A Beginners Guide to Philatelic Terms

Stamp collecting can be challenging for beginners. Understanding classification and terminology is a great place to start before making a purchasing decision.

Adhesive – A gummed stamp

Albino – A design impression without colour

Aniline – A fugitive (water soluble) ink or dye

Bisect – Part of a stamp that has been cut in two for separate use; usually during a shortage of stamps

Blind perforation – A perforation which has not been punched out

Block – A group of four or more unseparated stamps

Bogus – A spurious, pretend stamp

Booklet – A small book containing ‘panes’ of stamps

Booklet pane – A leaf or page of stamps from a booklet

Cachet – A commemorative marking, usually applied by rubber stamp

Cancellation – Any authorised defacing mark on a stamp

Centre – The position of a stamp design within its perforations, e.g. ‘well-centred’ or ‘off-centre’

Chalky paper – Stamp paper coated with a chalky solution for security purposes. Attempted removal of the postmark damages the surface of the stamp

Charity stamp – One bearing a premium or surcharge for charitable purposes

Classic – A country’s early stamp issues, mostly up to about 1875; a choice stamp

Coil stamp – One from a roll of stamps used in vending machines

Coil join – A tab uniting two sections of a roll of stamps

Comb perforation – Perforation in which the perforation pins are arranged in a comb pattern so that three sides of a stamp are perforated at one stroke

Commemorative – A stamp issued to mark a special anniversary or event

Country stamp – See Regional

Cover – A postally used envelope, letter-sheet or wrapper

Cylinder number – Letters/numerals in sheet margins identifying printing cylinders. Normally collected in ‘Cylinder block’ of six stamps. Also see ‘Plate number’

Die – An engraved plate for impressing design etc. on softer metal

Doctor blade – A steel blade which removes surplus ink from the printing cylinder in the press

Embossing – A form of printing in relief

Error – A mistake in stamp design, printing or production

Essay – A trial stamp design, sometimes differing from the issued stamps

Face value – The denomination of a stamp, expressed on its face

Fake – A genuine stamp doctored in some way to deceive collectors

First Day Cover – A cover bearing stamps postmarked on their day of issue

Flaw – A fortuitous blemish on a stamp; a printing fault

Forgery – A fraudulent copy of a genuine postage stamp, overprint or postmark

Frama stamps – See machine label

Graphite lines – Black vertical lines printed on the back of GB definitives, 1957–1959, for use with automatic letter-sorting equipment. Also see ‘Phosphor’ stamps

Greetings stamp – Stamp intended for use on birthday or other greetings mail

Gum Mucilage – on the back of adhesive stamps. Not ‘glue’

Gutter – The narrow space between stamps in the sheet permitting perforation

Gutter margin – The blank margins dividing a sheet of stamps into panes

Handstamp – A postmark or overprint applied by hand

Imperforate Stamps – printed and issued without perforations, deliberately or in error

Imprint – The name of the printer or issuing authority inscribed on the stamps or in the sheet margins

Imprinted stamps – Stamps other than adhesives, printed direct on postal stationery items (postcards, envelopes, etc)

‘Invert’ – The central design (‘vignette’) or portion of a stamp printed upside-down in relation to the frame, or vice versa

Jubilee Line – Coloured line found in the sheet margin of British stamps

Key type – Uniform design used by many colonial empires, a standard key, or head, plate being used with different duty plates bearing country name and value

Line perforation – Perforation of a sheet of stamps by a single line or row of holes – the simplest form of perforation

‘Local’ – A stamp with geographical limits of postal use and validity. These are not normally listed in the Stanley Gibbons catalogues

‘Machin’ – The name given to GB definitives, first issued in 1967, bearing the Queen’s head designed by Arnold Machin

Machine label – Postage stamp produced by a micro-processor machine after insertion of coins of the required value, popularly known as Frama stamps

Maltese Cross – Name given to the cross-shaped cancellation used on the first British stamps

Margin – The unprinted edging surrounding or dividing a sheet of stamps. See also ‘Gutter margin’

Maximum card – A picture postcard bearing a stamp and cancellation relevant to the picture on the card

Miniature sheet – A small sheet of one or several stamps, usually with decorative

Perforations Holes – punched between stamps in sheets to enable easy separation

Personalised stamp – Stamp with an attached non postal label bearing an image taken from a personal photograph

Phosphor stamps – Stamps overprinted or coated with phosphorescent materials recognised by high technology letter sorting machinery

Plate number – Letters/numerals in sheet margins identifying printing plates. Also see ‘Cylinder number’

Postmark – Any mark, such as a cancellation, connected with the postal service and found on items transmitted by post

Pre-cancel – Stamp intended for use by a bulk poster and supplied with a pre-printed cancellation

Presentation pack – A philatelic souvenir containing a set of stamps and descriptive text

Prestige booklet – Stamp booklet devoted to a particular subject or event and containing special panes of stamps with descriptive text printed alongside

Proof – A trial impression taken from an original die or printing plate

Provisional – A stamp, usually overprinted or surcharged, issued for temporary use margins, issued as a souvenir for collectors

Mint – A stamp in its original pristine state, with full gum (if so issued), when it is said to have its ‘original gum’ (‘O.G.’). ‘Unmounted mint’ stamps have not been hinged. Also see ‘Unused’

Mulready – Envelopes and letter sheets issued by Britain in 1840 with a pictorial motif designed by William Mulready

Non Value Indicator stamp (NVI) – A stamp which bears no monetary inscription, but shows the class of postage (1st, 2nd) instead

Obsolete – A stamp no longer sold by a post office though it may still be valid for postage

Overprint – A printed addition to a stamp. Also see ‘Surcharge’

Pair Two – unseparated stamps, joined as originally issued

Pane – A formation or group of stamps within the sheet. Also see ‘Booklet pane’

Regional Name – given by collectors to stamps issued by Royal Mail (who term them Country stamps) for use in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Issues were also made for Guernsey and Jersey (until 1969) and the Isle of Man (until 1973)

Remainders Stamps – remaining in official stocks after becoming obsolete

Reprints Stamps – printed anew after being withdrawn. The printing of additional supplies of current stamps is best described as ‘new printings’

Roulette Stamps – separated by a series of cuts instead of perforations

Seahorse Name – given to the high value definitive stamps of King George V

Self-adhesive Gummed – stamps (with protective backing) which do not require moistening

Se-tenant – Stamps of different design or face value that are joined together

Specimen Sample – stamp usually with ‘specimen’ overprinted or perforated on it

Strip – Three or more stamps joined in a row

Surcharge – An overprint which specifically changes a stamp’s face value

Tête-bêche – A stamp inverted in relation to the adjoining stamp in a pair

Traffic lights – Collectors’ term for the colour check dots found in sheet margins

Unused – An uncancelled stamp, not necessarily ‘mint’

Used – A stamp which has been postally used and appropriately postmarked

Used abroad – Stamps of one country used and postmarked in another

Used on piece – Stamp kept on part of the original cover to preserve the complete postmark

Variety – A stamp differing in some detail from the normal issue

Vignette – The central portion of a stamp design, printed separately within the frame; strictly one which shades off at its edges

Watermark – A distinctive device or emblem in stamps, formed by ‘thinning’ of the paper during production. A watermark is normally viewed through the front of the stamp

‘Wilding’ – The name given to British definitive stamps, first issued in 1952, bearing the Queen’s head from a photographic portrait by Dorothy Wilding

Wing margin – Wide margin on one side of a stamp caused by central perforation of the sheet gutter margin

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