identifying stamps

How to identify stamps

Nothing presents so much difficulty to the beginner as the allotment of his stamps to their correct countries.

The elementary album can only give a comparatively small number of illustrations, so that sort of illustrated stamp catalogue is practically a necessity. Before any attempt is made to sort stamps the catalogue illustrations should be studied very closely, as by this means the collector will become familiar with the kind of stamps issued by each country.

He will find that the printing of most stamps may be divided into two parts:

  • The design or pictorial part
  • The inscription or lettering and figures

Now in sorting stamps, it is useless to jump to conclusions-- every detail of the stamp should be looked at, for many countries use the same, or similar designs, while there are which use the same designs for a long period, only varying inscriptions. Design and inscription must be studied together before a stamp can find its right place in the album.

In trying to decide to which countries stamps belong, we find that, roughly speaking, we have four groups:

Stamps with English names 

A study of the inscriptions will show the name of the country and the collector can then refer to the index of his album or catalogue to find its correct place. In dealing with overprinted stamps, remember that the name in the overprint is the amended one and not the original.

Stamps with similar lettering to English

It is easy to recognise Danmark as Denmark or Brasil as Brazil and other names which are like their English equivalents. In many foreign names, however, there is at least one word that is similar to a portion of the English name. Gradually you will become familiar with various languages so far as they are used on stamps and will be able to tell which is which at once.

Stamps with foreign language inscriptions

Russian lettering is used on the stamps of Russia, Finland, the Russian Post Offices in the Levant, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia and a portion of Yugoslavia. Japanese, Chinese and Korean inscriptions differ from any other lettering. Abyssinia has peculiar lettering while Siam has another special alphabet.

There are numerous different native languages on the stamps of Indian Native States and Afghanistan.

Greece and Crete use Greek lettering on stamps. Another large group includes stamps with inscriptions in Turkish or Arabic characters, including those from Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, Hejaz, Nejd, Trans-Jordan and Yemen.

Stamps that do not bear the name of the country

Here, a careful study of a large catalogue will help. Remember that small details may make all the difference between a stamp of one country and a similar stamp of another country.