Let the following Philatelic Glossary help you understand the wonderful world of Philately.
Aerogramme: The official Universal Postal Union designation for an airletter sheet. These sheets, with gummed flaps, are written on and folded into themselves to form their own envelope and are carried at less than the letter airmail rate. No enclosures are permitted.
Aerophilately: A specialized area of collecting concentrating on stamps or covers carried by air.
Airmail: The carriage of mail by air. The first regular airmail service began in 1870, when mail was carried from Paris, France, then besieged by German forces, over enemy lines by balloon. The first airmail stamp was issued by Italy in 1917 (Italy Scott C1).
Backstamp: A postmark applied to mail by the receiving post office or by a post office handling the piece while it is in transit. Backstamps are usually on the back of a cover, but they can be on the front.
Bilingual: Refers to stamps inscribed in two languages. Most Canadian stamps include both English and French text. South African stamps are sometimes in both English and Afrikaans.
Block: A unit of four or more unsevered stamps, including at least two stamps both vertically and horizontally. Most commonly a block refers to a block of four, or a block of stamps two high and two wide.
Bogus: A completely fictitious stamp-like label, created solely for sale to collectors. Bogus issues include labels for non-existent countries, non-existent values appended to regularly issued sets and issues for nations or entities without postal systems.
Booklet: A unit of one or more small panes or blocks (known as booklet panes) glued, stitched or stapled together between thin card covers to form a convenient unit for mailers to purchase and carry. The first officially issued booklet was produced by Luxembourg in 1895.
Cachet: In French, cachet means a stamp or a seal. In cover collecting, a cachet refers to a printed or handstamped design on an envelope denoting some special feature of the cover. Cachets appear on modern first-day covers, first-flight covers and special event covers.
Canceled To Order: Stamps are “canceled to order,” usually in full sheets, by many governments. Often, the cancels are printed on the stamps at the same time that the stamp design is printed. CTO stamps are sold to stamp dealers at large discounts from face value. CTO stamps have never seen actual postal use. Most catalogs say whether they price CTO stamps or genuinely used ones. A stamp with a cancel and with full gum is likely a CTO stamp.
Cancellation: A marking that shows a stamp has been used. Modern cancels usually include the location of the post office from which the item is mailed and the date of mailing. Some also include a section of lines, bars, text or a design that “kills” the value of the stamp. This part of a cancel is called the killer.
Catalog: Comprehensive compilation of postage stamps and revenue stamps, providing descriptions and, usually, values for the items, often including stamps priced on cover.
Censored Mail: A cover bearing a handstamp or label indicating that the envelope has been opened and read by a censor.
Centering: The relative position of the design of a stamp in relation to its margins. Assuming that a stamp is undamaged, centering is generally a very important factor in determining condition and value.
Certified Mail: A service of most postal adminstrations that provides proof of mailing and delivery without indemnity for loss or damage.
Changeling: A stamp whose color has been changed by contact with a chemical or sunlight.
Charity Stamp: A stamp sold at a higher price than its postal value. The additional charge is usually noted on the stamp and is earmarked for a special fund. The use of semipostal stamps is voluntary. Postal tax stamps are similar to semipostals, but their use is usually required for all mail being posted during a specific period.
Cinderella: Stamp-like label that is not a postage stamp. Cinderellas include a wide variety of stamp-like labels, seals and bogus issues.
Classic: An early issue, with a connotation of rarity, although classic stamps are not necessarily rare. A particularly scarce recent item may be referred to as a modern classic.
Coil: A stamp prepared in rolls for sale and use in stamp-vending and affixing machines. Coils are often imperforate on two parallel sides and bear distinctive perforations. Some are numbered on the back to distinguish them from sheet stamps.
Commemorative: A stamp issued to note a special event or anniversary. A limited quantity of these stamps are available at the post office for a limited period. See also Definitive.
Compound Perforations: Different gauge perforations on different sides of a single stamp. The sides with the different perforations are usually perpendicular.
Counterfeit: Any stamp, cancellation or cover created for deception or imitation, intended to be used as genuine. A counterfeit stamp is designed to deceive postal authorities.
Cover: An envelope or piece of postal stationery, usually one that has been mailed. A cover also refers to folded letters that were addressed and mailed without an envelope.
Cut Square: A postal stationery cut-out. The imprinted stamp is neatly cut from the entire envelope, wrapper or postal card in a square or rectangular piece. Collectors generally prefer to collect stationery as entire pieces rather than as cut squares. Some older stationery is only available in cut squares.
Definitive: Stamp issued for an indefinite period and in indefinite quantity, usually for several years or more. The United States Presidential issue of 1938 and the Transportation coil stamps are examples. Definitive stamp designs usually do not honor a specific time-dated event.
Denomination: The face value of a stamp. It is usually printed on the stamp. Modern stamps produced for rate changes sometimes are denominated with a letter. A numerical value is assigned when the letter stamps are issued. An example of this is the U.S. E stamp, which represented the first-class rate of 25.
Die: The original engraving of a stamp. A transfer roller is made from a die, and printing plates are made from the transfer roller. When more than one die is used in the production of an issue, distinctive varieties are often identifiable.
Embossing: The process of giving relief to paper by pressing it with a die. Embossed designs are often found on postal stationery (usually on envelopes and wrappers). Occasionally stamps have been embossed.
Entire: An intact piece of postal stationery, in contrast to a cut-out of the printed design. This term is sometimes used in reference to an intact cover or folded letter.
Essay: The artwork of a proposed design for a stamp. Some essays are rendered photographically. Others are drawn in pencil or ink or are painted. Most essays are rejected. One becomes the essay for the accepted design.
Face Value: The value of a stamp as inscribed on its face, or for letter-denominated or undenominated stamps, the understood postal value of the stamp.
Facsimile: Reproduction of a genuine stamp or cover. Such items are usually made with no intent to deceive collectors or postal officials. Catalog illustrations are facsimiles.
Fake: A stamp, cover or cancel altered or concocted to appeal to a collector. In a broad sense, fakes include repairs, reperforations and regummed stamps, as well as painted-in cancels, bogus cancels or markings. Sometimes entire covers are faked.
First Day Cover: A cover bearing a stamp tied by a cancellation showing the date of the first day of issue of that stamp.
Forgery: A completely fraudulent reproduction of a postage stamp. There are two general types of forgeries: 1) those intended to defraud the postal authorities; and 2) those intended to defraud the collectors.
Frank, Franking: An indication on a cover that postage is prepaid, partially prepaid or that the letter is to be carried free of postage. Franks may be written, handstamped, imprinted or affixed. Free franking is usually limited to government correspondence or soldiers’ mail. Stamps are the modern method of franking a letter.
Gum: The mucilage applied to the backs of adhesive postage stamps, revenue stamps or envelope flaps. Gum is a concern of stamp collectors. It may crack and harm the paper of the stamp itself. It may stain or adhere to other stamps or album pages under certain climatic conditions. Many collectors are willing to pay extra for 19th- and some 20th-century stamps with intact, undisturbed original gum.
Gutter: The selvage, either unprinted or with plate numbers, advertising or accounting or control numbers, between the panes of a sheet of stamps.
Handstamp: Cancellation or overprint applied by hand to a cover or to an adhesive .
Imperforate: Refers to stamps without perforations or rouletting between the individual stamps in a pane. The earliest stamps were imperforate, but after about 1860, most stamps were perforated. Modern imperforates are usually errors or are produced specifically for sale to stamp collectors.
Indicium: The imprint on postal stationery, as opposed to an adhesive stamp, indicating prepayment and postal validity. Plural: indicia.
International Reply Coupon: Coupons issued by members of the Universal Postal Union to provide for return postage from recipients in foreign countries. IRCs are exchangeable for postage at a post office.
Line Pair: A line between a pair of coil stamps. Stamps produced on a flatbed press have a line.
Margin: 1) the selvage surrounding the stamps in a sheet, often carrying inscriptions of various kinds; or 2) the unprinted area between stamps in a sheet or what is left after stamps are separated. The collectible grades of stamps are determined by the position of the design in relation to the edge of the stamp as perforated or, in the case of imperforate stamps, as cut from the sheet.
Maximum Card: A picture postcard, a cancel, and a stamp presenting maximum concordance. The stamp is usually affixed to the picture side of the card and is tied by the cancel. Collectors of maximum cards seek to find or seek to create cards with stamp, cancel and picture in maximum agreement, or concordance. The statutes of the International Federation of Philately (FIP) give specific explanatory notes for the postage stamp, the picture postcard, the cancel, concordance of subject, and concordance of place.
Metered Mail: Mail franked by a postage meter, a device that automatically imprints the proper postal rate with a distinctive imprint in the upper right-hand area of the envelope. Meters were authorized by the UPU in 1920. They are used today by volume mailers to cut the cost of franking mail.
Miniature Sheet: A smaller-than-normal pane of stamps issued only in that form or in addition to full panes. A miniature sheet is usually without marginal markings or text saying that the sheet was issued in conjuction with or to commemorate some event. See also Souvenir Sheet.
Mint: A stamp in the same state as issued by a post office: unused, undamaged and with full original gum (if so issued with gum). Over time, handling, light and atmospheric conditions affect the mint state of stamps.
New Issue Service: A dealer service that automatically supplies subscribers with new issues of a given country, area or topic. Issues provided are determined by a pre-arranged standing order defining the quantity and types of issues.
Newspaper Stamps: Stamps issued specifically for prepayment of mailing rates for newspapers, periodicals and printed matter.
Occupation Issue: An issue released for use in territory occupied by a foreign power.
Off-Center: A stamp design is not centered in relation to the edges of the stamp. Generally, off-center stamps are less desirable than stamps more nearly centered in relation to the edges. Some collectors specialize in collecting stamps that are extremely off-center.
Official: Stamp or stationery issued solely for the use of government departments and officials. Such items may or may not be available to collectors in unused condition from a post office.
Offset: 1) A printing process that transfers an inked image from a plate to a roller. The roller then applies the ink to paper; 2) The transfer of part of a stamp design or an overprint from one sheet to the back of another, before the ink has dried (also called set off). Such impressions are in reverse. They are different than stamps printed on both sides.
Omnibus Issue: An issue released by several postal entities celebrating a common theme. Omnibus issues may or may not share a keytype design.
On Paper: Stamps on paper, usually used stamps, that still bear portions of the original envelope or wrapper upon which they were used.
On Piece: A stamp on a portion of the original envelope or wrapper showing all or most of the cancel.
Original Gum: The adhesive coating on a mint or unused stamp or envelope flap applied by a postal authority or security printer, usually before the item was issued. Upon request of stamp collectors, postal authorities have at some times offered to add gum to items first issued ungummed.
Overprint: Any printing over the original design of a stamp. An overprint that changes the value of a stamp is also called a surcharge.
Pen-Canceled: Stamps canceled with a pen rather than a handstamp or machine cancel. Many early stamps were routinely canceled by pen. A pen cancel may also indicate that a stamp was used as a fiscal.
Perfins: Stamps punched with “perforated initials” or designs of holes that stand for letters, numbers or symbols. Perfins are normally used by a business or government office to discourage pilferage or misuse of stamps by employees. Perfins may be either privately or officially produced.
Perforation: The punching out of holes between stamps to make separation easy. 1) Comb perforation
Philatelic Cover: An envelope or postal card franked and mailed by a stamp collector to create a collectible object. It may or may not have carried a personal or business message. A non-philatelic cover is usually one that has carried business or personal correspondence or messages and has had its stamps applied by a non-collector. Some stamps are known only on collector-created covers. It is impossible to say whether some covers are philatelically inspired or not.
Philately: The collection and study of postage stamps and postal stationery.
Plate Block: A block of stamps from the corner or side of a pane including the selvage bearing the number(s) of the plate(s) used to print the sheet from which the pane was separated. Some stamp production methods, like booklet production, normally cut off plate numbers. In the United States, plate number blocks are collected normally as blocks of four to 20 stamps, depending on the press used to print the stamps. When each stamp in a pane is a different design, the plate block is usually collected as an entire pane.
Postage Dues: Stamps or markings indicating that insufficient postage has been affixed to the mailing piece. Postage dues are usually affixed at the office of delivery. The additional postage is collected from the addressee.
Postal Card: A government-produced postcard bearing an imprint in the upper right corner representing prepayment of postage.
Postal Stationery: Stationery bearing imprinted stamps, as opposed to adhesive stamps. Postal stationery includes postal cards, lettercards, imprinted envelopes, wrappers, aerogrammes, telegraph cards, postal savings forms and similar government-produced items. Some early postcards had no imprinted stamp. These formular cards were sold with or without an added adhesive stamp.
Postally Used: A stamp or cover that has seen legitimate postal use, as opposed to one that has been canceled to order or favor-canceled. Postally used suggests that an item exists because it was used to carry a personal or business communication, without the sender thinking of creating an item to be collected.
Postcard: A small card, usually with a picture on one side and a space for a written message on the other. Postcards have no imprinted stamp. See also Postal Card.
Postmark: Any official postal marking. The term is usually used specifically in reference to cancellations bearing the name of a post office of origin and a mailing date.
Pre-stamp Covers: Folded letters or their outer enclosures used before the introduction of adhesive postage stamps or postal stationery.
Precancel: Stamp with a special cancellation, overprint or text allowing it to bypass normal canceling. The indication of stamps being precancels is applied by a post office before the stamps are sold. Precanceled stamps are used by volume mailers who hold a permit to use them. U.S. precancels fall into two categories: 1) Locals have the mark or text applied by a town or city post office; and 2) Bureaus have the mark or text applied by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Proofs: Trial impressions from a die or printing plate before actual stamp production. Proofs are made to examine a die or plate for defects and to compare the results of different inks.
Provisional: A temporary postage stamp, issued to meet postal demands until new or regular stocks of stamps can be obtained.
Regional: Stamp sold or valid in a specific part of a stamp issuing-entity. Great Britain has issued stamps for the regions of Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Regionals are usually sold only in a given region but are often valid for postage throughout a country.
Registered Mail: First-class mail with a numbered receipt, including a valuation of the registered item, for full or limited compensation if the mail is lost. Some countries have issued registered mail stamps. Registered mail is signed by each postal employee who handles it.
Reprint: A stamp printed from the original plate, after the issue has ceased to be postally valid. Official reprints are sometimes made for presentation purposes or official collections.They are often distinguishable in some way from the originals: different colors, perforations, paper or gum. Private reprints, on the other hand, are usually produced strictly for sale to collectors and often closely resemble the original stamps. Private reprints normally sell for less than original copies.
Revenues: Stamps representing the prepayment or payment of various taxes. Revenues are affixed to official documents and to merchandise. Some stamps, including many issues of the British Commonwealth, were inscribed “Postage and Revenue” and were available for either use. Such issues are usually worth less fiscally canceled than postally used. In some cases, revenues have been used provisionally as postage stamps.
Se-tenant: French for “joined together.” Two or more unseparated stamps of different designs, colors, denominations or types.
Secret Marks: Reference area in a stamp’s design to foil attempts at counterfeiting and to differentiate issues.
Selvage: The unprinted marginal paper on a sheet or pane of stamps.
Semipostal: Stamp sold at a surcharge over postal value. The additional charge is for a special purpose. Usually recognized by the presence of two (often different) values, separated by a “+” sign, on a single stamp.
Series: A group of stamps with a similar design or theme. A series may be planned or may evolve..
Set: A unit of stamps issued for a common purpose, either at one time or over an extended period, embracing a common design or theme.
Sheet: A complete unit of stamps as printed. Stamps are usually printed in large sheets and are separated into two or more panes before shipment to post offices.
Short Set: An incomplete set of stamps, usually lacking either the high value(s) or one or more key values.
Souvenir Card: A philatelic card, not valid for postage, issued in conjunction with some special event..
Souvenir Sheet: A small sheet of stamps, usually including one value or a set of stamps. A souvenir sheet usually has a wide margin and a commemorative inscription.
Special Delivery: A service providing expedited delivery of mail. Also called express.
Specialist: A stamp collector who intensively studies and collects the stamps and postal history of a given country or area, or who has otherwise limited his collecting field.
Specimen: Stamp or stationery item distributed to UPU members for identification purposes and to the philatelic press and trade for publicity purposes. Specimens are overprinted or punched with the word “SPECIMEN” or its equivalent, or are overprinted or punched in a way to make them different than the issued stamps. Specimens of scarce stamps tend to be less valuable than the actual stamps. Specimens of relatively common stamps are more valuable.
Speculative Issue: A stamp or issue released primarily for sale to collectors, rather than to meet any legitimate postal need.
Stamp: A postal adhesive. Initially used as a verb, meaning to imprint or impress, that is, to stamp a design.
Stampless Cover: A folded sheet or envelope carried as mail without a postage stamp. This term usually refers to covers predating the requirement that stamps be affixed to all letters (in the United States, 1856).
Straight Edge: Flat-plate or rotary-plate stamps from the margins of panes where the sheets were cut apart. Straight-edge stamps have no perforations on one or two adjacent sides. Sometimes straight-edge stamps show a guideline.
Strip: Three or more unseparated stamps in a row, vertically or horizontally.
Surcharge: An overprint that changes or restates the denomination of a stamp..
Telegraph Stamp: Label used for the prepayment of telegraph fees. Telegraph stamps resemble postage stamps.
Tete-Beche: French for “head to tail.” Two or more unsevered stamps, one of which is inverted in relation to the other.
Thematic: A collection of stamps or covers relating to a specific topic. The topic is expanded by careful inquiry and is presented as a logical story. See also Topical.
Tied: A stamp is said to be tied to a cover when the cancel extends over both the stamp and the envelope paper. Stamps can also be tied by the aging of the mucilage or glue that holds them to the paper.
Topical: 1) Stamp or cover showing a given subject. Examples are flowers, art, birds, elephants or the Statue of Liberty. 2) The collection of stamps by the topic depicted on them, rather than by country of origin. See also Thematic.
Triptych: A se-tenant strip of three related stamps, often forming one overall design.
Universal Postal Union: An international organization formed in Bern, Switzerland, in 1874, to regulate and standardize postal usage and to facilitate the movement of mail between member nations. Today, most nations belong to the UPU.
Unused: An uncanceled stamp that has not been used but has a hinge mark or some other disturbance that keeps it from being mint. Uncanceled stamps without gum may have been used and missed being canceled, or they may have lost their gum by accident.
Used: A stamp or stationery item that has been canceled by a postal authority to prevent its re-use on mail. In general, a used stamp is any stamp with a cancel or a precanceled stamp without gum.
Variety: A variation from the standard form of a stamp. Varieties include watermarks, inverts, imperforates, missing colors, wrong colors and major color shifts.
Vignette: The central part of a stamp design, usually surrounded by a border. The vignette often shades off gradually into the surrounding area.
Watermark: A deliberate thinning of paper during its manufacture, to produce a semitranslucent pattern. Watermarks appear frequently in paper used in stamp printing.
Wrapper: A flat sheet or strip open at both ends that can be folded and sealed around a newspaper or periodical. Wrappers can have an imprinted stamp or have a stamp attached.
ZIP Code: The U.S. numerical post code used to speed and mechanize mail handling and delivery. The letters stand for Zoning Improvement Plan.