Glossary

Below you can find (some) of the words used on this site referring to philately and philatelic products. Definitions my own. Work in progress.

Items listed alphabetically, otherwise use Cmd+F (Mac) /Ctrl+F (Win) to find a word.


A

  • Airmail: refers to post being sent via air, or to stamps which have sufficient face value for being used for sending via air.
  • Adhesive: the quality of a stamp to stick, given by its gum. The state of the gum is frequently used to describe a stamp: mint (in pristine state), unused (not used for postal purposes, but otherwise damaged – e.g. by album hinges), or used. There are also stamps issued without gum at all.

B

  • Booklet: A booklet contains one or more small panes of postage stamps in a cardboard cover. Since they are smaller and easier to handle than a whole sheet of stamps, in many countries booklets have become a favored way to purchase stamps.

C

  • Cancellation: refers to the used state of the stamp. It means the stamp was circulated postally (exception: CTO, see below) or used (see below) and cannot be used postally again. Normally a seal or stamp is used for the outgoing post office over the stamp, but there are other types of cancellation in use as well.
    • CTO: (short for: cancelled-to-order) means that the stamp was pre-printed during the printing process with a seal resembling the cancellation used in postal use. Since the seal of use is pre-printed, this means that the stamps are never to be circulated postally.
    • Cancellation by pen-stroke: it’s a lazy way of post office folks to cancel stamps. Ugly, too.
    • Special event cancellation: A cancellation (see above) that is made on a special event. First day covers (see below) usually feature special event cancellation.
  • CEPT: see under Europa.
  • Coil stamps: as the name indicates, this is a one-stamp wide strip, coiled in the same way as adhesive tape. Coil stamps can be separated and stuck separately, or a special machine for franking can be fed with coil stamps in order to make franking easier.
  • Color variety: in some sets (see under Issue) one and the same design of a stamp is issued in various hues. Each hue normally has its face value (see below).
    • Color variety (or, deviation): a stamp issued with a non-standard color variety, different from the intended ones. Color deviations are considered printing errors (see below) and usually are scarce, and more valuable. There are collectors specializing in printing errors.
  • Commemorative: of a stamp or other postal item, issued to commemorate a past or present event. There are also commemorative cancelations, used on stamps that are not commemorative.
  • Condition: the state in which a singular stamp is presented.
    • Extra fine (EF) or extremely fine (XF) is a perfectly centered stamp with wide margins.
    • Superb is sometimes used for a perfect stamp.
    • Very fine (VF) is a well centered stamp with ample margins.
    • Fine (F) is a stamp that is significantly offset but still has four margins.
    • Average (Avg.) is a stamp that has no margin on at least one side with a portion of the design trimmed off or cut into by perforations.
    • Poor only great rarities, a stamp which is heavily canceled, soiled, and cut to shape, are collected in poor condition.

D

  • Definitive: a stamp or series of stamps usually brought together by  a common topic, issued to respond to franking needs of regular correspondence. Their prices are usually in the scale that allows single use or use of several to meet the prices of different type of correspondence (single local letter, international recommended, etc.).

E

  • EFO: (short for Errors, freaks and oddities) is any anomality in the stamp production that creates less or more of the desired effect. Common EFO examples are: design errors, value errors, missing colors and/or overprints, double impression, paper and/or perforation errors.
  • Europa: (previously CEPT: European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administration, until 1992; the acronym comes from the French: Conférence européenne des administrations des postes et des télécommunications) issues of stamps minted by all member countries, subsumed under one and the same topic. Each year since 1956, CEPT administration announces yearly topics, whereas the member countries mint stamps which correspond to the respective topic. In the beginning, similar and sometimes identical design was used. However, in recent years, each country decides on the design of the stamps. An approximate number of 60 states currently issue stamps yearly with the EUROPA logo.

F

  • Face value: (also, nominal value) is the value printed on the face of a stamp. Usually it includes a value and a currency, but the currency is not obligatory. It can be inferred from the currency used in the given time of issue in the country of issue. Many stamps hold their face value for an indeterminate period of times, others are becoming items of philatelic use since they can no longer be used postally at their given face value. Main causes are: inflation, change of currency or change in postal fees.
  • First day cover: an envelope featuring new stamps being issued, cancelled on the day of issue of the respective stamps. The envelope themselves may feature similar or related visual content. The cancellations being used may be ordinary or special, commemorating a special occasion. The words ‘first day of issue’ usually imprinted in the local language on the envelope are at the origin of the wording ‘first day cover’.
    • First day sheet (or card): are types of first day covers, replacing the envelope by a sheet-like structure.
  • Floor sweepings: represent stamps that are not included in collections by singular philatelists, especially if part of incomplete series, or slightly damaged. Floor sweepings still have a minimal value and in order not to be thrown away, are packed up and sold or given away.
  • Forever stamps: see under Valid for postage.

G

  • Gum: the adhesive used on the back of the stamp, that allows it to be used postally. The gum needs to be wet in order to affix properly to correspondence.
    • Gum-free: the fresh state of a mint stamp without gum. In very limited cases, some stamps were issued without any gum.
    • Intact gum: the new state of the gum, unused, or unhinged. It is characteristic of mint stamps (see below).
    • Self-adhesive: some stamps, especially in recent years come in sheets or individually with a self-adhesive quality, and can be unstuck from an non-adhesive coating. The non-adhesive coating can feature additional information on the back or can be free of design. The coating may be pre-perforated, so as to allow separating the stamps from the coating.
  • Gum condition: The following words are often use to describe the gum condition of a stamp:
    • Mint never-hinged (MNH or Mint NH, NH, u/m) is an unused stamp that has full original undisturbed gum with no trace of damage done by a stamp hinge. Stamps sell at a considerable premium if they are in this condition.
    • Lightly hinged (LH) is a mint stamp which was hinged but only slightly disturbed.
    • Heavily hinged (HH) is a mint stamp which was hinged and damaged in the process.
    • Hinge remaining (HR) is a mint stamp which has part of a stamp hinge on the back.
    • Original gum (OG): A stamp with its original gum, yet deteriorated by age.
    • No Gum (NG): Stamp’s gum has been washed off. Rarely, stamps are issued with no gum.
    • Regummed (RG): Fresh gum has been applied to the stamp. Poor regumming can be detected by examining the end of the perforations under a microscope. The fresh gum may interfere with the small strands of torn paper or even form small droplets.
  • Gutter: the space left between postage stamps which allows them to be separated or perforated. The gutter creates several possibilities based on the arrangement of stamps on the sheet: gutter pairs, gutter block, or gutter margin.

I

  • Imperforated (also: imperf): the cut state of the stamp, where no apparent perforation (teeth) is noticeable. Usually issued in smaller amount and more expensive than the perforated (see below) copies.
  • Issue: the number in which the values of a stamp are issued.
    • Single: a single stamp issued under one topic.
    • Set: several stamps issued under one or more topics. Usually sets are thematically coherent, but there are also sets which present more than one topic.

J

  • Joint issue: an issue minted by two or more countries on a certain shared topic. The topic may be external to both countries, or reflect the common history and relations of the respective countries. Joint issues are issued on the same date by all countries issuing the respective stamps. The stamps may have a similar or identical design, but this is not obligatory.

K

  • Kiloware: or world lots are quantities of stamps in different states (used, unused, damaged, mint, sheets, sheetlets, on paper, etc.) that are sold by their weight rather than by their value.

M

  • Maximum card: a postcard with a stamp or several stamps from an issue, usually affixed to the surface. Maximum cards differ in many ways. They can feature a larger-scale image of the stamp, a detail of the stamp, or none. They can also have apparent stamps, which are not real, but only printed as part of the design of the maximum card.
  • Minisheet: see under Sheet.
  • Mint: (as verb) to print stamps; (adjective) from ‘mint-quality’, the fresh state of the stamp, not being used postally. If in excellent state, it is often called MNH (mint never hinged).
  • Mounted (mint): stamp which was hinged to an album page or stockcard with the help of a mount. A mount is a transparent piece of adhesive pergamin that helps the stamp stick to the page. Mounted copies of stamps are cheaper and less appealing than mint (see above) stamps. Mounted mint stamps are often referred as MH.

O

  • Overprint: a text or image (or both) printed over the surface of the stamp, usually commemorating a special event, for which the stamp is re-issued. Overprints bring more information to the context of the stamp, though sometimes they are unrelated to the contents.
    • Country overprint: a type of overprint on a previously issued stamp to mark the change of name of the country or territory gaining independence.
    • Surcharge overprint: the overprinting of a new face value (see above) due to inflation or change in currency.

P

  • Perforated: the most common separation technique for stamps from a sheet. The stamps have apparent teeth (perforation), which allows them to be separated from the sheet. Several perforation techniques were used through the history of philately, which results into different types of perforation.
  • Phosphor bar: see under Tagging.
  • Presentation pack: a variety of postal stationery, featuring the stamps from an issue and additional elements, such a stockcard or an envelope, cards with additional information regarding the issue, its design and history, as well as information regarding the issuing authority of the respective stamps.
  • Printing error: an unintended visual effect resulting from the printing of some stamps. The printing errors may affect some or all stamps issued. The printing errors may be corrected, or not. Printing errors based on color are considered color varieties (or deviations).

S

  • Self-adhesive: see under Gum.
  • Set: see under Issue.
  • Sheet: a sheet of stamps. Depending on size, nominal value and other factors, the layout of the sheet (times vertical x times horizontal) varies greatly. One and the same stamp can be featured on a sheet, but there are also sheets that present the whole set (see above under Issue) in sheet form.
    • Minisheet: (or, sheetlet) a variety of sheet, which features a block size in which one or more stamps are apparent. Sometimes a single value is selected for the minisheet. A supplementary value (not issued in the set) can also be featured on a minisheet. Unlike sheets, minisheets usually have extensive art enriching the elements of the stamp(s) featured.
  • Single: see under Issue.
  • Stamp roll: also called stamp coil, a roll of stamps, usually self-adhesive (see under Gum).
  • Stamp album: an album used to store and/or showcase stamps. Stamp albums are usually in good finishing, and are often loose-leafed. There are special stamp albums that are pre-printed, including guidelines and catalog numbers, and there are also general use stamp albums, that the collector decides how to use.
  • Stamp catalog: a catalog listing the stamp issues from a certain geography or a certain topic. Stamps are depicted or not, and one or more of the following details are included: issue date, varieties, original face value, catalog value, size, perforation type, connections to other stamps. There are numerous stamp catalogs, but only a couple attained referential status.
  • Stockbook: storage books used by stamp collectors for storage of postage stamps placed in pockets, on pages, for easy viewing.
  • Surcharge: see under Overprint.

T

  • Tagging: means by which the stamp is ‘tagged’ in order to be recognized in automatic mail processing. The luminiscent substance is often referred to as taggant.
    • Phosphor bar: the use of strips which are recognized under a ultraviolet light. Phosphor bar can be missing in some stamps which makes them varieties.
    • Fluorescence: the use of fluorescent printing in stamps for the sake of tagging. Not visible to the naked eye, fluorescence can be revealed under a ultraviolet light.
  • Tête-bêche (from French, literal: head-to-head, meaning: head-to-tail) means a joined pair of stamps, upside down in relation to one another.

U

  • Used: see under Cancellation.
  • Unissued: A stamp that has been printed, but for some reason or other, was not released in circulation.

V

  • Valid for postage: the date until which a stamp can or could be used postally. Some countries set fixed dates at which the issued stamps ‘expire’, whereas in some other countries all stamps issued since the last monetary change can be used. Normally, a stable economy will promote the use of stamps regardless of the date of issue.
    • Forever stamps: (in the US) postage stamps without a face value, used normally for first class and/or international mail. Their value is guaranteed regardless of further price changes, and are considered perennial stamps (can be used from the moment of issue indefinitely).
  • Vending machine stamps: stamps that are being issued by vending machines. Vending machines usually weigh letters and parcels and based on destination issue stamps with the exact value needed for the posting of the respective item.
  • Vignette: A stamp-like tab, of varying sizes (even the same size at the stamp itself) that is affixed to the real stamp. Unlike stamps, vignettes usually do not have the name of the issuing country or any face value inscribed.
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