New Zealands first stamps were called the "Full Face Queens" because the picture on them was a front view of the head and shoulders of Queen Victoria. There were three stamps in the Full Face Queen set. They cost 1 penny (1d), 2 penny (2d), and 1 shilling (1s) and were printed in Britain.

The first New Zealand stamp that was designed in New Zealand was a half penny stamp issued on 1 January 1873. This stamp is called the "Newspaper" stamp, as it was used to pay for newspapers being sent through the post. The stamp design shows a sideview of Queen Victorias head and because of this it is one of the early New Zealand stamps known as Sidefaces.

New Zealand was the first country in the world to put advertising on the back of stamps. A number of Sideface stamps had advertising messages printed on the back (gummed side) in 1893. But people complained because they thought that licking the ink was unhealthy, so the Post Office stopped using advertising on the back of stamps.

New Zealand was also one of the first countries to introduce a "penny universal" stamp. The idea of the "penny universal" was that all countries should charge a standard amount for postage as this would make it easier sending letters from one country to another. New Zealands "penny universal" stamp was issued on the first day of the 20th century.