A  Philatelic  Glossary

Fiji postage stamp
A listing of commonly encountered philatelic terms and abbreviations.

Of interest:


Glossary of Philatelic Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N
| O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Catalogue Terminology/Abbreviations


Abbreviations used here.

A   B

Accessories: The tools used by stamp collectors, such as tongs, hinges, albums, etc.

Adhesive: 'Adhesive' is literally the
gum on a postage stamp but in the early days of collecting it became a term for a gummed postage stamp itself.
(See Also: "Water-activated Gum", "Self-Adhesive)

Aerogrammes: Air letter sheets designed to be letters and envelopes in one. They are specially stamped and ready for folding. (See Also: "
Postal Stationery")

Aerophilately: Stamp collecting that focuses on stamps or postage relating to airmail.

Album: A book designed to hold stamps and covers.

Approvals: Stamps sent by a
stamp dealer to a collector for examination. Approvals must either be bought or returned to the dealer within a specified time. (See Also: "Packet")

Artistamps: A class of 'collectables' that are NOT postage stamps,
bogus stamps or fake stamps. Usually made by artists as a form of self expression much like any art work. Often they exhibit qualities of postage stamps like a denomination, a country name (often of a non-existing place) and really fall outside the realm of philately.

Auction: A sale at which philatelic material is sold to the highest bidder.


A   B   C

Backstamp: A
postmark applied, usually but not always, on back (thus the term 'backstamp') of incoming mail in transit to show date and time of receipt at a receiving post office; in Britain, a plain diamond shape backstamp for statistical purposes.

Bar code: A series of vertical full bars and half bars representing the USPS
ZIP Code or other national postal code information printed on a mail piece to facilitate automated processing by bar code reader equipment.

Black Jack: The nickname for the very popular U.S. two-cent black Andrew Jackson stamp, which was issued in various forms between 1863 and 1875.

Block: An unseparated group of stamps, at least two stamps high and two stamps wide. (See Also: "
Plate Block")

Bluish Paper: Used to print portions of several issues in 1909; the paper was made with 35 percent rag stock instead of all wood pulp. The color goes through the paper, showing clearly on back and face.

Board of Governors (B.O.G.): As the governing body of the United States Postal Service (USPS), the Board is comparable to a board of directors of a private corporation. The Board includes nine governors who are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The nine governors select a Postmaster General, who becomes a member of the Board, and those 10 select a Deputy Postmaster General, who also serves on the Board. The Board directs and controls the expenditures and reviews the practices and policies of the Postal Service. (See Also: " Postal Regulatory Commission")

Bogus: A completely fictitious, worthless "stamp," created only for sale to collectors. Bogus stamps include
labels for nonexistent values added to regularly issued sets, issues for nations without postal systems, etc. (See Also: "Cinderellas", "Fake")

Booklet(s): A commonly available wallet or purse sized folder containing postage stamps. (See Also: "
Exploded", "Booklet Pane", "Prestige Booklet")

Booklet Pane: A small sheet of stamps specially cut to be sold in
booklets. (See Also: "Pane")

Bourse: A marketplace, such as a stamp exhibition, where stamps are bought, sold or exchanged.

Bureau Precancels: (aka: 'Bureau Prints') U.S. stamps printed and precanceled at the
United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing in large quantities for large post offices or as general issues and as opposed to local precanceled {q.v.} stamps done at a local post office. (It really takes a specialized 'catalogue' to distinguish many U.S. 'non-bureau' from 'bureau' issues. - ed.)


B   C   D

Cachet (ka-shay'): A design on an envelope describing an event. Cachets appear on
first day of issue, first flight and stamp exhibition covers, etc.

Cancel / Cancelled / Cancellation(s): A mark placed on a stamp by a
postal authority to show that it has been used.
(See Also: "Precancel", cf. "Postmark")

Cancelled To Order (CTO): Stamps are called "canceled to order" (CTO) when they are deliberately overproduced, cancelled at the time of production or prior to sale, usually in full sheets, and not sold as postage but at a large discount to dealers. This was/is done by several governments to raise revenues. Stamps with a cancel and with full gum are the usual identifying feature. (cf. "

Catalogue Value: A monetary valuation based on a stamp catalogue such as
Scott Catalogues (in U.S.A.), Stanley Gibbons (in the U.K.), Michel (in Europe) etc. Not to be confused with a true value which may be higher or lower based on market conditions and/or the actual condition of the material in question. Also usefull in trading when your trading partner is willing to use the same catalog and edition to form an agreeable trade. (often found in libraries)

Centering: The position of the design on a postage stamp. On perfectly centered stamps the design is exactly in the middle.

Certificate: A document showing 'certification' of a (usually) favorable opinion of philatelic materials by recognized experts in their respective fields. Highly recommented for expensive material and having your own done better insures authenticity.

Cinderella: Any stamp-like
label without an official postal value or use. These are not generally considered to be bogus or fake stamps but fall more into the category of "Artistamps".

Typical well centered 'CDS' Circular Date Stamp: Often, though not always, used as the
cancel on a stamp (as here) to show the date and location of when and where a mail piece or revenue tax action is received.

Classics: An early stamp issue. Most people consider these to be rare stamps, but classic stamps aren't necessarily rare. The 'classic' period for stamps is usually considered to be from the years 1840 to 1940.

Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC): A group of independent citizens appointed by the Postmaster General to review the more than 40,000 suggestions for stamp subjects the U.S. Postal Service receives each year.

Professional artists who may wish to be considered for a design assignment should request a copy of the Creating U.S. Postage Stamps brochure from the following address:

U.S. Postal Service
Stamp Development
ATTN: Stamp Design
1735 North Lynn Street, Suite 5013
Arlington, VA 22209-6432

And see the USPS/History Channel video about Steve Buchanan's c.1970 Motorcycle stamp design process. (Or read the transcript if you can't see videos.)

The Members of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
(12 Members as of July 2009):

    Former Postmaster General; Postal History Stamp Collector

    Retired U.S. Congressional Staff; Adjunct Professor of Government and History

    TV Sports Commentator; Olympic Swimming Champion; Select Director of the Board, U.S. Soccer Foundation

    President Emerita, American Film Institute

    Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research Harvard University

    Information Design Strategist & Graphic Designer

    Graphic Designer; Author; Senior Critic, Yale School of Art; Partner, Winterhouse Studio

    Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley; Secretary Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution

    Department of State-Consular Affairs Representative; Philatelic Writer; Editor; Lecturer; and Judge; Past President of American Philatelic Society

    Patron of the Arts; Former Vice Presidential First Lady

    Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director Graphis, Magazine

    Professor of Sociology, Fordham University; Author

How stamp images are chosen in the Philippines.

Classification Reform: On July 1, 1996, the United States Postal Service adjusted the domestic mail classification system to establish a simple, more consistent rate structure and to keep its products in line with the changing needs of the marketplace.

Coils: Stamps issued in rolls (one stamp wide) for use in dispensers or vending machines. (See Also: "
Line Pairs", "Plate Number Coils")

Commemoratives: Stamps that honor anniversaries, important people, special events, or aspects of national culture. (See Also: "
Souvenir Sheet", Prestige Booklet")

Compound Perforations: Different gauge
perforations on different (normally adjacent) sides of a single stamp.

: Condition is the most important characteristic in determining the value of a stamp. It refers to the state of a stamp regarding such details as centering, color and gum.
(See Also: "Catalogue Value", "Catalogue Terminology")

Cover: An envelope that has been sent through the mail.
cf. "Entire", See Also the video: Repairing a cover:

Cracked Plate: A term used to describe stamps which show evidence that the
plate from which they were printed was cracked.

Cut Square: Generally a
used adhesive stamp 'on paper' or just the printed design on postal stationery.
More Info
cf. "Tied On"
or: "Entire"


C   D   E

Dandy Roll: This is a wire roller which bears down on the paper pulp as it comes from the vats and in so doing, gives the finished paper its

Definitives: Regular issues of postage stamps, usually sold over long periods of time. They tend to be fairly small in size and in
sets covering the range of possible postage needs. They are usually printed in large quantities often more than once. (See Also: "Special Issues", cf. "Commenortaives")

Denomination: The postage value appearing on a stamp, such as 5 cents.
(See Also: "Semi-Postal", "Surcharge")

Deputy Postmaster General (DPMG): A member of the
USPS Board of Governors, jointly appointed by the Postmaster General and the Board of Governors.

Die Cut:
Scoring of
self-adhesive stamps that allows a stamp to be separated from its neighbor when peeled from the liner. (See Also: "Perforations")

Directory Markings: Postal markings that indicate a failed delivery attempt, stating reasons such as "No Such Number" or "Address Unknown."
cf. "Postmarks"

Double Transfer: The condition on a
printing plate that shows evidence of a duplication of all or part of the design. (See Also: "Transfer Roller")

Dry Printing: Begun as an experiment in 1953, this type of printing results in a whiter paper, a higher sheen on the surface, a thicker and stiffer feel and designs that stand out more clearly than on more standard "wet" printings.

Duplicates: Extra copies of stamps that can be sold or traded. Duplicates should be examined carefully for color and perforation variations.


D   E   F

Electronic postmark: An electronic time and date stamp on electronic mail that will authenticate a document's existence at a particular point in time.
cf. "Postmark"

Entire: An intact piece of
postal stationery, in contrast to a cut-out of the printed design often called a 'cut square'.
(cf.: "Aerogrammes", "Cover")

Error: A stamp with something incorrect in its design or manufacture.
(See Also: "Foreign Entry", "Invert", cf. "Freak")


"O hateful error, Melancholy's child!" cries Messala in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; and sixty years ago, there were many who agreed with him. P. M. Wolsieffer, a veteran dealer, now dead, used to tell of how he tried to sell a nice, well-centered twenty-four-cent 1869 to L. W. Durbin, a prominent dealer of the day, but the latter refused it. "Why?" asked Wolsieffer, then a boy. "Because," replied Durbin, "the printer has made a mistake and printed the picture upside down." So young Wolsieffer traded the stamp to another boy for a ten-pfennig German. The modern collector doesn't agree with Messala. To him, the error is the whipped cream of philately.


Paper Chase - The Amenities of Stamp Collecting, Alvin F. Harlow, 1940
You can buy Paper Chase, Alvin Harlow @ Amazon.com
Another excerpt.

Errors, Freaks and Oddities:
(See: Error, Freak)
Oddities are examples that don’t fit in the other two categories above. Test stamps, for instance, were printed to test dispensing machines. They were never meant for public distribution. There are a couple of other examples, such as stamps on which no design has been printed or where the perforations were made for one format, say for coils (rolls of stamps), but then the stamps were actually used in booklets, so it looks like a misperforation but it really isn’t. It’s not a freak; it’s an oddity. (from a John Hotchner interview at collectorsweekly.com)
There is at least one international club (Errors, Freaks & Oddities Collectors Club) devoted to collecting these issues.
See Also: Catalogue of Errors on U.S. Postage Stamps, Stephen Datz c.2002

Expertize: Having an 'expert' attest (usually in writing) to the authenticity (or lack thereof) of philatelic material.
See Also: Expertizing and Forgers

Exploded: A stamp
booklet is said to be "exploded" when it has been separated into its various components for show.

Express Mail: The U.S. Postal Service's premium delivery service, providing guaranteed overnight delivery for documents and packages weighing up to 70 pounds. Both domestic and international services are offered.

External First-Class Measurement System (EXFC): A test conducted by an independent accounting firm whereby First-Class Mail service is measured from the customer's perspective (from point of deposit to point of delivery or door to door).


E   F   G

Face Value: The monetary value or denomination of a stamp.

Fake: A genuine stamp that has been altered in some way to make it more attractive to collectors. It may be repaired,
reperfed or regummed to resemble a more valuable variety. (See Also: "Bogus")

Special section on the Inauguration of the USPS July 1, 1971; over 39,000 varieties..
First Day Cover (FDC): An envelope with a new stamp and cancellation showing the date the stamp was issued.

First Day Ceremony Program: A program (a souviner document) given to those who attend first day of issue stamp ceremonies. It contains the actual stamp affixed and postmarked, a list of participants, and information on the stamp subject.

First-Class Mail: A
USPS term for a class of mail including letters, postcards and postal cards, all matter wholly or partially in writing or typewriting, and all matter sealed or otherwise closed against inspection.

Foreign Entry: When original
transfers are erased incompletely from a printing plate, they can appear with new transfers of a different design which are subsequently entered onto the plate.

Franks: Written, hand-stamped, or imprinted markings on the face of the cover indicating that it is carried free of postage. Franking is usually limited to official government correspondence.

Freak: An abnormal
variety of a stamp occurring because of paper fold, over-inking, perforation shift, etc., as opposed to a continually appearing variety or a major error.


F   G   H

Global Priority Mail (GPM): A USPS category of international mail that provides fast service at attractive rates to 27 countries.

Grill: A pattern of small, square pyramids in parallel rows impressed or embossed on the stamp to break paper fibers, allowing cancellation ink to soak in and preventing washing and reuse.
From What Philately Teaches, John Luff c.1899, "One of the nightmares of every government is the fear that its securities will be counterfeited or tampered with. I have several times mentioned precautions against such abuses in the shape of fine engraving (e.g. 'Secret Marks'; aj), watermarks, enameled paper, sensitive inks, etc. ..." (and Grills)

Gum: The coating of glue on the back of an unused stamp. (See Also: '


G   H   I

Hinges: Small strips of gummed material used by collectors to affix stamps to album pages.

Hologram: An image that appears to be three-dimensional when viewed from an angle. Holograms have appeared on some modern stamps and stationery.


H   I   J

Imperforate: Indicates stamps without
perforations or separating holes. They usually are separated by scissors and often collected in pairs.

Intaglio: (Italian for 'in recess'; aka: 'Line-Engraving' ) The earlist used method for
printing postage stamps {ie. the 'Penny-Black'} in which a hand engraved master die is transfered to a printing plate from which the design on a stamp is made by ink from that portion of the plate sunk below the surface (recessed). "An expensive, slow process requiring upwards of ten tons of pressure to extract the ink from its recesses on the plate or cylinder and on to the stamp paper. (Czeslaw) Slania, Engraver to the Swedish Court, has been used wherever possible, as he is the acknowledged world leader."{4} Another form of the Intaglio process is 'Photogravure' {q.v.}.
See Also: "Transfer Roller"

Visit Joann and read her whole story - wonderful work! Intelpost: "Since the 1960s the United States Post Office (and its successor the United States Postal Service) had attempted to develop economically feasible electronic mail. ..which it called INTELPOST (International Electronic Post). Plans to begin the service were announced in March 1978 ... However, (at first, the) regulatory delays in the US prevented the USPS from using the American satellites.. (so) ..service was first offered to the public in June 1980 between Canada and the United Kingdom. Originating locations in the US, Washington, DC and New York City, directed messages to Toronto where a switching arrangement allowed transmission by satellite to London. (Linn's 2/2/81) ...
"INTELPOST was a high-speed facsimile (FAX) service ... (and) ... seemed ideal for images and non-Western characters. (and) .. By 1983 there were five service centers in the US: Washington, DC, New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston. Acceptance points were located in Argentina, Canada, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Hong Kong, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom with other nations considering the service. (Japan in 1981)
"However, in April 1984, the House Committee on Government Operations reported that INTELPOST was a complete failure due to the large amount of money spent ($6 million) and the low number of pages transmitted (less than 12 thousand). ..
"And, personal electronic communication (e-mail etc.) soon developed to the point that INTELPOST became obsolete and unnecessary.
"According to the USPS Postal Bulletin (PB 21954) dated 09/11/97: "Effective October 15, 1997, originating and destinating INTELPOST service will no longer be offered." But, according to a list of treaties and other international agreements in force on January 1, 2002, twenty-nine countries still had agreements with the USA regarding INTELPOST (list compiled by Treaty Affairs Staff, Office of the Legal Advisor, Department of State).
"On 03/18/04, the Postal Bulletin (PB 22124) stated: "Effective March 18, 2004, the Postal Operations Manual (POM) is revised to reflect that INTELPOST (International Electronic Post) service is no longer available." INTELPOST had gone the way of the domestic electronic attempts of mail transmission.",
(by Joann Lenz)

International Reply Coupon (IRC): Often purchased at a Post Office and sent abroad with a self-addressed envelope. Used to cover the cost of local postage from a foreign country to you. Sometimes they have been accepted as payment for goods.

Invert: A specific kind of
error in which the vignette (the central picture) is upside down relative to its frame. The U.S. classic is the 'Inverted Jenny' (Scott # C3a below).

See the video of the Curtis Jenny: C3 vs the 'Jenny invert': C3a
Just use your mouse.

Issue: A term refering to a unique stamp design type which is usually noted in
stamp calalogues with a unique catalogue number. Varities and errors can occur and are usually catalogued as a sub-type of the issue.
Note: 'issue', as in 'to issue', denotes the production and distribution of a stamp.


I   J   K



J   K   L



K   L   M

Label: Any stamp-like
adhesive that is not a postage stamp. (See Also: "Bogus", "Cinderella")

Laid Paper: When held to the light, the paper shows alternate light and dark crossed lines. (See Also: "
Wove Paper")

Line-Engraving: The first
printing process to be used to produce a postage stamp, the "line-engraved" Penny Black. (aka/q.v. "Intaglio")

Line Pairs (LP): Most
coil stamp rolls prior to Scott Catalogue # 1891 feature a line of ink (known as a "joint line") printed between two stamps at various intervals, caused by two or more curved plates around the printing cylinder.

  Liner: The backing paper for
self-adhesive stamps.

Loupe: A magnifying glass used to examine details of stamps more closely.


L   M   N

vist the Mailers Postmark Permit Club Mailer's Postmark Permit: Section PO23.3.1 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual gives the rules for securing a mailer's postmark permit, which is free:
"A mailer must request authorization to preprint rate markings on precanceled stamps or to use a precancel postmark on adhesive stamps, postal cards, and stamped envelopes. The applicant must submit a specimen mailpiece showing the preprinting method or the proposed precancel postmark."

Miniature Sheet: A single stamp or block of stamps with a margin on all sides bearing some special wording or design.


M   N   O



N   O   P

On Paper: Stamps "on paper" are those that still have portions of the original envelope or wrapper stuck to them.
See Also: Cut Square

Overprint: Additional printing on a stamp that was not part of the original design.

Optical Character Reader (OCR): An automated mail processing machine that optically scans letter mail, locates the address and translates the address information into a bar code representation of the ZIP+4 delivery point bar code.


O   P   Q

Pack and Send: A pilot retail service offered at selected United States post offices that allows customers to bring in any mailable item to have it securely packaged and, if they wish, mailed.

Packet: A presorted unit of all different stamps. One of the most common and economical ways to begin a collection. (See Also: "

Pane: A full "sheet" of stamps as sold by a Post Office. Four panes typically make up the original sheet of stamps as printed. (See Also: "
Booklet Pane", "Selvage")

Pair: Two unseperated stamps. cf.
Se-Tenant, Strip

Paper: The usual material on which stamps are printed. Several varieties exist.
See Also: Bluish Paper, Laid Paper, Wove Paper, Watermarks
And from What Philately Teaches, John Luff, c.1899, "Having considered the design and the methods of preparing plates and printing stamps the next thing to attract our attention is the paper. We here show you some photographs of paper. ..."

Par Avion: French for mail transported "by air." Usually printed on an envelope or on a label attached to any mailing piece.

Perfin: ('perforated initials') (aka 'SPIFS' meaning "Stamps Perforated for Individuals or Firms" in Europe) Are pin hole markings applied by businesses, governments ... as branding marks to deter theft or misuse.
(cf. "Precancels")

Read the 'hole' story...Perforation Guage: A tool used to measure the number of perforations in two (2) centimeters and used to help idenfity varieties of what appear to be the same stamp.

Read the 'hole' story...Perforations: In general, the lines of small holes cut out between rows of stamps that make them easy to separate and can be measured with a 'perforation guage'. The pointed 'teeth' on the edge of seperated stamps are often mistakenly called 'perfs'.

Stamps with 'cuts' to provide seperation are said to be 'rouletted' or "die cut".{q.v.}

(See Also: "Compound Perforation", "Imperforate", "Fake")

Philately: The collection and study of postage stamps and other postal materials.

Photogravure: (Gravure, Rotogravure, Heilogravure) A more advanced stamp
printing process in the Intaglio style (ink in a 'recess') in which photographic & chemical processes are employed rather than 'hand egraving' to create the "transfer cylinder(s)" which is/are used instead of plates for printing onto the paper. Gravure is most often used for multi-colored stamps. {5}

See Also: "How It's Made - Postage Stamps" - the videos:

Pictorials: Stamps with a picture of some sort, other than portraits or static designs such as coats of arms.

Plate - See: "Printing Plate"

Plate Block (PB) (or Plate Number Block): A
block of stamps with the margin attached that bears the plate number used in printing that sheet.
See Also: Durland Standard Plate Number Catalog (at Amazon.com)

Plate Number Coils (PNC): For most
coil stamp rolls beginning with (Scott catalogue) #1891, a small plate number appears at varying intervals in the roll near the design of the stamp. Similar in collecting to a plate block.

Plate Varieties: A kind of minor
variety due to imperfections in the printing plates, producing one or several stamps that are different from the rest in their sheet. Also called constant varieties, they were not too rare when stamps were printed with the engraving (a.k.a. Intaglio) method, which was commonly used in past times. One way to hunt for plate varieties involves inspecting several full sheets of the same stamp, searching for marks present in some, but not all, of the specimens, that repeat exactly in the same positions in the rest of the sheets, or at least in some of them.{cite}

Plating: An advanced philatelic technique which "involves the examination of a particular stamp and determining from which position on the
printing plate it originated. This is done by noticing characteristics which are unique to that particular position." (from Plating US 3cent Stamps : 1851-1857, by Dr. Charles J. Di Como (who also notes: "The pioneering work of Dr. Carroll Chase has probably made the 3¢ 1851 stamp the most studied stamp of all time. The specialization of 'plating' originated with this stamp."

Postage Due: A stamp issued to collect unpaid postage.

Postal Authorities: Those national authorities, such as the United States Postal Service (USPS), that are appointed by their national government to be responsible for the movement of mail within their respective country and are usually instructed to co-operate with the Universal Postal Union (UPU) for the distribution of international mails. There are also several regional unions such as the Caribbean Postal Union (C.P.U.) (to which the U.S.A. also belongs).

Postal Cards: Pre-stamped postcards available from
postal authorities. (See Also: "Stamped Postal Cards", cf. "Postcards"

Postal Inspection Service, United States: The investigative arm of the United States Postal Service responsible for internal audits and investigating criminal acts involving the mails and misuse of the postal system. Customers and USPS employees nationwide now can dial one toll-free number from 8am to 4:30pm in all time zones: Telephone: 1-877-876-2455.

Postal Regulatory Commission ( PRC): (Formerly "Postal Rate Commission", it was created by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.) An independent federal agency that makes recommendations concerning United States Postal Service requests for changes in postal rates and mail classifications.

Postal Stationery: Envelopes, aerogrammes, stamped postal cards, and letter sheets with printed or embossed stamp designs.
(See Also: "Entire", "Stamped Envelope")

Postal Stores: A modernized United States Postal Service retail unit that has postal products on open display, offering customers self-service selection and full service counter assistance.
(See Also: "Postmark America" & "Post Office Express" below)

Postcards: Commercially-produced mailable cards without imprinted postage.
(cf. "Stamped Postal Cards")

Postmark: A mark put on envelopes or other mailing pieces showing the date and location of mailing. These are often, but not always, incorporated into the
cancellation of the stamp.
(See Also: "Backstamp", "Electronic Postmark", "Directory Markings")

Postmark America: The United States Postal Service's first large-scale retail postal store, debuting at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, designed to test the market interest in postal-inspired clothing and other products.

Postmaster General (PMG): The chief executive officer of the United States Postal Service (
USPS), appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Board of Governors.

Post Office Express (POE): A postal retail unit located within an independent business to serve consumer needs related to merchandise and postal products and services.

Check out The Precancel Stamp Society's homepage Precancels: Stamps cancelled by a proper authority prior to their use on mail. There are two basic U.S. types: 'Non-Bureau' (aka: local issues and 'Bureau Precancels'.{q.v.}
( USPS Rules and Guide) (The Guide notes this can include postmarks, single bar cancels & Mailer's Precanceled Postmarks)
(cf. "Perfin", "Cancelled To Order (CTO)")

Presort Stamp: A discounted stamp used by business mailers who presort their mail.

Pressure Sensitive Stamps: The United States was not the first country to put pressure-sensitive gum on stamps. For the first three countries to issue self-stick stamps—Sierra Leone in 1964, Tonga in 1969, and Bhutan in 1969—an alternative to water-activated gum was practical. All three countries have humid climates, in which old style gum has a tendency to get messy when days and nights are damp for extended periods of time. . . . In 1974, the United States joined the growing club of countries with self-stick postage. . . . For hobbyists the self-stick Christmas stamp posed a challenge, although the problems associated with them already had perplexed specialists in state revenue issues for many years. . . . Gradually nearly all of the self-stick 1974 stamps became discolored with ugly mottled brown stains. By the time alarm about this problem had spread, it was too late to preserve most of these stamps. Collectors learned that the fresh appearance of unstained or lightly stained stamps often could be rescued by removing all the adhesive by dissolving it in an organic solvent such as naphtha (lighter fluid). . . . A National Archives conservator who specializes in adhesives wrote in response to our questions, "The newer stamps [issued after the 1974 Christmas stamp that had rubber-based adhesive] employ the acrylic based adhesives. These do not yellow, they don't lose their adhesive strength appreciably over time, and they don't dry out and become brittle. They do suffer 'cold flow' which makes for the dreaded ‘edge ooze’ and also may affect the appearance of the stamp by sinking into the paper." . . . For those who want to keep their stamps in mint condition, certain precautions are advisable. They should not be lifted from their backing paper, which creates a more significant change in the pressure-sensitive gum than hinging causes to traditional water-activated gum. Instead, one should remove each adjacent stamp and use them as postage, then trim away all but a small border around the stamp to be saved. (by Ken Lawrence in
Report Number 5, May 1999, The Arthur Salm Foundation via Collectors Club of Chicago, 1029 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60610-2803)

See Also: Self-adhesive stamp, Cut Square

Prestige Booklet: A
booklet commemorating a special topic and containing stamps, narrative, and images.

Printers' Waste: Poorly printed of otherwise defective stamps that are usually (but not always) destroyed by the printer. This material is in contrast to
errors and varieties that legitimately escape inspection and are sold at post offices. {2}

3} The printing of stamps ususally employs one of the four most common methods: Line-Engraving (aka: Intaglio or recess-printing), Lithography (usually Offset photo-lithography), Phothogravure and Typography (Letterpress; usually photo-engraving).
And from What Philately Teaches, John Luff, c.1899, "... In a general way we may divide stamp printing into two classes: printing from metal plates and printing from stone, or lithography. The first class contains two grand sub-divisions. ..."

Printing Plate: A term used primarily in the
Intaglio printing method to describe the device which has the paper impressed upon it to create the stamp images in sheet form.
(See Also: "Transfer Roller", "Plate Varieties", "Double Transfer", "Foreign Entry", "Cracked Plate", "Plating")

Priority Mail: Priority Mail, a USPS term for a class of mail providing two to three day delivery service.

Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC): A USPS term for a large mail sorting and dispatching plant that serves as a hub for mail originating from post offices, collection boxes and customer mailboxes, and large-volume mailers in a designated service area.


P   Q   R



Q   R   S

Registered Mail: First class mail with a numbered receipt, including a valuation of the registered item. This guarantees customers will get their money back if an item is lost in the mail.

Reissue: An official reprinting of a stamp that was no longer being printed.

Replicas: Reproductions of stamps sold during the early days of collecting. Usually printed in one color on a sheet containing a number of different designs. Replicas were never intended to deceive either the post office or the collector.

Reprint: A stamp printed from the original plate after the issue is no longer valid for postage. Official reprints are sometimes made for presentation purposes, official collections, etc., and are often distinguished in some way from the "real" ones.

Revenue Stamps: Stamps issued as proof of payment of certain taxes but not valid for postage.

Ribbed Paper: Paper which shows fine parallel ridges on one or both sides of a stamp.

The piercing of the paper between stamps to facilitate their separation, often giving the appearance of a series of dashes. (See Also: "

Rural Free Delivery (RFD): Began in 1896 as an experiment in West Virginia, RFD brought daily mail delivery to farmers and others living outside urban areas.


R   S   T

Scrambled Indicia®: A patented process that conceals encoded text or graphics within the visible design. These hidden images can only be viewed through a special lens, the Stamp Decoder™, available from the U.S. Postal Service.

Se-tenant: An attached
pair, strip or block of stamps that differ in design, value or surcharge.

Secret Marks: (aka 'Security Marks') Many stamps have included tiny reference points in their designs to foil attempts at counterfeiting and to differentiate issues. (e.g.: U.S. Scott Cat. No.'s 156-163 : 1870-71 Continental Bank Note issues)
From What Philately Teaches, John Luff c.1899, "One of the nightmares of every government is the fear that its securities will be counterfeited or tampered with. I have several times mentioned precautions against such abuses in the shape of fine engraving (e.g. 'Secret Marks'; aj), watermarks, enameled paper, sensitive inks, etc. ..." - See Also: Grill.

Self-adhesive stamp: A stamp with a
pressure-sensitive adhesive.
(See Also: "Die Cut", "Liner". cf. ""Water-activated Gum")
& Al Harris of Alabama has his 'solution' for the risk of dealing with soaking off these pesky adhesives.

Selvage: The unprinted paper around
panes of stamps, sometimes called the margin.

Semipostal Stamp: A First-Class Mail stamp priced to include an additional charge earmarked for a specific purpose, e.g., breast cancer research. (See Also: "

Series: A number of individual stamps or sets of stamps having a common purpose or theme, issued over an extended periods of time (generally a year or more), including all variations of design and/or denomination.

Set: A group of stamps with a common design or theme issued at one time for a common purpose or over a limited period of time (generally less than a year).
(cf. "Definitive")

Sheet of Stamps: See: "Pane"

Souvenir Sheet: A small sheet of stamps with a
commemorative inscription.

Special Issues: Stamps with a
commemorative appearance that supplement definitives and meet specific needs. These include Christmas, Love, Holiday Celebrations, airmail, Express Mail, and Priority Mail stamps.

SPIFS: Meaning "Stamps Perforated for Individuals or Firms" (in Europe).
See: "Perfin"

Speculative: A stamp or issue released primarily for sale to collectors, rather than to meet any legitimate postal need.

Stamp Decoder™: A device with a special lens that reveals hidden images on stamps. It is available from the U.S. Postal Service.

Stamped Postal Card: The current
USPS term for a mailable card with postage imprinted on it. (often philatelically called just a 'postal card'..)

Stamped Envelope: A mailable envelope with postage embossed or imprinted on it. (See Also: "
Postal Stationery", cf. "Cut Square")

Standard Mail: New USPS name for the merger of third-class mail and fourth-class mail as one class under Classification Reform implementation of July 1, 1996.

Star Route: A mail route serviced by an outside contractor rather than a postal employee.

Strip: Three or more unseparated stamps in a row. cf. "

Surcharge: An overprint that changes the
denomination of a stamp from its original face value. (See Also: "Semi-Postal")
Additional reading from What Philately Teaches, John Luff c.1899

Sweatbox: A closed box with a grill over which stuck together unused stamps are placed. A wet, sponge-like material under the grill creates humidity so the stamps can be separated without removing the gum.


S   T   U

Tagging: The marking of stamps with a phosphor or similar coating (which may be in lines, bars, letters, overall design area or entire stamp surface), done by many countries for use with automatic mail-handling equipment. When a stamp is issued both with and without this marking, catalogs will often note varieties, as "tagged" or "untagged." (See the 'The John S. Stark Collection' at the
Spellman Meuseum, which notes "Tagged stamps may be either fluorescent (glow under UV light), phosphorescent (have an afterglow when exposed to UV light), or both.")

Thematic or Topical Collection: A stamp collection that relates to a specific theme and is arranged to present a logical story and progression.

Tied On: Describes a stamp whose postmark touches both the envelope and the stamp thus 'tieing' them together.
cf. "Cut Square"

Tongs: A tweezer-like tool with rounded or flattened tips used to handle stamps.
them 'funny' tweezers..

Topicals or Thematics: Indicates a group of stamps with the same theme—space travel, for example.

image via #6
Transfer Cylinder: In
printing with the photogravure process, the cylinder has recesses (cells) chemically etched on its surface that fills with ink as it passes through the ink trough, a doctor blade then scraps the excess ink off the surface, leaving the ink in the cells, which is then transferred onto the paper; one cylinder for each of the primary colors (red, blue & yellow) and black can produce all visable colors. (a.k.a. the 'four color process') {5, 6}

image via #6 < -- Roller

< --

Transfer Roller: The steel roller, used in
intaglio printing, which is pressed onto an engraved (recessed) master die to create 'releif' (raised) impressions around the roller which is then used to "enter" the stamp image onto the printing plate.
(See Also: "Double Transfer", "Foreign Entry")


T   U   V

Unhinged: A stamp without
hinge marks, but not necessarily with original gum.

United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing:
Located in Washington, D.C., USA, the 'BEP' "printed most U.S. stamps since 1894."{3} But this "came to an end in 2005 when the BEP ceased stamp production". (via BEP email c.200909)

United States Postal Service (USPS): The successor to the Post Office Department, the USPS was established by the Postal Reorganization Act of July 1, 1971, as an independent (see: "Postal Regulatory Commission") , self-supporting federal agency within the executive branch headed by its "Board of Governors ".
See Also:
The USPS' U.S. Stamp Release Archive featuring issuses since 1997.
&: "Postal Inspection Service"
An event/FDC cover for the inaugruation of the USPS.

Universtal Postal Union (UPU): The worldwide governing body in Switzerland, and now a agency in the United Nations, that regulates international mail movement. Now 191 members with Montenegro, any country member of the United Nations may become a member of the UPU once approved by at least two-thirds of the member countries of the UPU. (UPU Data c.2006)

Universal Service: The United States Postal Service's mandate and commitment to the nation to provide mail delivery service at uniform and reasonable rates to everyone, everywhere, six days a week (though this is currently; ca.2009, in review).

Unused: The
condition of a stamp that has no cancellation or other sign of use on the front surface. It may, however, have been affixed to something and had to be soaked off or as in having been hinged on an album page.

See Also: "Mint Stamp".

Used: The
condition of a stamp that has been canceled.


U   V   W

Variety: A stamp that varies in some way from its standard or original form of
issue. Varieties can include perforations, missing colors, constant plate flaws, changes in ink or paper, differences in printing method or in format, watermarks or inverts.
See Also: "Plate Variety", cf. "Error", "Freak"


V   W   X

Want List: A list of philatelic material sought by a collector.

Watermark: A design pressed into stamp paper during its manufacture. Detecting these designs (see links) can help determine the "variety" or "type" of an otherwise identical issue.

More 'Watermark' information
(See Also: "Dandy Roll")
And from What Philately Teaches, John Luff: (some more images)
Also from What Philately Teaches, John Luff c.1899 (at another location with better graphics)

Water-activated Gum: Water-soluble
adhesives such as sugar-based starches on the back of an unused stamp. (See Also: :"Self-adhesive Stamp")

Wet Printing: Has a moisture content of 15-35 percent, compared to 5-10 percent for "dry' printings, also has a duller look than "dry' printings.

Wove Paper: A uniform paper which, when held to the light, shows no light or dark figures. (See Also: "
Laid Paper")


W   X   Y



X   Y   Z



Y   Z   Catalogue Terminology

Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP): Established in 1963, a system of five-digit codes or ZIP codes that identifies the individual United States post office or metropolitan area delivery station associated with every mailing address. This system was later expanded to ZIP+4, which includes more defined delivery areas.
(See Also: "Bar Code")

Some 'Catalogue Terminology'

What follows are some philatelic terms, abbreviations and symbols one might find in auction and stamp catalogues.  Printing and keeping a copy of these lists will help you in understanding (or should we say deciphering?) stamp, sale and auction catalogues (and websites).  Please note that many catalogues list their own terms and abbreviations as well.  It's always a good idea to read the material at the front of a catalogue before making a bid or purchase. (Images at top & abbreviations data marked Src (source) # 1 in the first table is from D.J. McAdam, Src (source) # 2 is from an old, old list passed out by my stamp club and based, I beleive, on a list from Linn's Stamp News many years ago. And Src # 3 and the color abbreviations are from a 1997 Scott catalogue {Scott is owned by the same company as Linn's: Amos Press}.)

/ {or} // (slash or double slash) : Incomplete range (cf. "Set")
ABNC American Bank Note Company
Addr Addressed
Admin.* / Adm. Admininstration (as in 'Postal Administration')
Anniv. Anniversary
Army Post Office
American Philatelic Society
American Stamp Dealers Association
Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic
Av {or} Ave Average, i.e., average condition, less than fine
born (usually followed by a date and/or place)
British Commonwealth
Bureau of Engraving & Printing
Bklt {or} B* Booklet
Bkstp(s) Backstamp(s)
Blk Block
British North America
Back of Book (catalog; other than regular postage stamps)
c. {or} ca.
Circa (about the time of; usually a year date)
C.V., cv, Cat. Catalogue Value
Canc {or} Ccl
Canceled or Cancellation
CDS Circular Date Stamp (often a cancellation)
Centennial, century, centenary
Cert Certificate (an experts opinion in writing)
Complete Matched Set
Commem Commemorative or Special Issue sets; not definitives
CTO "Cancelled To Order" - cancelled, but not postally used, and hence less desirable
died (usually followed by a date)
Defin "Definitive or Regular long term issue stamp sets; not commemoratives
Discontinued Post Office (USPS term)
Federal Duck Hunting Stamps
Trucial States or South Arabian Issue
Errors, Freaks and Oddities
Earliest Known Use
Env Envelope
F "Fine" (in fine condition)
FDC, F.D.C. First Day Cover
First Flight Cover
FL Folded lettersheet
Fleet Post Office (Naval)
"Good" (in good condition) (archaic?)
Great Britain
Gum Disturbance
General Post Office
HH Heavily Hinged
Highway Post Office
HR Hinge Remnant (the remains of a hinge)
Imperf {or} Imp* Imperforate
International Reply Coupon (usually for postage but sometimes as money)
Left (as opposed to on the right)
Lightly Hinged
Lower Left
Line Pair
Lower Right
Miniature Sheet
Minimum Bid
Maltese Cross (early British cancellation)
Minor Defects
Mail Early (USPS inscription)
Mi {or} Michel Michel Catalogue (German)
Mk {or} Mink
Minkus Catalog (archaic)
Millimeter (a unit of measure: 1/1000 of a meter)
MNH Mint, Never Hinged
MLH Mint, Lightly Hinged
Mobile Post Office
Mailer's Precancel Postmark (cf. Mailer's Postmark Permit)
MS, Ms. {or} ms Manuscript (e.g., a letter in/from an envelope or a 'pen' cancel; usually handwritten)
NG No Gum
Never Hinged
National Stamp Dealers Association
OG Original Gum
OS Official Service - Official Use
Opt {or} Ovpt
Poor (condition)
Plate Block
PC Postcard
Perf Perforation
Philatelic Foundation Certificate
Postmaster or Postmark ; See: 'Pmk'
Plate Number (cf. Plate Block)
Plate Number Coil
Post Office
pr, Pr. Pair (two stamps joined together) (cf. "Line Pair")
Precancel, precanceled
Plate Strip
Plate Strip of 3 (etc.)
PSE Pre-Stamped Envelope (e.g., "Postal Stationery")
Post, Telephone and Telegraph
Railway {or: Rolling*} Post Office
S {or} Sup {or} Superb As close to a 'perfect' condition as one is likely to see - for this reason, the term should be used very sparingly
Self Adhesive
s/d Small defects (e.g., short perfs, a thin, a crease ...
Self-Addressed Envelope
Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope
SC, Sc {or} Scott Scott Catalogue number/value; current edition with price in $US
Scott Catalog Value
SE Straight Edge
SG Stanley Gibbons catalogue number/value - usually "Part 1" Br. Commonwealth in £ Sterling
SS {or} S/S Souvenir Sheet
Soviet Socialist Republic (cf. ASSR)
Street, Saint
Upper Left
Unadd Unaddressed
United Nations Postal Administration
Unused Some individuals prefer this term over "mint" if an item is other than never hinged
Used Postally used, cancelled
Unwatermarked (cf.: Watermark)
Universal Postal Union (cf.: Postal Authorities)
Upper Right
United States Post Office Department
United States Postal Service
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (cf. ASSR)
VF {or} V.F. Very Fine: Refers to overall condition (Scott bases prices on this one)
Very Good (condition)
Very Lightly Hinged
Wmk, W/mk* Watermark
World War I
World War II
Extra Fine (condition)
Yvert et Tellier Catalog (French)
Zum Zumstein Catalogue (Swiss)
«« Mint, Never Hinged
« Mint, Lightly Hinged
¤ Used
Annotated or added by me 


Color Related Abbreviations

(Scott's Catalogue c.1997)
Abbrv.Color Abbrv.Color Abbrv.Color
amb amber crim crimson ol olive
anil anline cr cream olvn olivine
ap apple dk dark org orange
aqua aquamarine dl dull pck peacock
az azure dp deep pnksh pinkish
bis bister db drab Prus Prussian
bl blue emer emerald pur purple
bld blood gldn golden redsh redish
blk black grysh grayish res reseda
bril brilliant grn green ros rosine
brn brown grnsh greenish ryl royal
brnsh brownish hel heliotrope sal salmon
brnz bronze hn henna saph sapphire
brt bright ind indigo scar scarlet
brnt burnt int intense sep sepia
car carmine lav lavendar sien sienna
cer cerise lem lemon sil silver
chlky chalky lil lilac sl slate
cham chamois lt light stl steel
chnt chestnut mag magenta turq turquoise
choc chocolate man manila ultra ultramarine
chr chrome mar maroon Ven Venetian
cit citron mv mauve ver vermillion
cl claret multi multicolored vio violet
cob colbalt mlky milky yel yellow
cop copper myr myrtle yelsh yellowish







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(where not noted elsewhere in the text)

1. United States Postal Service (USPS).

The initial set of data here was based on their glossary

2. The International Encyclopædiac Dictionary of Philately

©1997 R. Scott Carlton, published by Krause Publications
ISBN: 0-87341-448-9, Library of Congress Catalog No.: 96-076695

3. How To Collect Stamps (ISBN: 193084903-6)

by H.E. Harris & Co. (dba/©2004 Whitman Publishing, LLC)

4. StampPrinters.info, Glenn H Morgan FRPSL (See Also)

Who notes, "Quoting one is plagiarism; quoting many is research!"

5. 1997 Scott's Classic Specialized Catalogue: 1840-1940

@1996, Third Edition , ISBN 0-89487-224-9

6. 1840on.co.uk, by Frank Mardle

aka: StampHelp.com

See Also:

Druktechnische Filatelie / Postage Stamp production methods, Rein B. Van Den Brink, Netherlands

1847usa.com : The Six Major Methods of Printing (Old & Modern)
Gravure, Letterpress, Flexography, Screen Printing and Digital Printing (all direct printing) and Lithography (modern).

Basic Philately - Printing Stamps (cc), Dakshina Kannada Philatelic and Numismatic Association, India



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Abbreviations Used Here:

Abbrv - 'abbreviation' (or) 'abbreviated'
aka / a.k.a. - 'also known as'
cf. - 'compare to'
ed. - 'editor's note'
i.e. - 'example'
q.v. - 'which see'

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Est. 20091212