Chapter 02
Definitions & Abbreviations

 This chapter covers definitions and abbreviations. If you are an experienced stamp collector, you may wish to skip this chapter. If stamps are new to you, you should definitely scan section 2.1. Concentrate on the terms that have a bullet ( ) in front of them as these are the terms you really need to know from the outset. Section 2.2 gives a list of abbreviations that are related to stamps and stamp collecting.

Since this book is intended for people who live in the USA, I have put a lot of emphasis on definitions that you will run across in dealing with USA stamps. If you understand USA stamps, you should have no problem with foreign stamps.


2.1 Definitions

A to Z collection - A worldwide collection arranged in alphabetical order, or more or less in alphabetical order, by country name. The first country might be Abu Dhabi, and the last perhaps is Zululand.



Aerogram - A sheet of paper (usually blue) previously obtained from the post office. The paper is lightweight and has an airmail stamp design printed on it. It is used to write a one-page, personal letter to someone overseas.  Aerograms are normally unfolded when purchased.  After writing a letter directly on the unprinted side of the aerogram, the writer folds the aerogram and seals it.  He/she then adds an address under the preprinted postage. (The United States Postal Service no longer sells aerograms.)



An airmail stamp

Airmail - Mail that is carried aboard an airliner as opposed to mail that is carried on a ship or other surface vehicle. In olden days, airmail was much faster and much more costly. All mail within the USA now goes airmail (if it’s going far enough) for the price of a regular, 1st-class stamp. As of July 9, 1995, all international letters and international post cards mailed from the USA started being sent airmail automatically.

Air Post - See “air mail.”

Album - A binder containing pages upon which to mount stamps. Most albums have preprinted pages with pictures and/or descriptions of the stamps that are to go in each space.

Album set - Sometimes a collection is too large to fit in one album. A world-wide collection may have so many pages that it takes from 2 to 30 or more books (albums) to hold it. Generally all of the books in one collection are called an album set. Each book or album is called a volume.

Album supplement - Usually once a year you may buy additional pages for an album set from the album’s publisher. This gives you pages with places for all the “new” stamps issued in the last year. Of course, because of the time it takes to design the pages and print them, it may take a year or two (or more) after a stamp is issued before a place for that stamp ends up on an album page. Some companies treat album supplements as a subscription-type thing and either send them automatically or send a card advising that they are now available.

American Philatelic Society (APS) - Founded in 1886 and headquartered in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, the APS is one of the foremost philatelic organizations in the world. Membership is open to stamp collectors and stamp dealers worldwide, and members agree to abide by strict codes of ethics in all their stamp dealings. The APS publishes a monthly magazine, conducts education and training classes, maintains an extensive library, runs a sales division for members wishing to buy and sell stamps, provides a stamp expertization service, etc.

American Stamp Dealers Association (ASDA) - A professional organization representing stamp dealers. Like the APS, the ASDA also maintains strict codes of ethics for its members.

Appraisal - An estimate by a stamp professional to determine the value of a stamp collection.

Average (AVG) - See chapter 3.

Back of book (BOB) - Scott catalogs, and therefore many albums, are organized in this order: regular postage stamps, semi-postal stamps, airmail stamps, special delivery stamps, revenue stamps, etc. The regular stamps are in the front of the book or album. Everything else is behind this in the back of the book.


Block of 4

Block of 4 - Four stamps together in a square. Also see “plate block.” A plate block has a plate number in the margins, whereas a block of 4 does not.



Booklet - Booklets consist of a front and back cover with small panes of stamps sandwiched in the middle. Many people purchase booklet stamps (also referred to as a book of stamps) at the post office because the booklet protects the stamps when placed in a pocket or purse.

Booklet pane - One of the small panes of stamps inside a booklet or one which has been removed from a booklet. Simply tearing out the stamps does not make a booklet pane. The booklet is glued together on one end. To the side of the stamps is a small piece of paper, called a tab, where the glue is applied. To be defined as a booklet pane, the tab must still be attached to the stamps.

Bourse - A gathering of stamp dealers where people can buy, sell or trade stamps. May be held in association with a stamp show or under sponsorship of a dealer organization.

Broken set - An incomplete set. A particular stamp is printed as a set of four, for example. If you only have one, two or three of the stamps, you have a broken set.

Brown spots - Stamps which have been subjected to too much humidity may develop small brown spots or other discoloration. The spots are caused by mold or mildew.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) - The official printer of all USA currency and, until recently, all postage stamps.



Cachet on a first day cover

Cachet - On first day covers, an artist may paint a drawing on the left side of the envelope. The drawing is related to the subject of the stamp. The cachet may be original artwork, or it may be a reproduction. The purpose of the cachet is simply to make the cover more interesting.




A canceled stamp

Canceled - Postmarked. The post office applies a cancellation mark to prevent reusing the stamp. As an added benefit, if the stamp is still attached to an envelope, you may (usually) read the date the letter was mailed.



Zimbabwe CTOs

Canceled to order (CTO) - Some governments print stamps and then immediately cancel them. The CTOs are then sold in huge quantities to collectors. The price to a collector is less than buying a mint stamp at face value; however, the process still produces a lot of revenue for the country. CTOs may be spotted in a set of stamps when the cancellation is in exactly the same spot on each stamp. Normally the cancellation is simply part of a circle in one corner of the stamp. Another tip is to look for a canceled stamp that still has all its gum on the back. CTOs are not highly regarded by many collectors and usually command lower prices than a mint stamp or a used stamp that was actually used to mail a letter.

Centering - See chapter 3.




Cinderella - Something that looks like a stamp but is not a stamp. Many organizations print stamp-like items for advertising purposes, to raise funds or to make some sort of political statement. The Cinderella usually has gum on the back and can be pasted on an envelope. Cinderellas are not listed in Scott’s, and are often ignored by many collectors.

Circuit book - The American Philatelic Society (APS) allows members wishing to sell stamps to place stamps in small 16-page books. The books are sent to the APS and circulated to other members who wish to buy stamps. Individual stamps are removed by the members and payment is sent back to APS. APS subtracts a commission, then sends a check for the balance to the original owner of the stamps.



Stamps from a Coil
Notice there are no perforations on the top and bottom.

Coil - A roll of stamps, normally 100 stamps long. Coils may be as long as 10,000 stamps.  Coil stamps are normally collected in lengths of 2, 3 or 5 stamps.



Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative - Stamps which honor individuals, special anniversaries, special events, etc.

Commemorative panels - A special letter-size page issued by the USPS as a collectible. It has the stamp subject mounted in a plastic sleeve. There is a descriptive story about the stamp printed on the page.

Condition - See chapter 3.

Confederate States of America (CSA) - During the Civil War, the CSA (a.k.a., The South) issued its own postage stamps.

Consignment - Placing stamps with a dealer who will pay you for the stamps once he/she finds someone who wishes to buy them. The dealer normally collects a commission (around 15% to 25%) for handling the stamps.

Counterfeit - Fake, worthless. Here again is a place for the word “usually.” Some collectors actually collect fakes, and some fakes may actually be valuable. This is especially true if the fake has been used on a cover. If you happen to have inherited a specialized collection of fakes, you will want to consult a professional.

Country Collection - A collection of stamps of just one country. A collection of U.S.A. stamps is a country collection as are collections of stamps of Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, etc. This is a rather loose term. A country collection might also be a little wider than this, such as: British Empire, British Middle East, Spain & Colonies, German States, etc. These collections may also be called “area collections.” Country and area collections sometimes are wider in scope; in addition to postage stamps, the collector may have saved booklet panes, covers, special cancellations, Cinderellas, etc.

Cover - An envelope with a stamp attached that has been sent through the mail system. Many collectors collect covers because of their markings, cancellations or for the story the cover conveys.

Cut-squares - Stamps, surrounded by a margin of paper, cut from stamped envelopes.

Damaged gum (DG) - The glue on the back of the stamp has been damaged by moisture, a stamp hinge, handling, etc. Disturbed gum is synonymous.

Date/Country Collection - Some world-wide albums (notably the Scott International Album) are organized by date and then by country. The first two volumes of a Scott International (numbered volumes 1A and 1B, but commonly just called volume 1) deal with the stamps from the 1800s up to 1940; the next two (volumes 2A and 2B) cover 1940 to 1949; the next two are from 1949 to 1955. Within each date period, Scott puts the countries in sort of alphabetical order. If you have a date/country collection and you wish to see all the stamps of France, for example, you may need to look in 30 different books. Some collectors try to convert Date/Country album sets to A-Z album sets with mixed results. Because of the printing on both sides of the pages, it is not always possible to keep all the countries in proper alphabetical order, then in proper date order.

Dealer - A person or company who buys and sells stamps and other philatelic material.


Definitive Stamp

Definitive - Stamps which the post office sells over long periods of time. These are the standard-use stamps which are issued in sheet form, booklet form or coil form. Most definitives issued in the USA are generic and contain pictures of historical figures, eagles, flags, and so forth. See “commemorative.”

Disturbed gum - See “damaged gum.”

Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) - A 2,000-page book issued by the USPS which explains all the rules for mailing within the USA.  You may read the DMM online on the USPS's web site: 


Duck Stamp

Duck Stamps - These are hunting-permit stamps issued by the United States Department of the Interior or state equivalent. Duck stamps are not valid for postage. They are attached to the back of a hunting license to validate the license, and then they are signed by the hunter.

Dunes - A slang term for certain countries in the Middle East that issue large quantities of stamps to generate revenue from collectors. These countries now form the United Arab Emirates and are sometimes referred to as Trucial States.  While colorful and attractive, the stamp designs often do not relate to the country of issue. The stamps are not sought after by most serious collectors. See “wallpaper.”

Error - A stamp with something major wrong in the way it was manufactured. A multi-color stamp may have one color omitted, for example. Major errors receive separate catalog listings and may have significant additional value. See “Errors, Freaks and Oddities.”

Errors, Freaks and Oddities (EFOs) - See “Error,” “Freak” and “Oddity” entries. The distinction between what is an error, freak or oddity is very blurry. Most collectors lump them together as EFOs. EFOs tend to bring higher prices. A recent 29-cent stamp, for example, has a catalog value of 50 cents. The same stamp was also printed with the “29c” missing on a few stamps. This “error” stamp has a catalog value of $125.

Essay - It is beyond the scope of this book to define four terms completely: proof, essay, trials and specimens. These are all terms associated with preparing a stamp for printing. These may be high-value items. If you have inherited a specialized collection of these items, you will probably want to contact a professional.

Expanding set - See “set.”

Expertization - For a fee, the American Philatelic Society and other organizations will render an expert opinion that a stamp is genuine. They may also offer opinions on whether the cancellation is genuine, the stamp’s condition, etc. Stamp expertization is covered in chapter 23.

Extra Fine (XF) - See chapter 3.

Face value - The value the stamp sells for when originally sold by the post office. A 39-cent stamp has a face value of 39 cents.

Facsimile - See “Fake.”

Fake - Stamps, like currency, are sometimes forged by individuals who want to make a profit by selling junk to unsuspecting collectors or by cheating the postal service out of revenue. Fakes cause collectors untold trouble because the stamps may be so well done. Fakes can also occur in other ways. Several companies have printed sheets illustrating the most valuable stamps in the world. Some collectors cut the “stamp” from the sheet and place it in their albums. Remember, a stamp collector loves to fill blank spaces!

Fine (F) - See chapter 3.

Fine-Very Fine (F-VF) - See chapter 3.



Part of a first day cover (enlarged to show the cancellation).
A true first day cover would include the entire envelope.

First day cover (FDC) - Stamps on an envelope, often with a cachet, may receive a special cancellation on the first day the stamp is officially placed into usage by the postal service. United States FDCs since the mid-1930s normally have the words “First Day of Issue” in the cancellation. The cover must be intact to be a FDC; removing the stamp from the envelope (obviously) ruins the whole thing.

First day of issue - See “first day cover.”

First flight cover - An envelope with a stamp on it that has flown on a new airline route on the very first flight. The envelope is normally rubber stamped or printed with the airline, date, flight number, etc.

Flown Zepp - See “Zepps.”


Forever Stamps  The USPS issues stamps with "Forever" printed on them.  Each stamp can be used to mail a one-ounce First-Class letter at any time, now or in the future.  Other counties issue stamps which serve a similar purpose.

Forgery - See Fake.

Freak - An irregularity caused by a paper shift or a perforation shift during the printing process. An example is the perforations of the stamp going down the center of the design. Freaks generally are worth much more than the regular stamp. See “Errors, Freaks and Oddities.”

Glassine - A wax-paper-like envelope used to hold and protect stamps.

Good (G) - See chapter 3.

Gum - The glue on the back of the stamp.  The USPS first began issuing self-adhesive stamps in 1974.  Before that, all stamps were "lick-and-stick"; one licked the gum on the back of the stamp to moisten it, and then the stamp was affixed to an envelope.  Today, the vast majority (if not all) of the United States postage stamps are self-adhesive. 

Hammer price - At an auction, the auctioneer normally says something like “Sold for $1 million dollars!” and then bangs his/her gavel (hammer) on the podium. That’s a hammer price. In purchasing stamps, both the buyer and the seller may have to pay a percentage of the hammer price to the auction house. On the $1 million sale example, assuming an auction house percentage of 10%, the buyer would have to come up with $1.1 million and the seller would get a check for $900,000. The auction house would keep $200,000.

Heavily canceled - See chapter 3.

Heavily hinged (HH) - A rather subjective term implying the hinge is really stuck to the stamp. The hinge is probably very old and is not at all attractive.



Packet of stamp hinges

Hinge - A small piece of gummed paper used to attach a stamp to an album page. The hinge is folded in the middle. You lick the hinge on one side and attach it to the back of the stamp. Next you lick the hinge on the other side and press the stamp onto the album. From the perspective of inheriting a collection, hinges are very, very bad things! A hinge greatly detracts from the value of a mint stamp. It usually does not detract at all from the value of a used stamp; however, removing the hinge may damage the stamp, and this will detract from the value. See the box “Hinges, etc.” at the end of this chapter.

Hingeless album - A more expensive kind of album, only available in the last 30 years or so. It looks like a regular stamp album except each space where a stamp goes has a built-in plastic stamp mount. The collector merely slides the stamp into the mount. There is no need for stamp hinges or having to put stamps in regular stamp mounts.

Hunting-permit stamps - See “Duck stamps.”

Imitation - See “Fake.”

Imperforate (Imperf.) - Usually applicable to early stamps from the 1800s. Some stamps were printed in sheets without perforation holes. To separate the stamps, the postal clerk or customer had to cut the stamps apart using scissors or a ruler.

International Mail Manual (IMM) - This 1,000-page book from the USPS explains how to send mail from the USA to international destinations.  You may read the IMM online on the USPS's web site:


Inverted Jenny

Inverted Jenny - A 24-cent airmail stamp issued in 1918 with a picture of an upside-down airplane printed in the middle by accident. Scott catalog number C3a. (Although I have not touched on this yet, the prefix “C” on the front of a Scott number indicates an airmail stamp. The lower-case “a” on the end indicates it is a variation, in this case the first listed variation, of the stamp numbered C3.) If you do have an inverted Jenny, you might well be able to pay off a house mortgage with it!  Important: in the 2000s, the USPS issued a commemorative Two Dollar stamp with an inverted Jenny.  That's worth $2.00.  Supposedly, the USPS also printed a small percentage of Two Dollar stamps with the Jenny right-side-up.  I've never seen one of those, but if you find one, it will be worth checking out its value.



Recalled Legends of the West Sheet in sleeve

Legends of the West (LOTW) - In 1994, the USPS issued a sheet of twenty stamps containing pictures of twenty Old-West persons or scenes. One of the pictures was of a man named Bill Pickett. Just before the stamps were released, the USPS found out that the picture of Bill Pickett was not of Bill at all, but was a picture of Bill’s brother. The USPS recalled all of the stamps that had been distributed to post offices but not sold. It planned to destroy them. However, about 200 sheets had been sold prematurely, and thus immediately became worth thousands of dollars each. In order to prevent this, the USPS decided to auction off 150,000 of the recalled sheets.  Each of these sheets was packaged in a special display sleeve. The recalled Legends of the West Sheets (RLOW) now have a value ranging from $150 to $250. The USPS subsequently redrew Pickett’s picture and other details in the sheet and issued the corrected version.

Lightly canceled - See chapter 3

Lightly hinged (LH) - A stamp that has had a hinge applied to it. Usually, the hinge has been removed leaving very little trace that it was ever there, i.e., it did not do much damage to the stamp’s gum.

Linn’s - Linn’s Stamp News. A popular weekly newspaper about stamps, published in Sidney, Ohio.

Lot - A group of philatelic material bought or sold for one price. The term is usually used in connection with auctions.

Miniature sheet - A stamp or several stamps printed with wide margins on all sides. The margins contain drawings and/or words. Miniature sheets normally commemorate some kind of a special event or anniversary. The distinction between a miniature sheet and a souvenir sheet is somewhat blurred.

Minkus - A publisher of stamp catalogs and albums, and a competitor of Scott’s.

Mint - A stamp that has never been used. Stamps purchased new at the post office are mint stamps.

Mint, hinged (MH) - A stamp that is mint and has had a hinge applied to it at one time or another. It does not matter if the hinge is still affixed to the stamp or not. The hinge will leave traces in the gum on the back of the stamp. This is further discussed in chapter 3.

Mint, never hinged (MNH) - A stamp that is mint and has never had a hinge applied to it. Stamps purchased new at the post office are MNH. MNH are normally the easiest to sell.

Missing perforations - A stamp where some of the perforation teeth have been torn off as a result of rough handling. Missing perfs reduce the value of a stamp.

Mount - See “stamp mount.”

No Gum (NG) - The stamp has no gum upon it. Some stamps were issued without gum. More often, this indicates the stamp was used to mail a letter, but it missed the canceling machine.
Subsequently, someone has soaked the stamp off of the envelope. If a stamp were issued without gum, this fact is noted in the stamp’s listing in the Scott catalogs.



Non-denominated "E" stamp.
Issued in 1978, the "E" stamp had a postage value of 25 cents.

Non-denominated Stamps:  The United States Postal Service has issued dozens of stamps without an actual numeric value printed on them.  A lot of these stamps were printed because 1) the postal service had requested a rate hike, and 2) they needed to get billions of stamps printed and ready to sell, but 3) they were not 100% sure their request would be approved for the full amount.   Rather than print billions of stamps with the wrong value, the postal service used stamps with letters on them (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, etc) and other means to identify a stamp's value. This chart from the United States Postal Service will show you how much each stamp is worth:  Another chart is available from Linn's Stamp News:

Numismatic - Relating to coins.

Oddity - Some unusual philatelic item. An example may be a stamp in a slightly different color than it is supposed to be. An oddity may or may not be worth any more than the “correct” stamp. See “Errors, Freaks and Oddities.”

Off paper - Stamps that have been soaked off of envelopes.

Offices in ... - Some countries maintained post offices in foreign countries. You will see listings such as “United States Offices in China” or “Great Britain Offices in Morocco”. Most collectors collect “offices” as part of the main country. The Scott catalog usually lists the offices just after the end of the main country listings.

Official Stamp - A stamp that may only be used by federal government agencies to mail letters and packages.  Individuals may never use these for postage.  These are the stamps that have the famous "Penalty for Private Use $300" on them.

On paper - A stamp that is still attached to part of the envelope. Normally there is about 1/4 to 3/4 inch of paper left on each side of the stamp. Collectors frequently cut stamps from envelopes and intend to soak the envelope part off later. A stamp that is still attached to the entire envelope is called a cover.

Original gum (OG) - This term is used in a variety of ways. Literally, it means a stamp has some or all of its gum left. Many people use the term as a synonym of hinged. The most desirable state for a mint stamp is Full Original Gum which is understood to mean “without a hinge or other mark.” Mint, never hinged (MNH) is the more common term for Full Original Gum.

Overprint - Sometimes governments take sheets of stamps and run them back through the printing press to add additional information. This might be done for a special occasion such as the visit of a dignitary, “Honoring the Visit of Her Majesty. June 1958”. It is less expensive to overprint an existing stamp than to make a brand new design. See “surcharge.”



A pair of stamps

Pair - Two of the same stamp still connected together.



A pane of stamps

Pane - A sheet of stamps purchased at the post office.

Perforation (perf) - The small holes between the stamps used to separate individual stamps easily. The bridges around the holes are called teeth.

Philatelic - Related to philately.

Philately - (fĭ lăt́ě lĭ) - The collection and study of stamps, covers and other postal materials.



Plate Block

Plate block - Traditionally, a block of four stamps with the sheet margin still attached. The printing plate number appears in the margin. In more recent stamps, more than one plate number appears in the margin indicating several printing plates have been used. These are usually done in different colors. There is some confusion about just what constitutes a plate block on these newer stamps. At different times in U.S. stamp production, plate blocks have been four stamp to a block, six stamps to a block, and even up to 20 stamps to a block with two complete rows of stamps adjoining the margin with the plate numbers. The listing in the Scott catalog will indicate how many stamps constitute a plate block for a particular stamp.



Plate Number Coil.  This is a PNC5.
(Note the tiny "1" under "Car" in the middle stamp.)
Click to enlarge.

Plate number coils (PNC) - On coils of stamps issued in the USA since 1981, a tiny number appears in the center bottom of every so many stamps. This may be every tenth stamp, or every thirty-second stamp or whatever. It varies based on the equipment used to print the stamp. The number is used to identify a company or plate that printed the stamps. Collectors generally collect a strip of three or five stamps with the plate number in the center. These are sometimes called PNC3s and PNC5s. Some collectors only collect the individual stamp with the plate number on it. These are called PNC singles.

PNC single - See “plate number coils.”

Post card - The item you send the kids when you go to Hawaii, and they get left at home! You must apply a stamp to mail it. See “postal card.”



Postage due stamp

Postage due - Special stamps previously used by the post office when insufficient postage was applied to a letter mailed to you.  The USPS no longer uses postage due stamps.

Postal Card - A card sold by the USPS or the postal agency of another country with the stamp already printed or embossed on it.

Postal Stationery - Includes stamped envelopes, postal cards and aerograms.

Poster stamp - A Cinderella. Normally a larger-size stamp that was issued for advertising purposes. These were more common before WWII.



Precanceled stamps with city/state names

Precancels - The post office has sometimes printed black lines, city/state names or service inscriptions on sheets of stamps and then sold the stamps to bulk mailers. The mailer applies the stamps to its letters and then returns the letters to the post office. This saves the post office time because it does not have to run the individual letters through the canceling machine. See “Service Inscriptions.”

Private treaty - Normally a large dealer or auction house can act as an agent for you. They will receive your material, advertise it, publicize it and hopefully find a buyer. This kind of sale is normally done for expensive material that is so specialized there would not be enough interested buyers at an auction. This is similar in concept to a consignment sale, although doesn’t “private treaty” sound a little more glamorous?

Proof - See “Essay.”

Recalled Legends of the West (RLOTW) - See “Legends of the West.”

Registration stamps - Stamps issued by some countries specifically for use on registered mail.

Regular issue - A generic term meaning “normal” stamps used to mail everyday letters. Regular issues do not include airmail, semi-postal, postage due, special delivery, revenue, duck stamps, etc. See also “Definitive” and “Commemorative.”

Regummed - A process of applying new gum onto the back of a stamp where some or all of its original gum is missing. This is normally done to hide flaws or improperly increase the value of a stamp.

Reprint - Occasionally, governments and others get old printing plates and run off more copies of an older stamp. In general, the reprints are worth much less than the original; however, there are exceptions.

Reserve bid - When selling stamps at an auction, the seller sometimes specifies that he/she will not accept a bid for less than “x” dollars. This is the minimum amount acceptable and is called a reserve bid.

Revenue stamps - Tax stamps issued by a government which were affixed to various items to indicate that tax has been paid, e.g., revenue stamps on liquor bottles and deeds. These are considered back-of-the-book items.

Scott Catalog (SC) - Scott Publishing Company, Sidney, Ohio, publishes a set of catalogs called Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogues. The catalogs list most stamps of the USA and of the world and assign a number to each. The catalogs also list the approximate retail price which a dealer might charge for a particular stamp. This will be discussed in more detail in chapter 3 and chapter 22. Probably 95% of all collectors and dealers in the USA use Scott catalog numbers and prices.



Scott USA 2446 on a first day cover

Scott Catalog Number - A unique number assigned to each stamp of a particular country. For example, Scott USA 2446 is the 25-cent “Gone With The Wind” stamp issued in 1990. Since each country’s stamp numbering starts with the number one, it is necessary to state the country as well as the Scott number to properly identify a stamp.

Scott Catalog Value (SCV) - The Scott catalog lists two approximate retail prices for each stamp in the world. There is one price for mint stamps and another price for used stamps. The prices approximate what a stamp dealer “usually” charges his/her customers for a particular stamp if sold singly. The Scott catalog value is not, repeat not, the price you are going to get when you sell the stamps you inherited! More on this in later chapters.

Self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) -. A #10 SASE is a business-size
(4-1/8 x 9-1/2 inches), self-addressed, stamped envelope.


Se-tenant Stamps

Se-tenant - Two or more stamp designs attached in a block or a strip. The most common configuration is a block of four stamps with a different design on each. (Pronounced: Say-tenant.)

Selvage - The margins around the edges of a sheet or pane of stamps. Usually contains a plate number, a copyright notice or some other message like “Mail Early in the Day.”



French semi-postal stamps.  Note the one in the middle is for 12 francs postage
plus 3 francs to the charity.

Semi-postal - Many countries sell postage stamps and collect money for a charity at the same time. Some stamps will have a value like 10c + 2c. The stamp sells for 12c; 10c is good for postage, and 2c is sent from the post office to the charity.  There are a few USA semipostals marked with things like "Forever +" or "First-Class +".  



Service-inscribed stamps

Service inscriptions - Much of the “junk” mail that arrives at our homes used to have service-inscribed stamps. There are markings such as “bulk rate,” “non-profit organization,” “pre-sorted first class,” etc. which are printed on the stamps. The post office sells these to mass mailers. The stamps are applied, and the letters delivered to the post office. The letters are normally in trays to facilitate transportation and distribution. Frequently, the letters are sorted by ZIP code. The post office normally does not run the letters through the canceling machine, thus saving themselves time and money.   Some service-inscribed stamps show integer numeric values (e.g., 23 cents), some show fractional values (e.g., 7.9 cents), and some do not show any value at all.  If the value is not shown, this chart from the United States Postal Service will show you how much each stamp is worth:  Another chart is available from Linn's Stamp News:

Set - A group of definitive or commemorative stamps which belong together. The most common is probably a group of four or six stamps of the same theme issued at the same time. However, a set may consist of as few as two stamps or as many as dozens. An “expanding set” is one where new values are added years after the originals were issued. It can also mean that additional, similar stamps are planned to be added in the future.

Single - One stamp by itself.

Soaking - Stamp collectors sometimes cut gummed stamps off of envelopes leaving about 1/4 to 3/4 inch of paper around the stamp. The stamps are then placed in or soaked in a dish of water. After about 10 minutes, the glue dissolves, and the stamps float free. They are then completely dried on paper towels, pressed between the pages of a large book such as a telephone directory for a few days, and then placed in the album.  Soaking the newer self-adhesive stamps frequently does not work well.

Souvenir page - A page with a description of a stamp. Attached to the sheet is one of the stamps that has a first-day-of-issue cancellation. The USPS sells these pages on a subscription basis.

Souvenir sheet - A small sheet of stamps which contains pictures or words in a large margin, and which commemorates something.

Specialty Collection - A collector may collect any number of specialized items: covers, cancellations, errors, deeds with revenue stamps on them, precancels, essays, etc. The possibilities are endless. If you have inherited a specialty collection, more than likely you will need to solicit professional help to determine its value.

Specimen - See “Essay.”

Stamped envelope - The USPS and postal agencies of other countries sell envelopes with a stamp already printed or embossed upon it.

StampFolio - Similar in concept to a commemorative panel and issued by the USPS. It usually contains one stamp or a block of stamps on a colorful card.

Stampless covers - Postage stamps were not invented until the mid-1800s. Before that, postmasters would write or rubber stamp “Paid” (or other similar words and/or postage amounts) on the envelope. This practice continued for a time after the invention of postage stamps, but eventually governments made the use of stamps mandatory.. Stampless covers may have also been used during periods when postage stamps were difficult to get, e.g., during wars. Stampless covers can be very high-value items.

Stamp mount - A small plastic sleeve with glue on the back. A stamp is inserted in the sleeve to protect the stamp. The sleeve is then attached to the stamp album. Stamp mounts have all but replaced stamp hinges. Stamp mounts do not disturb the gum on the back of the stamp thereby increasing (or at least preserving) the value of the stamp. See the box “Hinges, etc.” at the end of this chapter.

Stamp show - A gathering of dealers and collectors whose purpose is to buy, sell and trade stamps. Frequently, there are displays of interesting philatelic items, meetings and seminars on topics of interest.

Stanley Gibbons - An English publisher of stamp albums and catalogs, and a competitor of Scott’s.

Stock book - A book that has small slots in it. Stamps are placed loosely inside the slots. The books normally are made of the same kind of paper as manila folders. Stock books can have pages with plastic pockets in them to hold stamps.

Straight edge (SE) - An edge of a stamp that does not have perforations. A coil stamp has two edges that have perforations and two that are straight. A stamp from a booklet normally has two straight edges and two perforated edges. The position in the booklet determines which edges are straight and which edges are perforated. USA sheet stamps up until the 1930s often have one or two straight edges. See “trimmed” also.

Superb - See chapter 3.

Supplement - See “album supplement.”

Surcharge - Sometimes governments take sheets of stamps and run them through the printing presses again. They cross out an old denomination and add a new one. Surcharges are very common in countries that have high inflation rates and must constantly increase the price of stamps. See “Overprint.”

Tab - Some countries, notably Israel, print designs related to the subject of the stamp on the selvage as well as the stamp. A stamp with part of the selvage attached is known as a tabbed stamp. Israeli tabbed stamps have a higher catalog value than the ones without tabs. A different type of tab is part of a booklet pane. See “booklet pane.”

Tagged - The USPS and postal agencies of some other countries use a special phosphorus coating (called a “taggant”) on some stamps. The taggant is added to the ink used to print the stamp, or it is added directly to the paper on which the stamp is printed. It can be seen under ultra-violet light. The post office uses a machine, called a facer/canceller, to detect the tagging. The tagging tells the machine that a stamp is attached, and where the stamp is on the envelope.

Tear - A rip in the stamp because of mishandling. A tear greatly reduces the value of a stamp.

Tetch-beche - A pair of stamps where one is printed upside down relative to the other one. This is common in triangular stamps issued by some countries. The triangle, after all, is simply a rectangle that has been bisected diagonally.

Thin - Sometimes a hinge is removed from a stamp. Removal of the hinge not only removes some of the gum, but it also may pull out a portion of the paper of the stamp as well. This leaves a small, thin spot where the hinge used to be, greatly reducing the value of the stamp.



Pitcairn Island stamps that are tied to cover

Tied to cover - A cancellation mark that touches the stamp as well as the envelope. If checking dates in the postmark, this more or less proves that that stamp was really mailed on that envelope on the date shown.

Tongs - Specially designed, flat-end tweezers used to pick up and move stamps. The use of tongs prevents damage to the stamps by oil on the fingers.

Topical Collection - A stamp collection, usually worldwide, arranged by topic. For example, a collector may collect only stamps with pictures of ships on them; or he/she may collect only stamps of birds, animals, flowers, butterflies, John F. Kennedy, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc. There are hundreds of subjects. A collector may pick one subject or many.

Trial - See “Essay.”

Trimmed - A stamp has been trimmed if someone cuts off the perforations to make a straight edge. This may make the stamp look like a more valuable variety. Sometimes the same stamp is issued in sheet form and coil form. Trimming two edges on a sheet stamp makes it look like a coil stamp. Trimming was not always done to defraud collectors. In days past, it was not uncommon for a collector to trim a stamp because the space in the album wasn’t large enough to hold the stamp!

Trucial States - See “Dunes.”

Unexploded - A booklet of stamps where the booklet panes have not been removed, i.e., a complete booklet.

Upside-down Jenny - See Inverted Jenny.

Used (U) - A stamp that was applied to a letter and mailed. The stamp has probably been thru a canceling machine and has wavy lines or a postmark on it. See also “canceled to order.”

Very fine (VF) - See chapter 3.

Very good (VG) - See chapter 3.

Volume - See “Album set.”

Wallpaper - Some countries issue many stamps which they sell to obtain hard currency. The stamps have so little value that many people say they should be used the way one would traditionally use wallpaper.

Want list - A list maintained by a stamp collector of the stamps he/she needs for his/her collection. Normally this is a list of countries and Scott numbers.

Watermark - In many older stamps, the paper was specially marked while it was being made. This was done by pressing a pattern of wires into the paper before it dried. Watermarks are usually hard to see with the naked eye. Special fluids are needed to make the watermark visible. However, this process can ruin the stamp. In general, one should let the experts check for watermarks.

World-wide collection - A collection containing all or almost all of the countries in the world. Collectors may have more stamps from countries they like. It is also possible that some of the countries have no stamps at all. Sometimes, USA stamps are included in a world-wide collection; sometimes they are moved to their own album by themselves. If they are included in the worldwide collection, the album pages for USA stamps are sometimes found in normal alphabetical order (e.g., under the U’s) or sometimes at the front of the album before the A’s.



Two Zeppelin Stamps

Zepps - Three USA stamps that are coveted by collectors. The stamps are airmail stamps issued in 1930 and have “Graf Zeppelin” printed at the top. Each shows a picture of a zeppelin or blimp. Scott number C13 has a face value of 65 cents; C14, $1.30; C15, $2.60. A mint set of one each of these stamps will sell to a collector for over $1,000, although condition of these stamps can greatly affect the price. A “flown Zepp” is also a prized collectors’ item. This is an envelope with a Zepp stamp attached (i.e., a cover) that actually flew on a Zeppelin. If you have one of these, be sure not to soak the stamp off!



2.2: Stamp-related Abbreviations

APS - American Philatelic Society.
ASDA - American Stamp Dealers Association.
AVG - Average.
BEP - Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
BOB - Back of book.
CSA - Confederate States of America.
CTO - Canceled to order.
CV - Catalog value.
DG - Damaged gum.
DG - Disturbed gum.
DMM - Domestic Mail Manual.
EFOs - Errors, freaks and oddities.
F - Fine.
F-VF - Fine, very-fine.
FDC - First day cover.
FMV - Fair market value.
G - Good.
H - Hinged.
HH - Heavily hinged.
IMM - International Mail Manual.
Imperf - Imperforate.
LH - Lightly hinged.
LOTW - Legends of the West.
M - Mint.
MH - Mint, hinged.
MNH - Mint, never hinged.
NG - No gum..
NH - Never hinged.
OG - Original gum.
Perf - Perforation.
PNC - Plate-number coil.
RLOTW - Recalled Legends of the West.
SASE - Self-addressed, stamped envelope.
SC - Scott catalog.
SCV - Scott catalog value.
SE - Straight edge.
SSAE - Stamped, self-addressed envelope. (SASE is more common.)
U - Used.
UN - Unused.
UN - United Nations.
USPS - United States Postal Service.
VF - Very fine.
VG - Very good.
WW - Worldwide.
WW - World War.
XF - Extra fine.


Hinges, etc.

In the above definitions, I mentioned that stamp hinges are very bad. Why then do so many people use them? Before the 1960s, there were only five ways to mount stamps in an album. 1) Cellophane tape. This was usually a disaster as the tape turned brown or the glue was absorbed into the stamp. 2) On a mint stamp, licking the stamp and pasting it into the album. This ruined the gum. It also made the stamp more or less impossible to remove from the album. You basically had to cut the album page and then soak it in water to remove the stamp. 3) On a mint stamp, licking a corner of the stamp and pasting it into the album. This is the same problem as #2 except on a smaller scale. 4) Make a small “envelope” out of a glassine, put the stamp in the envelope and mount that in the album. This was very time consuming and not all that attractive. 5) Use a stamp hinge. Choice #4 would have been the best choice for preserving the stamp’s value. The hinge, however, was the most accepted way to mount stamps in an album. It is not now.

Around 1960, stamp mounts came along. There have been many types of mounts over the years as companies struggled to perfect the technology. Some of the earlier mounts actually reacted chemically with the stamps and damaged them. The technology has been perfected and newer mounts are definitely the preferred way to mount stamps. The new mounts protect the stamps and leave both sides undamaged.

Some collectors still choose to use hinges on low-value used stamps. This is because hinges are cheaper than stamp mounts and can be easier to use. If you are going to continue collecting, I personally urge you to move away from hinges as soon as possible. Collectors are becoming more picky about the stamps they buy. MNH is what they want. If you must use hinges, do not use them on mint stamps—ever!

One of the other things to realize about hinges is this: many new collectors (especially children) are given packets of used stamps along with small albums. They also receive hinges to mount the stamps in the album. This is very inexpensive and very effective. It is also a habit that needs to be broken when the collector moves into collecting mint stamps or more valuable used stamps.