September 2019

Philatelic terms for beginners

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Philately has been one of the world's most popular hobbies since the late nineteenth century. A good way to begin is to learn the terminology that describers use.



A gummed stamp


A design impression without colour


A fugitive (water soluble) ink or dye



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


A group of four or more stamps not separated


A spurious, pretend stamp


A small book containing ‘panes’ of stamps

Booklet pane

A leaf or page of stamps from a booklet



A commemorative marking, usually applied by rubber stamp

Catalogue Number

This is a unique number for each stamp to help the collector identify stamps in the listing. The Stanley Gibbons numbering system is universally recognised as definitive.

Catalogue Value

This is the price which Stanley Gibbons would charge for a high-quality example of a stamp, in either mint or used condition. Mint/Unused prices for pre-1945 stamps are for lightly hinged examples. Used prices generally refer to fine postally-used examples. For certain issues, they are for cancelled-to-order. Prices assume stamps are in 'fine condition'. The minimum catalogue price quoted is 10p and is intended as a guide. (Note: the catalogue value, which can vary over time, does not depict the price quoted on the listing).


This is the colour of the stamp as depicted in the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key, which includes the 200 colours most used for stamp identification. In instances where there is a compound colour name, the second is the predominant one, thus: orange-red = a red tending towards orange.


The condition of the stamp i.e. Mint or Used. Using this option ensures you only see items that are in the condition that you like to collect.


Date of Issue

This is the date of the stamp/set of stamps was issued by the post office and was available for purchase. When a set of definitive stamps has been issued over several years, the Year Date given is for the earliest issue.


This refers to the value of each stamp and is the price it was sold for at the Post Office when issued. Some modern stamps do not have their values in figures, but instead shown as a letter, for example Great Britain use 1st or 2nd on their stamps as opposed to the actual value.



The format of a stamp, for example Block, Pair, Sheet, or Single.


Issuing Year

Select from a pre-selected date range or select your own date range within the search box to return only listings that include stamps from your pre-defined date of issue range.



Choose your price range, specifying how much or how little you wish to spend, so that you may browse only the items that are affordable to you.


Self-adhesive Gummed

Stamps (with protective backing) which do not require moistening


Stamps of different design or face value that are joined together

Specimen Sample 

Stamp usually with ‘specimen’ overprinted or perforated on it

Stamp Category

The category can relate the issuing country or could be explained by topical or period i.e. 'Pre 1945'

Stamp Type

If you only collect a particular type of stamp, Airmail for example, this option will allow you to only see relevant items, so that you need not worry about looking through listings that aren't within your collecting area.


Three or more stamps joined in a row


An overprint which specifically changes a stamp’s face value.



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



An uncancelled stamp, not necessarily ‘mint’


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



A stamp differing in some detail from the normal issue


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



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


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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