The first Russian imperial stamp was issued in 1857 and went into official use throughout the Russian Empire in 1858. This stamp depicted the double-headed eagle, with two crossed horns underneath as the emblem of the Imperial Postal Service. Designed by F. Keppler, the Senior Engraver of the State Papers Expedition, and printed in brown and blue, it is recognized among stamp collectors for its beautiful craftsmanship.
The double-headed eagle on Russian postage stamps was a message from the nation’s past and a symbol of its traditional values. Originally a Byzantine emblem, the double-headed eagle was adopted by the Grand Duke of Moscow, Ivan III, after his marriage to the Byzantine princess, Sophia Paleologue. The double-headed eagle symbolized the unity of church and state as well as the dual Byzantine rule, with the left head representing Rome (the West) and the right head representing Constantinople (the East). After the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, Ivan III considered Moscow to be the successor to the Byzantine Empire and adopted the double-headed eagle as the state coat of arms.
At the end of 1904, Russia issued its first semi-postal stamps. Released for a charitable cause, semi-postal stamps became widespread in Europe in the early 20th century. The first Russian semi-postal set depicting national monuments was used to raise funds for orphans of casualties in the Russo-Japanese War. The 1914 semi-postal set was issued under the auspices of the Imperial Society of the Patriotic Women, of which the Tsarina Alexandra (Romanova) was the leader. It was sold for one kopeck more than its face value, and the extra amount was donated to the charities helping World War I soldiers and their families.