Glossary of Philatelic
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Accessories: The tools used by
stamp collectors, such as tongs, hinges, etc.
Adhesive: A gummed stamp made to be
attached to mail.
Aerogrammes: Air letters designed
to be letters and envelopes in one. They are
specially stamped and ready for folding.
Aerophilately: Stamp collecting
that focuses on stamps or postage relating to
Album: A book designed to hold
stamps and covers.
Approvals: Stamps sent by a dealer
to a collector for examination. Approvals must
either be bought or returned to the dealer within a
Auction: A sale at which philatelic
material is sold to the highest bidder.
Bar code: A series of vertical full
bars and half bars representing the ZIP 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
Bluish Paper: Used to print
portions of several U.S. 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.
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.
Booklet Pane: A small sheet of
stamps specially cut to be sold in booklets.
Bourse: A marketplace, such as a
stamp exhibition, where stamps are bought, sold or
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.
Cancellation: A mark placed on a
stamp by a postal authority to show that it has been
Centering: The position of the
design on a postage stamp. On perfectly centered
stamps the design is exactly in the middle.
Cinderella: Any stamp-like label
without an official postal value.
Classic: An early stamp issue. Most
people consider these to be rare stamps, but classic
stamps aren't necessarily rare.
Coils: Stamps issued in rolls (one
stamp wide) for use in dispensers or vending
Commemoratives: Stamps that honor
anniversaries, important people, special events, or
aspects of national culture.
Compound Perforations: Different
gauge perforations on different (normally adjacent)
sides of a single stamp.
Condition: 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.
Cover: An envelope that has been
sent through the mail.
Cracked Plate: A term used to
describe stamps which show evidence that the plate
from which they were printed was cracked.
Definitives: Regular issues of
postage stamps, usually sold over long periods of
time. They tend to be fairly small and printed in
large quantities often more than once.
Denomination: The postage value
appearing on a stamp, such as 5 cents.
Die Cut: Scoring of self-adhesive
stamps that allows a stamp to be separated from the
Directory Markings: Postal markings
that indicate a failed delivery attempt, stating
reasons such as "No Such Number" or "Address
Double Transfer: The condition on a
printing plate that shows evidence of a duplication
of all or part of the design.
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
Electronic postmark: An electronic
time and date stamp on electronic mail that will
authenticate a document's existence at a particular
point in time.
Entire: An intact piece of postal
stationery, in contrast to a cut-out of the printed
Error: A stamp with something
incorrect in its design or manufacture.
Exploded: A stamp booklet is said
to be "exploded" when it has been separated into its
various components for show.
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.
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 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 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 plate, they
can appear with new transfers of a different design
which are subsequently entered on 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
Freak: An abnormal variety of
stamps occurring because of paper fold, over-inking,
perforation shift, etc., as opposed to a continually
appearing variety or a major error.
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
Gum: The coating of glue on the
back of an unused stamp.
Hinges: Small strips of gummed
material used by collectors to affix stamps to album
Hologram: An image that appears to
be three-dimensional when viewed from an angle.
Holograms have appeared on some modern stamps and
Imperforate: Indicates stamps
without perforations or separating holes. They
usually are separated by scissors and collected in
Label: Any stamp-like adhesive that
is not a postage stamp.
Laid Paper: When held to the light,
the paper shows alternate light and dark crossed
Line Pairs (LP): Most U.S. coil stamp
rolls prior to 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
Loupe: A magnifying glass used to
examine details of stamps more closely.
Miniature Sheet: A single stamp or
block of stamps with a margin on all sides bearing
some special wording or design.
On Paper: Stamps "on paper" are
those that still have portions of the original
envelope or wrapper stuck to them.
Overprint: Additional printing on a
stamp that was not part of the original design.
Packet: A presorted unit of all
different stamps. One of the most common and
economical ways to begin a collection.
Pane: A full "sheet" of stamps as
sold by a Post Office. Four panes typically make up
the original sheet of stamps as printed.
Par Avion: French for mail
transported "by air."
Perforations: Lines of small holes
or cuts between rows of stamps that make them easy
Philately: The collection and study
of postage stamps and other postal materials.
Pictorials: Stamps with a picture
of some sort, other than portraits or static designs
such as coats of arms.
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.
Plate Number Coils (PNC): For most
U.S. coil stamp rolls beginning with #1891, a small plate
number appears at varying intervals in the roll in
the design of the stamp.
Postage Due: A stamp issued to
collect unpaid postage.
Postal Cards: See "stamped postal
Postal Stationery: Envelopes,
aerogrammes, stamped postal cards, and letter sheets
with printed or embossed stamp designs.
mailable cards without imprinted postage.
Postmark: A mark put on envelopes
or other mailing pieces showing the date and
location of mailing.
Precancels: Stamps cancelled by a
proper authority prior to their use on mail.
Presort Stamp: A discounted stamp
used by business mailers who presort their mail.
Prestige Booklet: A booklet
commemorating a special topic and containing stamps,
narrative, and images.
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
Ribbed Paper: Paper which shows
fine parallel ridges on one or both sides of a
Rouletting: The piercing of the
paper between stamps to facilitate their separation,
often giving the appearance of a series of dashes.
Rural Free Delivery (RFD): Began in
1896 as an experiment in West Virginia, RFD brought
daily mail delivery to American farmers and others living
outside urban areas.
Se-tenant: An attached pair, strip
or block of stamps that differ in design, value or
Secret Marks: Many stamps have
included tiny reference points in their designs to
foil attempts at counterfeiting and to differentiate
Self-adhesive Stamp: A stamp with a
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
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).
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.
Speculative: A stamp or issue
released primarily for sale to collectors, rather
than to meet any legitimate postal need.
Stamped Postal Card: The current
term for a mailable card with postage imprinted on
Stamped Envelope: A mailable
envelope with postage embossed or imprinted on it.
Standard Mail: New name for the
merger of third-class mail and fourth-class mail as
one class under Classification Reform implementation
of July 1, 1996.
Strip: Three or more unseparated
stamps in a row.
Surcharge: An overprint that
changes the denomination of a stamp from its
original face value.
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.
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
Thematic: 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 the envelope.
Tongs: A tweezer-like tool with
rounded or flattened tips used to handle stamps.
Topicals: Indicates a group of
stamps with the same theme—space travel, for
Unhinged: A stamp without hinge
marks, but not necessarily with original gum.
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,
self-supporting federal agency within the executive
Unused: The condition of a stamp
that has no cancellation or other sign of use.
Used: The condition of a stamp that
has been canceled.
Variety: A stamp that varies in
some way from its standard or original form.
Varieties can include missing colors or
perforations, constant plate flaws, changes in ink
or paper, differences in printing method or in
Want List: A list of philatelic
material sought by a collector.
Watermark: A design pressed into
stamp paper during its manufacture.
Water-activated Gum: Water-soluble
adhesives such as sugar-based starches on the back
of an unused 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
Wove Paper: A uniform paper which,
when held to the light, shows no light or dark
Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP): Established in the United States in 1963, a system of five-digit codes or
ZIP codes that identifies the individual post office
or metropolitan area delivery station associated
with every mailing address.