By Jim Watson
Below are some common terms used in stamp collecting. If
there are terms you think we should have included, please email us at
firstname.lastname@example.org with the term and the definition.
The term refers to the moisture sensitive gum (and now pressure
sensitive ahesives) applied to stamps. It is often used to distinguish
stamps to be glued on letters from pre-printed postal stationery.
Back of the Book
This term derives from the typical arrangement of stamp albums which
have the postage, semi-postals, and airmail stamps first and then
follow with special deliveries, postage dues, revenues, and other
stamps in "the back of the book."
Stamps were first issued in handy booklets by Luxembourg in 1895. Soon
many countries were issuing such items. The little books of stamps
which you can get at the post office are booklets.
See back of the book.
A marking applied to the stamp to deface it in a manner to prevent its
reuse. Dated cancellations also provide a mailing date record.
A stamp issued, generally for a limited period, to note a particular
event, person, or anniversary, as opposed to regular issues, sometimes
called 'definitives,' which are
intended for everyday usage for an extended period.
The color of a stamp is established by the color of the original
printing. Often colors are affected by time, temperature, and
chemicals. Our perception of the color also is a factor in what the
color of the stamp is deemed to be. Careful identification of color
often benefits from using a color guide.
An envelope, card, or wrapper which has been used for mail with the
appropriate postal markings and stamps.
Envelopes with preprinted stamps that are sold by most post offices.
One way that these are collected is by cutting a square corner off the
envelope including the preprinted stamp with good margins. When both
the front and back of the envelope are cut off, the item is called a
full corner. If it is impractical to save the entire cover, full
corners are preferred.
A complete envelope, wrapper, or postcard on which a stamp has been
printed. The term is used for postal stationery items.
A cover which is prepared to mark a special event such as the opening
of a new bridge. It is normally cancelled on the day of the event and
has a cachet indicating the event
First Day Cover
For some time the first day of issue of a new stamp has been marked by
special ceremonies. It is also the date which appears on the cancels of
First Day Covers (FDC) or, as they are sometimes called, First Day of
Issue covers (FDOI). Most FDCs are not cancelled on the date as the
process goes on for weeks due to the quantity of covers to be
Post offices often permit officials the privilege of free mail by
signing their name in the place where a stamp would normally go. The
signature is called a frank.
An oblong piece of tough, thin paper generally rounded on the corners
with gum on one side which is used to mount stamps. Hinges are often
prefolded. The most desirable hinges are peelable meaning that the dry
gum between the hinge and the stamp permits ready separation of the
stamp and the hinge. The best peelable hinges were produced
ago and are no longer available except as collector's surplus.
Hinges first appeared as early as the 1860s. NEVER USE
Without perforations or other means for separating the stamps such as
rouletting. The first stamps were imperforate and cut apart with
A copy made by the contact of the inked die or plate on the paper.
Impression quality is one of the factors in judging condition.
Inked Hand Stamp
Inked hand stamps are the devices used to cancel stamps or to add
handling instructions to mail when it is being not being handled
Stamps which have extraordinarly large margins between the image and
the perforations are called jumbos.
A term used to define condition of a stamp which has been unused and is
just as it was sold by the post office. The gum is original and
unmarked by application of a hinge.
On occasion, sheets (or panes) of stamps are used for a special purpose
which is marked by printing something on top of the regular image. The
result is termed an overprint.
Overprints have been used for such things as changed denominations,
making the stamp useful for a tax purpose, indication of a political
change such as a revolution, etc.
Stamps are often printed in large sheets which are cut apart for
convenience in handling at the post office where they are sold. Pane is
used to describe the complete sheetlet after being
cut apart for sale. Individual small sheets of stamps included in
booklets are termed panes as well.
Used to measure the perforations used to separate stamps. Consists of a
simple printed or engraved card made of paper, metal, or plastic which
is imprinted with various perforations, generally in whole and half
measures, which can be compared with the stamp in question.
Measurements of perforations less than 1/2 perforation are often
unreliable because of paper shrinkage which occurs when stamps are
dampened for printing or soaked to remove them from the envelope.
The number describing the gauge of the perforation is the
of holes found in 2 cm. Roulettes are also measured this way.
The term which was coined in the 19th century by M.G. Herpin, a French
collector, to describe stamp collecting. It is a combination of the
Greek words philo -- lover, or fond of -- and atelia -- free of payment
The study of the covers, postal markings, routes, postal rates, and
anything else having to do with the mail system.
Envelopes, postcards, and wrappers with preprinted postage values are
often sold by the post office systems around the world. Such items are
called postal stationery.
During the plate-making process, trial impressions are taken of the
plate to assure that it is satisfactory. Stamps from the printed sheets
are termed proofs.
Revenue stamps are those which have been provided to signify the
collection of a tax. For example, tax stamps are used to signify
payment of document taxes. Such stamps are also cancelled after being
applied to the item which is being taxed.
A method for using a line of short slits between stamps to facilitate
separation. There are a number of methods which have been used to
separate stamps using various forms of rouletting.
Stamps sometimes show the effect of having been face abrasions which
have removed some of the printing. Such a defect is called a scuff and
should be noted in the description of a stamp. A picture of the stamp
will show most scuffs.
Stamps have been used to collect funds for charities by selling a
particular stamp with a fee in excess of the basic postal value which
is diverted to the charity. This method has been used frequently in
Europe and only recently in the United States. The first United States
semi-postal was the Breast Cancer stamp of 1998.
Special events are often marked by printing a small sheet of stamps of
significance to the occasion along with a printed inscription
describing the event being commemorated. Such sheets make an
A defective stamp which is used to fill a mounting spot in a set of
stamps until a better copy can be found.
Often a stamp which has been improperly hinged will be damaged when the
hinge is removed. A layer of paper fibers under the hinge gum is torn
away leaving the paper of the stamp thin in the area. Such thins are
defects and should be mentioned when describing a stamp. The effect on
value will depend on the size of the thin.
Similar to tweezers (a term which the British still use) but made of
springy brass or steel plated to provide a smooth finish which does not
corrode. Having a pair of good tongs and learning to use them to
protect stamps during handling is a rewarding skill which everyone can
Flat sheets of postal stationery have been issued to be wrapped around
mailings of such items as newspapers. The newspaper would print the
address on the wrapper, roll the newspaper and then wrap it with the