serious collectors eschew these items as they are only interested in the FDC itself and not in extras that they believe add nothing but unwanted expense. For information on FDCs and to meet fellow collectors there is the American First Day Cover Society.
The Beginning of FDC Cachets
While FDC collecting first took hold with stamp collectors in the 1930s, the first cacheted FDC was produced by George Linn for the President Harding memorial stamp of 1926. It is now a much sought-after rarity of FDC collecting and examples can be found, usually at auction, selling for hundreds of dollars. But most modern FDCs can be had for under $5 when featuring a common cachet like those produced by companies like Artcraft or Fleetwood.
Related: The postal history pursuit of finding EKU (Earliest Known Uses) of classic stamps. These covers are identified by the date stamp on the envelope and are compared to the record of other early examples from the 18th and 19th century of usage of the stamp under consideration. EKUs can be quite valuable.
Also Known As: FDC
Article updated by John Finch, Stamps Expert