Glossary of Philatelic Terms
Accessories: The tools used by stamp collectors, such as
tongs, hinges, etc.
Adhesive: A gummed stamp made to be attached to mail.
Aerogrammes: Air letters designed to be letters and
envelopes in one. They are specially stamped and ready for folding.
Aerophilately: Stamp collecting that focuses on stamps or
postage relating to airmail.
Album: A book designed to hold stamps and covers.
Approvals: Stamps sent by a dealer to a collector for
examination. Approvals must either be bought or returned to the dealer
within a specified time.
Auction: A sale at which philatelic material is sold to
the highest bidder.
Bar code: A series of vertical full bars and half bars
representing the ZIP Code information printed on a mail piece to
facilitate automated processing by bar code reader equipment.
Black Jack: The nickname for the very popular U.S.
two-cent black Andrew Jackson stamp, which was issued in various forms
between 1863 and 1875.
Block: An unseparated group of stamps, at least two
stamps high and two stamps wide.
Bluish Paper: Used to print portions of several issues in
1909; the paper was made with 35 percent rag stock instead of all wood
pulp. The color goes through the paper, showing clearly on back and face.
Board of Governors (BOG): As the governing body of the
Postal Service, the Board is comparable to a board of directors of a
private corporation. The Board includes nine governors who are appointed
by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. The nine
governors select a Postmaster General, who becomes a member of the Board,
and those 10 select a Deputy Postmaster General, who also serves on the
Board. The Board directs and controls the expenditures and reviews the
practices and policies of the Postal Service.
Bogus: A completely fictitious, worthless
"stamp," created only for sale to collectors. Bogus stamps
include labels for nonexistent values added to regularly issued sets,
issues for nations without postal systems, etc.
Booklet Pane: A small sheet of stamps specially cut to be
sold in booklets.
Bourse: A marketplace, such as a stamp exhibition, where
stamps are bought, sold or exchanged.
Cachet (ka-shay'): A design on an envelope describing an
event. Cachets appear on first day of issue, first flight and stamp
exhibition covers, etc.
Cancellation: A mark placed on a stamp by a postal
authority to show that it has been used.
Centering: The position of the design on a postage stamp.
On perfectly centered stamps the design is exactly in the middle.
Cinderella: Any stamp-like label without an official
Classic: An early stamp issue. Most people consider these
to be rare stamps, but classic stamps aren't necessarily rare.
Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC): A group of
independent citizens appointed by the Postmaster General to review the
more than 40,000 suggestions for stamp subjects the Postal Service
receives each year.
Classification Reform: On July 1, 1996, the Postal
Service adjusted the domestic mail classification system to establish a
simple, more consistent rate structure and to keep its products in line
with the changing needs of the marketplace.
Coils: Stamps issued in rolls (one stamp wide) for use in
dispensers or vending machines.
Commemoratives: Stamps that honor anniversaries,
important people, special events, or aspects of national culture.
Compound Perforations: Different gauge perforations on
different (normally adjacent) sides of a single stamp.
Condition: Condition is the most important characteristic
in determining the value of a stamp. It refers to the state of a stamp
regarding such details as centering, color and gum.
Cover: An envelope that has been sent through the mail.
Cracked Plate: A term used to describe stamps which show
evidence that the plate from which they were printed was cracked.
CustomerPerfect!: A quality process management system
that builds customer satisfaction and excellence into every process and
procedure of the Postal Service.
Definitives: Regular issues of postage stamps, usually
sold over long periods of time. They tend to be fairly small and printed
in large quantities often more than once.
Denomination: The postage value appearing on a stamp,
such as 5 cents.
Deputy Postmaster General (DPMG): A member of the Board
of Governors, jointly appointed by the Postmaster General and the Board of
Die Cut: Scoring of self-adhesive stamps that allows a
stamp to be separated from the liner.
Directory Markings: Postal markings that indicate a
failed delivery attempt, stating reasons such as "No Such
Number" or "Address Unknown."
Double Transfer: The condition on a printing plate that
shows evidence of a duplication of all or part of the design.
Dry Printing: Begun as an experiment in 1953, this type
of printing results in a whiter paper, a higher sheen on the surface, a
thicker and stiffer feel and designs that stand out more clearly than on
more standard "wet" printings.
Duplicates: Extra copies of stamps that can be sold or
traded. Duplicates should be examined carefully for color and perforation
Electronic Commerce Services (ECS): An umbrella of
services that would bring electronic mail up to the same level of
acceptance that regular mail enjoys today. ECS includes a time and date
stamp, return receipt, registered, certified, verification of sender and
recipient, and archival services. Plans also call for creating public and
private authentification keys to enable individuals to prove who they are
when communicating on the Internet.
Electronic postmark: An electronic time and date stamp on
electronic mail that will authenticate a document's existence at a
particular point in time.
Entire: An intact piece of postal stationery, in contrast
to a cut-out of the printed design.
Error: A stamp with something incorrect in its design or
Exploded: A stamp booklet is said to be
"exploded" when it has been separated into its various
components for show.
Express Mail: The Postal Service's premium delivery
service, providing guaranteed overnight delivery for documents and
packages weighing up to 70 pounds. Both domestic and international
services are offered.
External First-Class Measurement System (EXFC): A test
conducted by an independent accounting firm whereby First-Class Mail
service is measured from the customer's perspective (from point of deposit
to point of delivery or door to door).
Face Value: The monetary value or denomination of a
Fake: A genuine stamp that has been altered in some way
to make it more attractive to collectors. It may be repaired, reperfed or
regummed to resemble a more valuable variety.
First Day Cover (FDC): An envelope with a new stamp and
cancellation showing the date the stamp was issued.
First Day Ceremony Program: A program given to those who
attend first day of issue stamp ceremonies. It contains the actual stamp
affixed and postmarked, a list of participants, and information on the
First-Class Mail: A class of mail including letters,
postcards and postal cards, all matter wholly or partially in writing or
typewriting, and all matter sealed or otherwise closed against inspection.
Foreign Entry: When original transfers are erased
incompletely from a plate, they can appear with new transfers of a
different design which are subsequently entered on the plate.
Franks: Written, hand-stamped, or imprinted markings on
the face of the cover indicating that it is carried free of postage.
Franking is usually limited to official government correspondence.
Freak: An abnormal variety of stamps occurring because of
paper fold, over-inking, perforation shift, etc., as opposed to a
continually appearing variety or a major error.
Global Priority Mail (GPM): A category of international
mail that provides fast service at attractive rates to 27 countries.
Grill: A pattern of small, square pyramids in parallel
rows impressed or embossed on the stamp to break paper fibers, allowing
cancellation ink to soak in and preventing washing and reuse.
Gum: The coating of glue on the back of an unused stamp.
Hinges: Small strips of gummed material used by
collectors to affix stamps to album pages.
Hologram: An image that appears to be three-dimensional
when viewed from an angle. Holograms have appeared on some modern stamps
Imperforate: Indicates stamps without perforations or
separating holes. They usually are separated by scissors and collected in
Label: Any stamp-like adhesive that is not a postage
Laid Paper: When held to the light, the paper shows
alternate light and dark crossed lines.
Line Pairs (LP): Most coil stamp rolls prior to 1891
feature a line of ink (known as a "joint line") printed between
two stamps at various intervals, caused by two or more curved plates
around the printing cylinder.
Liner: The backing paper for self-adhesive stamps.
Loupe: A magnifying glass used to examine details of
stamps more closely.
Miniature Sheet: A single stamp or block of stamps with a
margin on all sides bearing some special wording or design.
On Paper: Stamps "on paper" are those that
still have portions of the original envelope or wrapper stuck to them.
Overprint: Additional printing on a stamp that was not
part of the original design.
Optical Character Reader (OCR): An automated mail
processing machine that optically scans letter mail, locates the address
and translates the address information into a bar code representation of
the ZIP+4 delivery point bar code.
Pack and Send: A pilot retail service offered at selected
post offices that allows customers to bring in any mailable item to have
it securely packaged and, if they wish, mailed.
Packet: A presorted unit of all different stamps. One of
the most common and economical ways to begin a collection.
Pane: A full "sheet" of stamps as sold by a
Post Office. Four panes typically make up the original sheet of stamps as
Par Avion: French for mail transported "by
Perforations: Lines of small holes or cuts between rows
of stamps that make them easy to separate.
Philately: The collection and study of postage stamps and
other postal materials.
Pictorials: Stamps with a picture of some sort, other
than portraits or static designs such as coats of arms.
Plate Block (PB) (or Plate Number Block): A block of
stamps with the margin attached that bears the plate number used in
printing that sheet.
Plate Number Coils (PNC): For most coil stamp rolls
beginning with #1891, a small plate number appears at varying intervals in
the roll in the design of the stamp.
Postage Due: A stamp issued to collect unpaid postage.
Postal Cards: See "stamped postal cards."
Postal Inspection Service: The investigative arm of the
Postal Service responsible for internal audits and investigating criminal
acts involving the mails and misuse of the postal system.
Postal Rate Commission (PRC): An independent federal
agency that makes recommendations concerning Postal Service requests for
changes in postal rates and mail classifications.
Postal Stationery: Envelopes, aerogrammes, stamped postal
cards, and letter sheets with printed or embossed stamp designs.
Postal Stores: A modernized Postal Service retail unit
that has postal products on open display, offering customers self-service
selection and full service counter assistance.
Postcards: Commercially-produced mailable cards without
Postmark: A mark put on envelopes or other mailing pieces
showing the date and location of mailing.
Postmark America: The Postal Service's first large-scale
retail store, debuting at the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, designed
to test the market interest in postal-inspired clothing and other
Postmaster General (PMG): The chief executive officer of
the Postal Service, appointed by and serving at the pleasure of the Board
Post Office Express (POE): A postal retail unit located
within an independent business to serve consumer needs related to
merchandise and postal products and services.
Precancels: Stamps cancelled by a proper authority prior
to their use on mail.
Presort Stamp: A discounted stamp used by business
mailers who presort their mail.
Prestige Booklet: A booklet commemorating a special topic
and containing stamps, narrative, and images.
Priority Mail: Priority Mail provides two to three day
Processing and Distribution Center (P&DC): A large
mail sorting and dispatching plant that serves as a hub for mail
originating from post offices, collection boxes and customer mailboxes,
and large-volume mailers in a designated service area.
Registered Mail: First class mail with a numbered
receipt, including a valuation of the registered item. This guarantees
customers will get their money back if an item is lost in the mail.
Reissue: An official reprinting of a stamp that was no
longer being printed.
Replicas: Reproductions of stamps sold during the early
days of collecting. Usually printed in one color on a sheet containing a
number of different designs. Replicas were never intended to deceive
either the post office or the collector.
Reprint: A stamp printed from the original plate after
the issue is no longer valid for postage. Official reprints are sometimes
made for presentation purposes, official collections, etc., and are often
distinguished in some way from the "real" ones.
Revenue Stamps: Stamps issued as proof of payment of
certain taxes but not valid for postage.
Ribbed Paper: Paper which shows fine parallel ridges on
one or both sides of a stamp.
Rouletting: The piercing of the paper between stamps to
facilitate their separation, often giving the appearance of a series of
Rural Free Delivery (RFD): Began in 1896 as an experiment
in West Virginia, RFD brought daily mail delivery to farmers and others
living outside urban areas.
Scrambled Indicia®: A patented process that conceals
encoded text or graphics within the visible design. These hidden images
can only be viewed through a special lens, the Stamp Decoder™, available
from the U.S. Postal Service.
Se-tenant: An attached pair, strip or block of stamps
that differ in design, value or surcharge.
Secret Marks: Many stamps have included tiny reference
points in their designs to foil attempts at counterfeiting and to
Self-adhesive Stamp: A stamp with a pressure-sensitive
Selvage: The unprinted paper around panes of stamps,
sometimes called the margin.
Semipostal Stamp: A First-Class Mail stamp priced to
include an additional charge earmarked for a specific purpose, e.g.,
breast cancer research.
Series: A number of individual stamps or sets of stamps
having a common purpose or theme, issued over an extended periods of time
(generally a year or more), including all variations of design and/or
Set: A group of stamps with a common design or theme
issued at one time for a common purpose or over a limited period of time
(generally less than a year).
Souvenir Sheet: A small sheet of stamps with a
Special Issues: Stamps with a commemorative appearance
that supplement definitives and meet specific needs. These include
Christmas, Love, Holiday Celebrations, airmail, Express Mail, and Priority
Speculative: A stamp or issue released primarily for sale
to collectors, rather than to meet any legitimate postal need.
Stamp Decoder™: A device with a special lens that
reveals hidden images on stamps. It is available from the U.S. Postal
Stamped Postal Card: The current term for a mailable card
with postage imprinted on it.
Stamped Envelope: A mailable envelope with postage
embossed or imprinted on it.
Standard Mail: New name for the merger of third-class
mail and fourth-class mail as one class under Classification Reform
implementation of July 1, 1996.
Star Route: A mail route serviced by an outside
contractor rather than a postal employee.
Strip: Three or more unseparated stamps in a row.
Surcharge: An overprint that changes the denomination of
a stamp from its original face value.
Sweatbox: A closed box with a grill over which stuck
together unused stamps are placed. A wet, sponge-like material under the
grill creates humidity so the stamps can be separated without removing the
Tagging: The marking of stamps with a phosphor or similar
coating (which may be in lines, bars, letters, overall design area or
entire stamp surface), done by many countries for use with automatic
mail-handling equipment. When a stamp is issued both with and without this
marking, catalogs will often note varieties, as "tagged" or
Thematic: A stamp collection that relates to a specific
theme and is arranged to present a logical story and progression.
Tied On: Describes a stamp whose postmark touches the
Tongs: A tweezer-like tool with rounded or flattened tips
used to handle stamps.
Topicals: Indicates a group of stamps with the same
theme—space travel, for example.
Unhinged: A stamp without hinge marks, but not
necessarily with original gum.
United States Postal Service (USPS): The successor to the
Post Office Department, the USPS was established by the Postal
Reorganization Act of July 1, 1971, as an independent, self-supporting
federal agency within the executive branch.
Universal service: The Postal Service's mandate and
commitment to the nation to provide mail delivery service at uniform and
reasonable rates to everyone, everywhere, six days a week.
Unused: The condition of a stamp that has no cancellation
or other sign of use.
Used: The condition of a stamp that has been canceled.
Variety: A stamp that varies in some way from its
standard or original form. Varieties can include missing colors or
perforations, constant plate flaws, changes in ink or paper, differences
in printing method or in format.
Want List: A list of philatelic material sought by a
Watermark: A design pressed into stamp paper during its
Water-activated Gum: Water-soluble adhesives such as
sugar-based starches on the back of an unused stamp.
Wet Printing: Has a moisture content of 15-35 percent,
compared to 5-10 percent for "dry' printings, also has a duller look
than "dry' printings.
Wove Paper: A uniform paper which, when held to the
light, shows no light or dark figures.
Zoning Improvement Plan (ZIP): Established in 1963, a
system of five-digit codes or ZIP codes that identifies the individual
post office or metropolitan area delivery station associated with every
mailing address. This system was later expanded to ZIP+4, which includes
more defined delivery areas.