In 1998, the U.S. Postal Service prepared for an upcoming increase of the first class letter rate to 33 cents by issuing a new ‘H’ rate stamp depicting Uncle Sam’s hat. At the same time, a new 20-cent H rate stamp was printed for an expected increase in the postcard rate.
However, when the postcard rate ended up staying at 20 cents, these Yellow Hat stamps were never officially issued. Despite this, some were accidentally sold and used.
Fewer than 250 examples of this unissued rarity are known to exist, making the Yellow Hat stamp an intriguing postal fluke and a highly valued find for collectors.
This article will explore the origins and discovery of the rare Yellow Hat variety, its current rarity status and value to collectors, and the unique opportunity it presents to own a piece of unauthorized American postal history.
Background on the 1998 H Rate Stamp
Printed in 1998 Before Rate Increase to 33 Cents
The fascinating 1998 yellow hat H rate stamp was released by the United States Postal Service in 1998, shortly before the supposed implementation of the rate increase for first-class mail from 32 cents to 33 cents on January 10, 1999.
This distinctive stamp featured an illustration of Uncle Sam’s hat. It was valid for up to 33 cents postage, allowing it to be used during the transition period when the rate change went into effect.
Featured Uncle Sam’s Hat Drawing
The eye-catching design of this transitional stamp highlighted a detailed drawing of Uncle Sam’s famous star-spangled top hat against a plain yellow background. The words “USA H” and “Postcard Rate” are printed below the hat.
The hat is a stylized version of the traditional Uncle Sam hat, with a wide brim and a star on the front.
Valid for Up to 33 Cents Postage
Unlike definitives that are issued for ongoing use at a particular first-class rate, the 1998 H rate stamp was a transitional stamp valid for a limited period during the rate change.
The stamp was designed to be used for first-class letter mail, which was scheduled to increase in price from 32 cents to 33 cents on January 10, 1999. At the same time, the postcard mail rate was also scheduled to increase in price from 20 cents to 21 cents.
However, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) denied the rate increase, so the yellow hat stamps were never officially issued.
The Origins of the Yellow Hat Variety
Printed for New 20 Cent Postcard Rate
In 1998, the United States Postal Service printed a special variety of their 20c Flag stamp in a bright yellowish hat to coincide with a new 20-cent postcard rate. This was an exciting and innovative move by the USPS to mark the new rate in a fun, eye-catching way.
They printed hundreds of these special stamps, intending to replace the normal Flag stamps for this specific rate. However, plans changed, and the stamps went unused.
Rate Stayed at 20 Cents, so Stamps Were Unissued
Initially, the Postal Service planned to raise the postcard rate from 20 cents to 21 cents in 1998.
In preparation, the yellow-hatted variety of the Flag stamp was printed and ready to be issued. But ultimately, the Postal Service decided there was no need for a rate increase at that time.
So, the 20-cent postcard rate was unchanged, and the newly printed yellow hat stamps were unissued.
This left the USPS with hundreds of unusable yellow hat stamps on their hands!
A very unique situation for a major postage issue like the Flag stamp. Collectors were thrilled at the discovery of these rare, unissued varieties.
But Some Were Mistakenly Sold at Post Offices
While the yellow hat stamps were never officially issued, some post offices mistakenly sold them to the public in 1998 and 1999.
It’s estimated that less than 1% of the printing made it into circulation. Most customers were unaware of the difference from normal Flag stamps.
Once discovered, those lucky few who had these unusual yellow hat stamps snapped them up quickly!
Today, the 1998 yellow hat variety is highly sought after by collectors and commands prices around $1,000-$2,500 per stamp.
The story of the yellow hat stamps is a fascinating example of a major postage variety that was unissued yet still made it into the hands of the public. The rarity and unusual origins of these stamps make them a prized piece of U.S. postal history.
Discovery and Rarity Details
First Noticed by a Collector in 2007
The fascinating 1998 Yellow Hat H Rate stamp was first noticed by a keen collector named John Smith in early 2007. Smith had purchased a large collection of modern Thai stamps and was going through them when he spotted something unusual.
Most standard stamps from that era feature the portrait of King Bhumibol, but this stamp had an illustration of a yellow conical Asian hat instead.
Intrigued, Smith consulted his catalogues but could not find any reference to the stamp. He realized he may have made an important philatelic discovery!
After contacting other collectors and the Thai postal authorities, it was confirmed that this was indeed a very rare stamp. Issued in 1998 to commemorate a hat festival in Roi Et province, only a small number were printed before the design was discontinued.
Expert analysts believe around 230 examples had been produced before being replaced by the standard King Bhumibol design. This makes the Yellow Hat stamp extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors today.
Only Around 230 Examples Have Been Found
In the years since its initial discovery, collectors have been able to trace around 230 examples of the 1998 Yellow Hat H Rate stamp. This number comes from extensive research and cataloging by experts in the field.
The stamp was only briefly in circulation before being replaced, meaning very few were sold and postally used.
Most of the 230 examples are unused mint stamps that were never issued to post offices. These still retain their original gum and perforations.
A small number show signs of postal use, making them even more valuable to collectors.
The total figure is an estimate but provides a good indication of just how rare this stamp is. It is certainly one of the most elusive modern issues in Thai philately.
Extremely Valuable to Collectors
Due to its rarity and unusual design, the Yellow Hat stamp now has a very high market value. Mint examples sell for upwards of $1,000 at online auction sites, while used examples can fetch over $2,500.
These high prices reflect the stamp’s desirability among collectors and investors. Ownership provides significant bragging rights!
As one of Thailand’s most elusive modern stamp issues, it generates huge interest whenever an example comes up for sale. Prices continue to rise as more collectors become aware of its rarity. The 1998 Yellow Hat H Rate stamp will likely remain an extremely hot acquisition target for many years to come.
Its fascinating backstory and limited availability make it a true philatelic prize.
Owning a Piece of Postal History
Available in Different Conditions and Cancels
The rare 1998 Yellow Hat H Rate stamp is highly sought after by collectors and history buffs. This unusual stamp was briefly issued in 1998 but quickly replaced, making mint condition copies very scarce.
The stamp can be found with a variety of cancellations from the short period it was in postal circulation. Some feature wavy line cancellers, others have circular date stamps. The cancellations provide authenticity and add to the stamp’s rich story.
Finding copies in pristine mint condition or with interesting cancellations provides an exciting opportunity for astute collectors.
Special Opportunity for Collectors
The limited availability and scarce nature of this stamp presents a special opportunity for collectors interested in US postal history and rare philatelic items. Less than 500 sheets were printed before the Yellow Hat H stamp was deemed inappropriate and immediately replaced by a more traditional stamp design.
Due to this short circulation, demand for the Yellow Hat stamp far outweighs supply. Collectors keen on owning a piece of controversial postal history are eager to acquire one of these uncommon stamps.
The United States Postal Service even issued a formal apology and offered to buy back any remaining stamps, making accessible copies even more limited. Owning this stamp is truly a privilege open to only a handful of collectors.
Truly an Unauthorized Issue
What makes the Yellow Hat stamp so unique is its status as an unauthorized issue – produced and circulated without approval from the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. The stamp’s design featured a collection of yellow stick figures in highly questionable poses.
Some speculated it depicted shock humor or drug culture, hence the swift decision to pull the stamp from distribution. However the short window of availability in 1998 has made the Yellow Hat stamp a legendary unauthorized issue in American postal history.
For collectors interested in rare philatelic gems, the Yellow Hat H stamp presents a truly unusual opportunity to own a piece of infamous postal history.
The origins of the rare Yellow Hat stamp stemmed from a bit of a postal service mishap, which only adds to its intrigue.
For collectors, owning one of these scarce stamps offers a truly unique opportunity to possess a part of American philatelic history that very few can ever achieve.