Philatelic Glossary

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

AEROPHILATELY: The collecting, preservation, and study of airmail stamps.

AIRMAIL STAMPS: Stamps issued specifically for use on airmail letters. Catalog Designation: “C”

AMERICAN BANK NOTE COMPANY: Printed U.S. stamps from 1879 until 1894 as well as the Overrun Countries and other issues.

APPROVALS: Stamps sent to customers by dealers for purchase or return after examination. (Mystic thinks this is one of the easiest, most convenient ways to build a fine collection.)

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

BOOKLET PANE: Small sheets (usually six stamps) 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 U.S. stamp issued since 1894.

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

CENTERING: The way the design on a stamp is positioned. If perfect, margins between design and perforations are equal on all sides.

CINDERELLA: A stamp-like label not valid for postage. Sometimes, Revenues and 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 – often on perpendicular sides.

CONDITION: Quality of a stamp regarding its centering, color, and gum.

CONTINENTAL BANK NOTE COMPANY: Company which held the contract for printing U.S. stamps from 1873 to 1879.

CONTROLLED MAIL: A system in which mail is sent bearing specific stamps, with the intention of the stamps being returned to the sender.

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

C.T.O.: Canceled to Order stamps are postally canceled without going through the mail.

DEFINITIVE: Regular-issue stamps produced for several years. Usually these stamps are smaller than commemoratives.

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.

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

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

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

FACE VALUE: Monetary value printed on stamp; the denomination.

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.

FIRST DAY COVER: Envelope with stamp canceled on the first day of issue. Most covers from 1935 on are cacheted. Cachets are designs which relate 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 that postage has been prepaid, as with a stamp.

FREAK: A stamp showing a production flaw which is not consistent – includes ink smudge and off-center perforations.

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.

GUM: The adhesive used on stamps.

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

GUM SKIPS: A portion of a stamp, usually near the edge of a pane, where the gum has not been applied.

GUTTER PAIR: Pair of stamps with wide gutter between. The gutter separates the sheets into panes.

HINGE: Gummed strip for mounting a stamp in an album.

HUNTING PERMIT STAMP: Issued yearly by the U.S. government since 1934, these duck hunting permits also help finance the federal waterfowl program. Catalog Designation: “RW”

IMPERFORATE STAMP: A stamp having no perforations. Individual stamps must be cut apart from the sheet.

INVERT: Two-colored stamp with a portion of the design printed upside down.

LINE PAIR: Attached pair of stamps with a printed guideline running between.

LINERLESS COIL: Self-adhesive coil stamps issued without backing paper.

MICROPRINTING: Tiny printing 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: A sheet of stamps all in mint condition.

MISSIONARIES: The first four stamps of the Hawaiian Islands.

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

NATIONAL BANK NOTE COMPANY: Company which held the contract for printing U.S. stamps from 1870 to 1873.

OFFICIAL STAMPS: Special adhesive stamps only used by various departments of the government. Catalog Designation: “O”

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

OVERPRINT: Printing added on top of the original design of a stamp.

PANE: Stamps come off the press in large sheets known as press sheets. These are cut into smaller sheets called panes.  The panes of stamps are then sent to post offices for sale to the public.

PARCEL POST STAMP: Special stamps issued for use only on parcels weighing more than 16 ounces. Cat. Designation: “Q”

PASTE-UP PAIR: A pair of coil stamps which shows the joint where two sheets were pasted together.

PERFIN: Stamps perforated through the face by private firms with initials or designs.

PERFORATION: Small rows of holes punched between stamps to make separating them easy.

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: Issued in 1869, these stamps were the first bi-color U.S. stamps and the precursor to modern commemoratives.

PLATE: Metal base used for printing stamps.

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 insufficient postage, these stamps were discontinued by the Post Office, and are now obsolete. Catalog Designation: “J”

POSTAL STATIONERY: Envelopes, postal cards, and aerogrammes with stamps printed on them.

POSTMARK: Cancellation mark on mail showing date and place of mailing.

PRECANCEL: Stamp with the postmark applied before the actual mailing of the article it prepays.

PRESTIGE BOOKLET: A stamp booklet with large pane and informative text, issued for a specific commemorative purpose.

PREXIES: Popular term for the 1938 Presidential Series, U.S. #803-334, #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.

REVENUE STAMPS: Used to show that taxes were paid on certain items. Catalog 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.

SEMI-POSTAL: Stamps with an additional charge to raise money for charity. Catalog 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.

SET: Complete series issued at one time which includes all the values in the set.

SE-TENANT: Two or more stamps with different designs or values printed together 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: Stamps issued on a special backing with pre-applied adhesive. Once peeled off, the stamp can be affixed without being moistened.

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

SPECIAL DELIVERY: Stamp which charges an extra fee for immediate delivery. Catalog Designation: “E”

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

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

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

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

TONGS: Metal tweezer-like implements used to handle stamps.

TOPICALS: Stamps with a common theme, such as animals, flowers, 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.

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 manufacturing which helps discourage counterfeiting of stamps.

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