Philatelic Terms

Stamp collecting is a rewarding hobby for all ages. However, it can be quite challenging if you don’t know the meaning of the stamp terminology that’s widely used by collectors and dealers.

Here’s a resource to aid you!

A

Adhesive

A stamp that is gummed.

Airmail Stamp

They were issued to prepay the postage of mail carried by air.

Albino

A design impression without any color.

Aniline

A water-soluble ink or dye.

Approvals

When a collector is offered a wide range of stamps to examine and choose from ahead of a purchase, but it must be bought or returned to the dealer in a specified time.

AVG – Average (AVG)

A stamp is average if the design is cut into by the perforations in any way, if the outer margin shows on the perforation teeth or if heavy cancellation marks are present.

Average Mounted Mint (AVMM)

As issued by the Post Office, with good gum and fully complete perforations, with hinge marks on the rear and other visible faults.

Average Unmounted Mint (AVUM)

A stamp issued by the Post Office, bearing good gum and full complete perforations, but with visible faults.

Average Used (A.U.)

A stamp in an excellent used condition with cancellation marks, small defects, or heavier postmarks.

B

Bisect

Describes part of a stamp cut in two for a different use, usually during an era of stamp shortages.

Blind Perforation (Blind perf)

A perforation that has not been fully punched out has left some paper where the perforation holes should be.

Block

A group of four or more unseparated stamps, which form a square or rectangle.

Blunt Perforation (Blunt perf)

A stamp with a perforation, which is shorter than would usually be expected.

Booklet

A small book that contains stamps in ‘panes.’

Booklet Panes

A small leaf or page of stamps which is sold in a booklet format.

C

Cachet

A commemorative marking, illustration, or description on an envelope explains the commemorative purpose when it was mailed and is usually applied by a rubber stamp.

Cancellation

An authorized mark applied to a stamp to prevent its reuse by defacing its surface.

Centering

The position of the design on a stamp within its perforations. For example: On a perfectly centered stamp, the design ‘well-centered’ when precisely in the middle.

Chalky Paper

Stamp paper is coated with a chalky solution for security purposes to prevent the postmark’s attempted removal, which would damage the stamp’s surface.

Charity Stamp

A stamp that was issued with a premium or surcharge for charitable purposes.

Circular Date Stamp (CDS)

A circular cancellation mark which often has the date and place name or location within it.

Classic

One of the earliest stamp issues from a country, usually up to about 1900.

Coil join

A tab that unites two sections from a roll of stamps.

Coil Stamps

Stamps produced in rolls for use in vending machines can often be identified by a pair of straight edges on opposite sides.

Comb Perforation

When the perforation pins have been arranged in a comb pattern to perforate three sides of a stamp in one stroke.

Commemorative Stamp

A stamp issued to mark a person, special event, or anniversary is usually only on sale for a limited period.

Commemorative Sheet

A sheet of stamps with a commemorative inscription to mark an event or anniversary.

Cover

An envelope, postcard, letter-sheet, or any other wrapper has been used to send mail correspondence.

Cut Square

The cut corner of an envelope or postcard bearing the imprinted stamp with ample margins.

Cylinder Number

Letters and numerals are displayed in sheet margins, which can identify printing cylinders. They are usually collected in a ‘cylinder block’ of six stamps.

D

Defective Mint (DEFM)

A stamp which has heavy creasing, thins, or missing perforations but would otherwise be classed as in a ‘mint’ state

Defective Used (D.U.)

When a stamp is in ‘used’ condition, it also has noticeable defects, such as small tears, creases, and clipped perforations or thins.

Definitive

A stamp issued for ordinary postal use, which remains on sale for an extended period.

Denomination

The monetary value that is printed on a stamp.

Die

A small, flat piece of soft steel used to print stamps by using an engraving plate to impress the design onto the paper.

Disturbed Gum (D.G.)

When the gum of a stamp has been damaged in some way.

Doctor Blade

A steel blade was used to remove surplus ink from a printing cylinder in the press.

Duck Stamp

Issued annually since 1934, these U.S. duck hunting permits help to finance the federal waterfowl program.

E

Embossed Envelope

An envelope which bears a postage stamp with a raised surface design printed on the actual envelope.

Embossing

A form of printing in relief.

Error

Highly-collectible stamps because a mistake in stamp design, printing, or production has occurred during their design or manufacture.

Essay

A trial stamp design that sometimes differed from the issued stamps.

Extremely Fine (X.F.)

A stamp where the design is well centered with the margins on all sides almost perfect, wider than usual, and clear from any perforations. For used stamps, the cancellations are light and tidy. For unused or mint stamps, the original gum is present.

F

Face Scrape

Part of the stamp’s front side has been scraped away to leave a spot in the overall stamp design.

Face Value

The denomination or value of a stamp, which is expressed on its face.

Fine (F)

A stamp design with unbalanced margins (top or bottom) but is not cut in any way by the perforations.

Fine to Very Fine (F-VF)

The stamp design is slightly off-centered (horizontally or vertically) but is clear from perforations – making it attractive but widely collected because it does not come with an unaffordable price.

Fine Used (F.U.)

Stamps which are lightly canceled and have a circular date stamp.

First Day Cover (FDC)

An envelope or card which has been postmarked and used on the first day of the issue.

First Flight Cover

An envelope or postcard which was carried on the inaugural mail flight between two destinations.

Flaw

When a printing fault causes a fortuitous blemish on a stamp.

Forgery

A fraudulent copy of a genuine stamp, overprint, or postmark – usually done to deceive collectors.

Frama Stamps

Also known as Machine Labels, a micro-processor machine produces these stamps after the required value coins have been entered.

G

Gem

Anyone can use it because it has no definite meaning – although it is mostly used to describe an extra high-quality stamp with fine centering, boardwalk margins, and no faults or other special features.

Graphite Lines

From 1957 to 1959, G.B. definitives had black vertical lines printed on the back of them so they could be used by automatic letter-sorting equipment.

Greetings Stamp

A stamp intended for use on a birthday card or other mail specifically for a special greeting.

Grill

This series of small dots are embossed on a stamp to allow ink from the postmark to sink in and prevent the stamp from being cleaned and reused.

Gum

The coating of adhesive glue on the back of an unused stamp.

Gum Bend, Gum Crease, or Gum Wrinkle

A natural occurrence in flat-plate printed stamps where the paper has shrunk, and the gum did not shrink at the same rate, causing the stamp to wrinkle. This will not lower a stamp’s value unless it is severe.

Gum Skip

A portion of the stamp has been left without gum because it was not spread entirely over the stamp during its manufacture.

Gutter

The blank margins of narrow space dividing a sheet of stamps into panes and permitting perforation.

H

Handstamp

A postmark or overprint which has been applied by hand.

Heavily Hinged (H.H.)

When the gum has been hinged, the mark which has been left is very large or prominent.

Hinge Remnant (H.R.)

The gum has had a hinge applied to it, and a portion of it was so difficult to remove that it was left attached to the stamp.

Hinged (H)

The gum surface has had a hinge applied to it.

Hinges

A small gummed strip which is used to fix stamps to the pages of an album.

Imperforate (Imperf)

Stamps have been deliberately printed and issued without perforations, so they bear straight edges on all four sides.

I

Imprint

When the printer’s name or issuing authority is inscribed on the stamps or in the sheet margins.

Imprinted Stamps

Stamps which have been printed directly on to postal items such as postcards or envelopes.

Inclusion

When a foreign piece of material has been pressed into the paper during manufacturing to create a spot that can be seen on the front, back, or in the middle of a stamp.

Invert

A stamp with one part of its design printed upside down concerning the rest of the stamp.

J

Jubilee Line

The colored line was found in the sheet margin of certain Q.V. and K.E.VII British stamps.

Jumbo or Boardwalk Margins

A stamp where the border between the edge of the design and its perforations is larger or smaller than that of other stamps on the same sheet. If this space is large, the stamp is usually referred to as a ‘jumbo’ and is more attractive and desirable.

K

Key Type (U)

Many colonial countries used a uniform design, where a standard key, head, or plate was used with different duty plates to bear the country’s name and the stamp’s value.

L

Lightly Hinged (L.H.)

The gum has had a hinge applied, but the mark which has been left is very small or light.

Line Perforation (P)

When a sheet of stamps is separated by a single line or row of holes.

Local

A stamp with geographical limits of where it can be used to post items.

M

Machin

A familiar name was given to G.B. definitives, first issued in 1967, which had the Queen’s head designed by Arnold Machin.

Machine label

More popularly known as Frama stamps, these are stamps produced by a microprocessor machine after coins of the required value have been entered.

Maltese Cross

The cross-shaped cancellation which was used on the first British stamps.

Margin

The unprinted edging which surrounds or divides a sheet of stamps.

Maximum card

A picture postcard often with a stamp and cancellation is relevant to the actual picture on the card.

Miniature Sheet

A small sheet of one or several stamps which are usually decorative.

Mint

A stamp in its original and unused pristine condition was never canceled and bore its full original gum.

Mint Never Hinged (MNH)

As issued by the Post Office, a stamp with a full original gum has not been previously hinged.

Mint Sheet

An entire sheet of stamps in their original unused condition as issued by the Post Office.

Mounted Mint (MM)

In the state as it was issued by the Post Office, including good gum and fully complete perforations, but with hinge marks on the back.

Mulready

Envelopes and letter sheets issued by Great Britain during 1840 had a pictorial motif designed by William Mulready.

N

Never Hinged (N.H.)

A stamp that has never had a hinge applied to it with a full original gum and no marks of any kind – sometimes known as an unhinged.

New Printings

When additional supplies of current stamps are reprinted.

No Gum (N.G.)

An unused stamp without gum.

Non-Value Indicator (NVI)

A stamp with no monetary value on it, but with its postage class (1st, 2nd) shown instead.

O

Obsolete

A stamp that is no longer sold by the Post Office even though it may still be valid for use.

Official Stamp

A stamp which was valid only for use by a government agency.

Overprint

Printing added to a stamp after production to indicate a change in value or function or commemorate an event.

P

Pair

Two unseparated stamps which are joined either vertically or horizontally as initially issued.

Pane

A formation or group of stamps within a sheet.

Perforation Gauge

A device that is used to gauge the number of perforations on a stamp in two centimeters.

Perforations

The holes are punched between stamps on a sheet to make them easy to separate.

Personalized Stamp

A stamp bearing an image taken from a personal photograph, but with an attached non-postal label.

Philately

The technical name for stamp collecting.

Phosphor Stamps

Stamps that have been overprinted or coated with phosphorescent materials can be recognized by automatic letter sorting machinery.

Pictorial

Any stamp which features a decorative image, rather than the usual symbolic designs such as a portrait or coat of arms.

Plate Block

When four or more attached stamps are still fastened to the margin, the number of the printing plates is inscribed.

Plate Number

This is when the letters and numerals in a sheet margin identify the printing plate.

Postal Stationery

Postcards, envelopes, cards, or any other covers which bear imprinted or impressed stamps on them.

Postmark

Any markings on a postal item, such as a cancellation, record the date and origin of its connection with the postal service and its transit through the mail system.

Precancel

A stamp is intended for use by a bulk poster and supplied with a pre-printed cancellation by the post office.

Presentation Pack

A stamp collecting souvenir which contains a set of stamps and some descriptive text about the issue.

Prestige Booklet

A booklet of stamps devoted to one subject or event contains individual panes of stamps accompanied by descriptive text alongside them.

Proof

A trial impression stamp which has been taken from an original die or printing plate.

Provisional

A stamp issued for temporary use is often overprinted or surcharged.

Pulled Perforation (P.P.)

A stamp where the perforation tip is missing entirely.

R

Regional

A collectors’ term for Royal Mail issues for use in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Separate issues were also made for Guernsey and Jersey to 1969 and until 1973 for the Isle of Man.

Re-Gummed (R.G.)

A stamp that has had new gum applied in place of the original.

Remainders

Stamps which remain in official stocks even after becoming obsolete.

Re-Perforated (R.P. or Report)

When alterations have been made to a stamp to add perforations to one or more edges, this is often done for dishonest reasons, such as to improve the worth of a lower-value stamp.

Reprints

Stamps are printed from original plates after being withdrawn.

Revenue Stamp

Any stamp which indicates the payment of a fee or tax.

Roulette

When slits or cuts have been used between stamps to separate them instead of perforations.

S

Seahorse

The high-value definitive stamps associated with King George V.

Self-Adhesive

A gummed stamp with a pressure-sensitive adhesive does not need moistening to fix it to the postal item.

Selvage

More often known as the margin, this is the unprinted paper around a pane of stamps.

Semi-Postal

A stamp where all or part of the money generated by its sale is donated to charity.

Se-Tenant

When adjoining stamps differ from each other in some aspects, such as their design or denomination.

Short Perforation (S.P. or Short Perf)

When a portion of the perforation tip is still present but is not as long as it should be.

Socked on the Nose (SON)

This means that the stamp has a CDS, and it is applied very close to the dead center on the stamp.

Spacefiller

A heavily defective stamp with considerable faults which sells for a significantly reduced price

Specimen

A sample stamp that has the words’ specimen’ perforated or overprinted on it.

Straight Edge (S.E.)

A philatelic term for when one or more edges of a stamp do not have perforations. Not to be confused with a coil stamp (always has two edges without perforations), a booklet stamp (can have one, two, or three edges without perforations), or an imperforate stamp (which has no perforations).

Strip

Three or more stamps which are joined together in a row.

Superb (S)

A nearly perfectly-centered stamp with a design that is perfect in all aspects. These are usually scarce and worth more in value.

Surcharge

When an overprint has been used to alter or change a stamp’s established face value.

T

Tab

The illustrated or descriptive label which is attached to a stamp.

Tête-Bêche

A stamp that is inverted concerning the adjoining stamp in a pair.

Thin

A ‘thin’ stamp gets its name from having an area where some of the paper is thinner than the stamp’s remainder.

Topicals

A group of stamps which are all of the same themes, such as trains.

Traffic Lights

The term used by collectors for the colored check dots is found in sheet margins.

U

Unmounted Mint (U.M.)

A stamp in its original unused condition, as issued by the Post Office, has never been hinged and complete perforations with good gum. Also known as new, never hinged.

Unused (*)

A stamp with no cancellation or any other sign of use, usually without gum.

Unused Never Hinged (**)

Also known as an ‘Unmounted Mint,’ this is a stamp in its original unused condition that has not been hinged.

Used (O)

A stamp that has been used postally and appropriately postmarked.

Used abroad

Stamps from one country which has been used and postmarked in another country.

Used on Piece

A stamp that has been kept on the part of the original cover to preserve its postmark completely.

V

Variety

When a stamp differs in some detail from its ‘normal’ issue.

Very Fine (V.F.)

Well-centered with full perforations and light cancellation are used.

Very Fine Used (VFU)

An excellent stamp that is undamaged, almost perfectly centered, and bears a light postmark.

Vignette

The central portion of a stamp’s design has been printed separately within the frame.

W

Watermark

The distinctive design or pattern formed in the paper by ‘thinning’ it during the manufacturing process to protect against forgery and act as a valuable security precaution.

Watermark Detection

A method where collectors place a stamp in a tray filled with a special fluid to determine the existence of a watermark safely.

Wilding

The popular name issued to British definitive stamps was first issued in 1952, featuring the Queen’s head and taken from a photographic portrait by Dorothy Wilding.

Wing Margin

When a wide margin occurs on one side of a stamp because of the sheet gutter margin’s central perforation, now the stamp terminology’s meaning is widely used by collectors and dealers.