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Stamp Collecting Definitions & Philatelic Terms

We have provided the philatelic terms on this page as a simplistic jargon buster. However, this barely scratches the surface. For a comprehensive listing of philatelic terms spread over 170 pages with useful illustrations we recommend our Philatelic Terms Illustrated publication.

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    H    I    J    K    L    M   
N    O    P    Q    R    S    T    U    V    W    X    Y    Z

click on a letter to see the terms beginning with that letter

A

Adhesive
A gummed stamp.

Albino
A design impression without colour.

B

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.

C

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.

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

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

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

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. (See also Plate number).

D

Die
An engraved plate for impressing designs etc. on softer metal.

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

E

Error
A mistake in stamp design, printing or production.

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

F

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.

G

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.

H

Handstamp
A postmark or overprint applied by hand.

I

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.

J
K
L

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.

M

Machin
The name given to G.B. definitives, first issued in 1967 bearing the Queen's head designed by Arnold Machin.

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

Miniature sheet
A small sheet of one or several stamps, usually with a decorative margins, issued as a souvenir for collectors.

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

N
O

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

Overprint
A printed addition to a stamp. Also see 'Surcharge'.

P

Pair
Two unseparated stamps, joined as originally issued.

Pane
A formation or group of stamps within the sheet. Also see 'Booklet pane'.

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

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. (See also Cylinder number).

Postmark
Any mark cancelling the stamp and recording an item's passage through the mails.

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

Provisional
A stamp, usually overprinted or surcharged, issued for temporary use.

Q
R

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.

S

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

Se-tenant
Stamps of different design or face value etc. 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.

T

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

U

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.

V

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

W

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.

X
Y
Z