Glossary of Stamp Collecting Terms

Adhesive: A gummed postage stamp intended for affixing on letters and other mail.

US #C3 was the first US Airmail stamp.

Airmails: Stamps issued specifically for use on airmail letters. Catalogue Designation: C.

American Bank Note Co.: Company that printed US stamps from 1879 until 1894, as well as the 1940s Overrun Countries Series and others.

Approvals: Stamps sent to collectors by dealers for purchase or return after examination. (Mystic’s free at-home service is one of the easiest, most convenient ways to build a great collection. And you get to pick and choose before you buy!)

US #C10a Booklet and Booklet Pane

Booklet: Pane of stamps attached to a card cover, which is bound together by stitching, staples, or glue.

Booklet Pane: Small stamp sheets printed, cut, and sold in booklet form.

Block: Usually four stamps attached in a block and referred to as a “block of four.”

Bureau of Engraving & Printing: Printer of nearly every US stamp issued from 1894 until 2005. The Bureau no longer prints postage stamps.

Cancellation: Mark on stamp to show it has been postally used.

US #618 from Left to Right: Very Good Centering, Fine Centering, Very Fine Centering

Centering: The position of the design on a stamp in relation to its margins.

Cinderella Stamp from 1901 Pan-American Exposition

Cinderella: A stamp-like label not valid for postage. Some Revenue stamps and old local post stamps are considered Cinderellas.

Coil: Stamps issued in rolls, rather than sheets. Coil stamps have straight edges on two opposite sides.

Commemorative: Stamps honoring persons, events, or themes. Sold for a limited time only.

Compound Perforations: More than one gauge of perforation on the same stamp, such as 11 x 10.

Condition: Quality of a stamp regarding its centering, color, gum, and if used or mint.

Continental Bank Note Co.: Company which held the contract for printing US postage stamps from 1873 to 1879.

Controlled Mail: System where mail is sent bearing specific stamps, with the intention of the stamps being returned to sender.

US #5615-18 Western Wear Convertible Booklet – You can see the gaps between the three sections of the pane where it can be folded.

Convertible Booklet: A small pane of self-adhesive stamps manufactured so it can be folded into a booklet.

CTO: Canceled to Order stamps have been canceled, but have not been through the mail.

Definitive: Regular-issue stamps produced for several years. Usually smaller than commemoratives and they may be re-issued.

Die: A small flat piece of soft steel used in the printing of a stamp. The stamp design is engraved on the die, which in turn prints it on the stamp.

Die Cut: Cut by a metal device to produce perforation-like wavy lines for separating stamps. Self-adhesive stamps are die-cut.

US #1509b American Flag Blue Omitted Error Stamp

Error: Stamp with a mistake in color, perforations, or design.

Essay: Preliminary stamp design that is either not used, or is used with changes.

GB #1214 Europa Stamp

Europa: Stamps issued by a group of European nations with a common design theme.

Face Value: Monetary value printed on stamp; the denomination. Sometimes stamps have no printed denomination. Face value is determined by postal authorities.

Farley’s Follies: In the 1930s, Postmaster General James Farley created a scandal by giving imperforate, ungummed versions of new stamps to his friends and family.

US #5798 Chief Standing Bear First Day Cover

First Day Cover: Envelope bearing stamp canceled on the first day of issue. Most covers from 1935 on have a “cachet.” The cachet is a design on the cover which relates to the topic of the stamp being issued.

Flatbed Press: A printing press which uses a flat rather than a curved plate and is usually fed one sheet at a time.

Frank: To show postage is prepaid, as with a stamp.

Freak: A stamp showing a production flaw that is not consistent – such as ink smudges or off-center perfs.

“E” Grill seen on the back of a US #88

Grill: Rows of pyramid-shaped embossing, impressed into the back of certain stamps. Grills broke stamp fibers, letting cancellation ink sink in, making re-use impossible. Grills are categorized as “A” through “G” and “Z” grills.

Gum: The adhesive used on stamps.

Gum Breakers

Gum Breaker: Colorless ridges across the adhesive on the backs of stamps. “Breaks” the adhesive so stamps won’t curl.

Gum Skip: A portion of a stamp, usually near the edge of a pane where the gum has not been applied during production.

US #770a Mt. Rainier Cross Gutter Block

Gutter Pair: Pair of stamps with wide gutter between. The gutter also separates sheets into panes. Vertical gutter means the gutter (not stamp) is vertical.

Hinge: Small gummed paper strip for mounting a stamp in an album.

Hunting Permit Stamps: Issued yearly by the US government since 1934, these duck hunting permits also help finance the federal waterfowl program. Catalogue Designation: RW.

Imperforate Stamp: A stamp having no perforations. Individual stamps must be cut from the sheet.

US #1610c Rush Lamp Inverted Error Stamp

Invert: Stamp with a portion of the design printed upside down.

US #757 Grand Canyon Horizontal Line Pair

Line Pair: Attached pair of stamps with a printed guideline running between.

Linerless Coil: Self-adhesive coil stamp issued without backing paper.

Microprinting: Tiny print added to a stamp design as a security measure.

Miniature Sheet: Sheet of 25 stamps or less, not issued for a specific commemorative purpose.

Mint: In unused, original condition.

Mint Sheet: Sheet of stamps in unused, original condition.

Hawaii #H2 Missionary Stamp

Missionaries: The first four stamps of the Hawaiian Islands. Extremely scarce.

Mount: Clear sleeve which allows a stamp to be placed in an album without using a hinge.

National Bank Note Co.: Company which held the contract for printing US stamps from 1870 to 1873.

Official Stamps: Special adhesive stamps only used by various departments of the government. Catalogue Designation: O.

US #660 is part of the 1929 Kansas-Nebraska stamps which were overprinted with “Kans.” or “Nebr.”

Omnibus Issue: Stamps issued by several different countries commemorating the same event and often having similar designs.

Overprint: Stamp to which printing is added on top of the original design.

Pane: Stamps come off the press in large sheets known as press sheets. These are cut into smaller sheets, called panes, before being sent to post offices for sale to the public.

Parcel Post Stamps: Special stamps issued for use only on parcels weighing more than 16 ounces. Catalogue Designation: Q.

Paste-Up Pair

Paste-Up Pair: A pair of coil stamps which shows the place where two sheets of stamps were pasted together.

US #R505 Revenue Stamp with Perfins

Perfin: Stamp perforated by private firms, through the design portion, with initials.

Perforations: Small rows of “teeth” and the holes punched between them to make separating stamps easier.

Perforation Number: The number of perforations found in a space of 2 centimeters.

Philately: The collection and study of stamps, covers, and related postal material.

Pictorial Issue: Issued in 1869, these were the first US bi-color stamps and the first to honor something other than a president/statesman. Forerunner to modern commemoratives. Generally, “pictorial” refers to any stamp with a scenic view.

Plate: Metal base used for printing stamps.

US #549 Landing of the Pilgrims Plate Block

Plate Block: Block of 4 or more stamps with the printing plate number in the margin.

Plate Number Strip: A strip of three or five coil stamps with the middle stamp bearing a plate number.

Postage Due Stamps: Placed on mail to indicate not enough postage has been paid, these stamps show how much is owed to the Post Office. Catalogue Designation: J.

Postal Stationery: Envelopes, postal cards, and aerogrammes with stamps printed or embossed on them.

Postmark: Cancellation mark showing date and place of mailing.

US #2123a School Bus Precanceled Stamp

Precancel: Stamp with the postmark applied before the actual mailing of the article it pre-pays. Precancels applied by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are called “bureau precancels.”

Prestige Booklet: A stamp booklet with informative text, issued for a specific commemorative purpose.

Prexies: Popular term for the 1938 Presidential Series, US #803-34, #839-51.

Proof: Preliminary printing of a stamp to test color, design, etc. Unlike an essay, proof designs are used on the finished stamps.

Regular Issue: Also known as a definitive, this stamp is issued over a long period of time and in various denominations. Regular issues are usually small in size.

US #R280 Revenue Stamp

Revenue Stamps: Used to show that taxes were paid on certain items. Catalogue Designation: R or R plus another letter.

Rotary Press: A printing press that uses curved printing plates and a continuous roll of paper, called a web.

Selvage: The border of paper around a sheet or pane of stamps.

US #B4 Save Vanishing Species Semipostal Stamp

Semipostals: Stamps with an additional charge (surcharge) to raise money for charity. Catalogue Designation: B.

Series: Stamps with a common theme which may be released and added to over a number of years.

Serpentine: Wavy line impressed into paper between stamps in place of perforations, allowing for separation. Used on self-adhesive stamps.

Set: Complete series issued at one time which includes all the denominations in the set.

US #3061-64 Pioneers of Communication Se-Tenant of 4 Stamps

Se-Tenant: Two or more stamps with different designs or values printed on the same sheet.

Sheet: Arrangement in which stamps come off a printing press; commemorative stamps are usually printed in sheets of 200.

Self-Adhesive: Stamp issued on a special backing paper which, once peeled off, can be affixed without being moistened.

US #948 CIPEX Souvenir Sheet

Souvenir Sheet: A small sheet of stamps issued for a commemorative purpose, with inscription or artwork in its border. Usually issued in conjunction with a stamp show.

Special Delivery Stamps: Stamps which charges an extra fee for immediate delivery. Catalogue Designation: E.

US #O1S Department of Agriculture Official Specimen Stamp

Specimen: Stamp which is overprinted with the word “specimen” to prevent stamp’s use as postage. Specimens are used for reference.

Stock Book: A book whose pages have a number of glassine strips forming pockets into which stamps can be inserted for storage.

Strip: Three or more attached stamps in a horizontal or vertical row.

Tagging: A chemical substance applied to a stamp which activates automatic cancellation machines.

A Thin can be seen circled on the back of this stamp.

Thin: An area where a layer of a stamp’s paper has been removed, usually on the back.

Tongs: Metal implements used to handle stamps. They are not tweezers.

Topicals: Stamps which have a common theme, such as animals, flowers, space, etc.

Unused Stamps: Stamps which have never been used for postage, but may have one or two small flaws. Mystic sells stamps with small flaws at a significant discount.

Used Stamps: Stamps which have been used for postage on a letter or package.

US #573 America – The vignette on this bi-color stamp is blue.

Vignette: The central portion of a stamp design.

Water-Activated: Stamp gum that needs moistening in order to adhere to a surface.

Watermark: A pattern that is impressed into paper during manufacture which helps discourage counterfeiting of stamps.

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One Comment

  1. I see a reference to “dry printing” and “wet printing” in reference to postage due stamps. I cannot find an explanation for these processes. Wet or dry will determine scott number according to my catalog. Thank you for your assistance.

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